Cats provide companionship, a swift and merciless end to any stray bugs in the house, and endless entertainment when the laser pointer comes out. However, there’s likely only one thing that a cat owner would change if they could: hairballs. Those messy puddles of fur, spit, and who-knows-what that have an uncanny ability to position themselves directly under your bare foot in the morning.
Sure, hairballs are a natural by-product of grooming – and cats can’t really help it – but for a pet parent that’s stepped in one too many, enough is enough! That irritation signals that it’s time to break out the tried-and-true solutions for cat hairball remedies, because a hairball-afflicted cat and his owner’s bedroom carpet both deserve better. Thankfully, preventing the majority of hairballs is a matter of a little brushing, potentially adding some natural supplements to his diet, and a bit of common sense. In the battle of owner-versus-hairballs, victory starts with knowing the opponent – every slimy, icky, inch of it. Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll be able to have an effective cat hairball remedy that works for your furry companion.
Why Do Hairballs Happen?
Humans typically brush or comb their hair, or shave some part of their body, at least a few times a week. It’s a normal, healthy activity in any hygiene routine to keep a person looking and feeling their best. So what does that process look like for a fastidious cat?
- Imagine if humans had exponentially more hair to deal with: hair that was prone to static electricity, “bed head”, and all the other hairstyle woes, covering the entire body
- Consider how much more often people would need to engage in hygiene behaviors to stay looking sharp – no more keeping a convenient comb or brush in a purse or pocket
- Finally, imagine if such hairy humans didn’t have opposable thumbs to hold a brush or a razor, and instead had to essentially contort themselves to stay on top of looking good
While these are of course hypothetical scenarios, it may illustrate the difficulties cats are posed with – and better illuminate the reason a cat seems to be constantly grooming himself! Think about it: every square inch of his body is covered in fur, and it’s just as prone to dirt, oil, and snarls as a human’s hair is. This is even more true for indoor-outdoor cats that also have to contend with leaves, pollen, debris, curious trips in and out of the garbage, and nasty bugs such as ticks and fleas.
Without a tool like a brush or electric razor, a cat needs to rely on a little evolutionary ingenuity: backward-facing barbs on his tongue called papillae. These barbs, the cause of that sandpaper-like sound whenever he licks something, are an efficient means at sweeping dead, shed fur off of his coat. The barbs face backwards, towards his throat, and unfortunately that means that a great deal of fur continues in that direction. Unable to dislodge the hair rasped off of his coat through licking, he will reflexively swallow it.
A cat’s fur is also indigestible, which means that his stomach acid won’t be able to break it down. Much like the hair in a sink or bathtub drain, sometimes it slips through the pipes with no issues – and other times, it mats and tangles into a massive blockage. A plumber will get a drain-related human hair clog removed, but a cat relies on his hairball-ejection process to do the same for his digestive system. It’s inconvenient, gross, and alarming to his owners, but to a cat, it’s simply “business as usual”.
Managing Your Cat’s Hairballs: Helpful Tips
For pet owners fed up with hairballs and the discomfort of their feline friend, a plan of action is needed for taking on the root causes of these messy, unsightly events. Below, a step-by-step guide of tips and suggestions broken up into two helpful phases:
Step 1: “De-furring” Your Home
- Get that shed off the bed: Cats can get a little finicky when it comes to their human companions touching them, so the best hassle-free starting point is the fur that isn’t on their body. Most house cats shed a great deal, and their fur ends up on everything from rugs and furniture to their owner’s clothes. Removing fur from these surfaces keeps it from ending up tangled with a cat’s existing healthy fur and getting ingested during grooming. Use vacuum attachments, lint rollers, rubber or silicone fur brushes, and frequent laundry-washing to keep fur in its place: the trash.
- Get hands-on in the fur fight: If a cat allows his owner to pet him without hesitation, he’s a lucky kitty: that willingness makes it easy for a person to groom him. Use a rubberized mitt or brush designed for cat fur removal, proceed slowly, and watch his body language closely. A cat will quickly let a would-be groomer know if their preening skills are up to par (or in need of some serious practice). Mitt-style brushes serve double-duty here, too: if he gets annoyed enough to take a swipe at his owner during the brushing, there’s built-in hand protection to prevent scratches. An aggrieved owner can simply end the grooming session instead of reaching for the Band-Aids, and commit to trying again later.
- Consider enlisting professional help: Most pet parents have heard about dog grooming businesses and services, but are surprised to hear that cat grooming is also available. While it’s important to weigh a cat’s temperament and grooming needs carefully in the pros-vs-cons column, long-haired breeds like Maine Coon and Persian cats can benefit from a professional application of brushing and clipping. As a bonus, long fur around his tail can also be trimmed back at the same time in order to help combat bathroom hygiene issues.
- Mimic nature’s conveniences: In the wild, a cat’s feline ancestors had a host of surfaces to rub faces, sides, and bodies against. Tangles of vines and thorns removed stubborn mats of dead fur, and rough tree bark was excellent to rub cheek glands on. A similar fur-shedding experience can be provided at home by buying a few grooming-friendly toys, such as a bristle arch, or a wall corner accessory covered in grooming bristles for them to walk by. Cats, like their owners, appreciate a good, thorough back-scratch now and then, but the attraction factor can also be amped up with a pinch of catnip on the bristles as well.
- Keep the room temperature moderate: If he is an indoor-outdoor cat, he’ll start shedding more as the weather warms up in a natural response to his environment. If he’s indoor-only, however, his owner can game the system a little by keeping the temperature moderate. His genetics are tuned to shed hair when his body temperature is consistently higher, so a little air conditioning can make a dent, if not a massive reduction in lost fur.
Step 2: Fighting Hairballs Where they Start
- Clear the way in your cat’s digestive tract. Swallowed fur by itself is enough of an issue – it gets tangled and matted all on its own. Add digestive issues like inflamed bowels or an allergic reaction to ingredients in his food, and the issue compounds – literally. Now that hairball has even less room to keep moving through the digestive tract to a natural end in the litterbox. A vet can offer insight about the right food for a feline companion with these symptoms, and can also recommend “low antigen” (essentially, non-irritant) cat food varieties. In severe cases, a cat can develop feline hairball impaction, which will need to be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Help keep things moving along. While humans tend to take fiber for entirely different gastrointestinal issues, the approach can also be beneficial for cats prone to hairballs. Adding, (with a vet’s approval, of course) a little unsweeten