National Hairball Awareness Day really does exist, and it falls on the last Friday of April. It’s more important than one might think, which is why it is officially recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association. This day may not be quite as patriotic as K-9 Veterans Day. And it may not be as noble as National Cat Day or National Mutt Day. Nevertheless, National Hairball Awareness Day does serve an important function.
Hairballs: what are they and what causes them?
Hairballs are common for felines but can be uncomfortable. They may even exacerbate existing digestive problems or other conditions. They’re the result of self-grooming. Our cats and kitties are great at staying clean, but beauty comes with a price. All that licking can cause the ingestion of hair, which can build up. They may be ready for the catwalk, but that haute, couture look requires daily maintenance. Daily hair buildup equals a sizable hairball. Unfortunately, kitties have to hack up their hairball. Loose hair can travel through the digestive tract and be expelled in the litter box, but sometimes hair sticks together creating a small mass that can’t get through the digestive tract. On rare occasions, surgery may even be needed. Hairballs are normal as long as it’s a once in a while thing, but frequent battles could be an indicator that a problem of some kind is brewing.
Is it a hairball or something else?
Frequency is the number one thing to watch. Dr. Rebecca Ruch-Gallie, Veterinarian and clinical coordinator at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital says more than a couple hairballs a year is something worth checking with a veterinarian. High frequency, unusual stools regarding consistency or color, diarrhea, constipation, and an unusual amount of hair in stools are worth making note. Guardians should also watch for excessive gagging, coughing, hacking, and vomiting. Loss of appetite and lethargy are also important symptoms. All of these may be a hairball problem, or they may also be an indicator of some underlying problem, like inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. If it’s big enough, it may cause an obstruction that keeps Ms. Kitty Fantastico from being able to digest and pass food. Luckily, there’s plenty we can do to help our cat companions avoid hairballs, altogether.
Hairball preventative measures
Cats aren’t the only ones to suffer from hairballs. Rabbits, Llamas, Cows, and other furry animals that enjoy grooming themselves or other furry friends get hairballs too. Cats, however, are more prone to hairballs because of the barbs and sandpaper texture to their tongue. This tends to pick up more hair and undercoat, leading that buildup of hair. The best way to help Mr. Socks avoid this buildup is to groom him more often. By using a soft-bristled brush or grooming mitt, we’ll remove the majority of hair, leaving less behind for their tongue to pick up.
Lubricating the digestive system is also useful. That can mean a few things. First, we can make sure our cats stay hydrated. Check out our recent article “How Can I Get My Cat to Drink More Water?” Adding more oily moisture to their meals, such a fish oils, can play a role. And sharing low-calorie treats that are oil-based can help. Just be sure to introduce these changes slowly and watch for any upset, like loose stools. Hydration and moisture-rich treats and food will help our cats move any hair build-up through their digestive system.
There are some cat foods and supplements that are formulated to keep cat skin and hair healthy. Great skin and a healthy coat can reduce shedding. It may also reduce or eliminate itchy skin that can lead to more licking or grooming. Adding a little more fiber to their diet can also help, but be careful not to cause other digestive problems, like constipation. A great supplement to consider is EcoDigestive probiotic and enzyme support formula. This supplement is an all-natural formula that improves dog’s and cat’s ability to absorb the essential nutrients and vitamins in their food while improving overall digestive function. It improves poor skin, hair conditions, boosts energy, and can reduce gas or other digestive discomforts. For National Hairball Awareness Day, picking up a bag of EcoDigestive can end hairball concerns and lead to a healthier, happier cat.
Lastly, cats self-groom more often when there isn’t anything else to do. As much as we like to imagine that lazing about all day is a big part of our cat’s natural activity level, cats do enjoy playtime and mental stimulation. We can reduce self-grooming, and therefore hairballs if we work a little more kitty playtime into our daily routine. Rotating available cat toys, so there is always something new to play with can help. We can introduce new games and build blanket forts if we want to get creative. Interacting more often and with deliberate playtime, rather than non-stop snuggle time will help keep attention on satisfying curiosity and their desire to learn, which will help take kitt’s mind off of grooming and boredom. Some fur-baby households even go so far as to add second kitty (or more) to the family). While this may seem counter-intuitive at first because it means more brushing and grooming we need to do, it does make sense that kitties will not just groom each other, but will play together as well, taking some of the attention away from grooming activities.
National Hairball Awareness Day may sound made up, but it’s real and it’s surprisingly important. Share this message with your network of cat lovers. Together, we can combat hairballs, while still supporting our grooming-obsessed, catwalk-ready couture kittens.