We all know that cats groom and we know that the way they groom will make them swallow some hair. We also know that sometimes cats vomit and their vomit can contain hair. Because hairballs are thought to contribute to vomiting (and are a little gross) cat lovers would like to know how to help. There are some things that you can do.
Especially if your cat has long hair, helping her groom with regular brushing is a good idea. It is ideal to brush out the mats to avoid her having to pull them out and then swallow the hair. If your cat does not like brushing, you can try a grooming mitt to help. There are many options to choose from and none are expensive. Not only can regular grooming help head off hair balls, but it is also a terrific time to feel your cat all over and notice any abnormalities, like masses or weight change so you can tell your veterinarian. Always be gentle and be sure to reward your cat for her compliance with a high value treat.
Certain supplements, like Omega 3 fatty acids, may help to lubricate the gut and could have other health benefits as well. Multiple studies in different species (including humans) have shown improved healing and many other benefits from fatty acid supplements. Buyer beware, however. Make sure that you buy your supplements from respectable sources. The FDA does not regulate supplements and there is room for you to get something that is unsafe. Ask your veterinarian if she carries supplements or can recommend some. There are even supplement pasted designed for hairball reduction and most of them are affordable and safe, but do your research on them too.
In the last few years, studies have indicated that certain ingredients, like sugar cane fiber, can help reduce the formation of hair balls.¹ Commercial diet manufacturers have funded some of the studies, but it is possible that special diet formulations can help discourage their formation. Hairball formula diets may help, but do your research and ask your vet if there is a brand that he/she prefers.
Rule out parasites and allergic disease
This is the most important tip of all. Cats that have allergic disease or another reason for excessive shedding are at a greater risk of ingesting too much hair. If your cat is grooming excessively or your notice patches of missing hair, please see your vet. Your cat is silently crying for help. She could have a skin parasite, fungal or bacterial infection, allergic dermatitis or something else. If you notice your cat licking herself all the time (or even more that you think is normal) don’t ignore it, it is probably a sign that she needs medical attention.
And one more thing, vomiting that recurs or continues is not normal. If vomiting goes along with other signs of disease like lethargy or anorexia, it is more likely to require veterinary care. Cats can (and do) consume things that are not edible, like string or rubber hair bands and these objects will cause vomiting. Indigestible items are considered foreign bodies and may require emergency surgery. Your veterinarian will be able to help you determine what could be causing your cat to vomit because it could be more than just a hairball.
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- Sugarcane fibre may prevents hairball formation in cats.J Nutr Sci. 2014 Sep 25;3:e20. doi: 10.1017/jns.2014.27. eCollection 2014.Loureiro BA, Sembenelli G, Maria AP, Vasconcellos RS, Sá FC, Sakomura NK, Carciofi AC.