April 27  is National Hairball Awareness Day for 2012! (Really!) The holiday (hairiday?) always falls on the last Friday in April. The first time I ever heard my cat hacking up a hairball, I thought he was choking to death. I was frantically digging the carrier out of the depths of my closet to rush him to the vet when he hurled up the offending mass in the middle of the hallway rug. Ewwwwww. For newbie cat owners, like me at the time, the gross wet ball of hair was not anything I’d understood from my crash-course in new cat ownership. To me, the word “hairball” conjured up a dry, fluffy thing – not a sticky smelly mess. I knew that almost all cats would regurgitate the hair they’d groomed off themselves (or their feline friends), some more frequently than others. That hairballs in cats are more likely to appear in long-haired breeds, such as Persians and Maine Coons. But even shorthair cats that shed a lot or who groom themselves compulsively can have frequent hairballs, because they swallow a lot of fur. My new cat apparently fell into the latter category. Aside from the gross factor to us humans, hairballs can actually be dangerous to a cat’s life if they form a blockage that the cat can’t safely cough up. So I quickly learned what I could do to help reduce hairballs in his system – and on my carpet! Here’s what I found suggested in books, by my vet, other cat owners, and online.

Disclaimer: I am not a vet. The tips below are not intended as a suggested course of treatment. Hairballs can be a serious problem, so please talk to your vet first before trying these possible solutions:

  • Brush your cat daily. Hair in the brush is better than in their belly! For my shorthair cats, a “Furminator” style steel blade grooming comb seems to be the most effective.
  • Longhair cats can have professional groomer clip them down into an adorable “lion” cut.
  • Switch to feeding all canned food. Many cat owners find this one step is all it takes to eliminate hairballs.
  • If your cat won’t eat canned, try  a “hairball remedy” specific food. Like Nutro’s Wholesome Essentials Hairball Control Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food or  Royal Canin’s Hairball Care Dry Cat Food. Like any change in diet, gradually transition to a new food over 7-10 days.
  • Give your cat hairball control treats, like Temptations Hairball Control Chicken Flavor Cat Treats.
  • If your cat will eat fresh live cat grass (some cats love it, some won’t touch it) always keep out a pot for them to nibble on. I don’t know the scientific reason, but my theory is just like fiber, the grass helps move the fur through them safely.
  • Feed canned pumpkin as a treat. Make sure it is 100% pure (no spices or sugars). It’s high in fiber which helps pass hairballs, and many cats love it! Feed a teaspoon (or less if your cat just takes a few licks each time, like mine) every other day or 3 times a week.

WebMD says: If you notice the following hairball symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away, as they could indicate that a hairball has caused a potentially life-threatening blockage:

  • Ongoing vomiting, gagging, retching, or hacking without producing a hairball
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
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