How do you deal with hairballs?

There are many things people might consider a bit cliche about cats, such as their aloofness or the way they occasionally spaz out and start sprinting around the house for no apparent reason. Another might be the cartoonish image of a cat hacking up a hairball–not a pleasant thing to see or encounter, of course. But did you know that hairballs–especially when produced in excessive amounts–can actually pose or by symptoms of deeper health issues with cats? The last Friday of April is National Hairball Awareness Day, of all things, so it’s the perfect time to fill you in on a few facts about these messy little furball projectiles.

For starters, hairballs are caused by the self-grooming all cats do, swallowing hair in the process. This hair is usually processed simply through the cat’s digestive system. However, too much hair collecting in the stomach or small intestine can actually get stuck and cause life-threatening blockages. This can be signified by your cat hacking, gagging, and coughing without ever producing a true hairball. Other symptoms can include lethargy, loss of appetite, or constipation.

One simple technique to reducing hairballs is keeping your cat regularly groomed. This will make it so there’s less hair to swallow. Vets can also prescribe hairball lubricant or prescribe other medication developed to reduce hairballs and the dangers they might pose. Excessive grooming can also cause skin irritation or be a sign of your cat having picked up a parasite that needs more specialized treatment. Furthermore, you can help diminish excessive grooming by reducing potential stress in your cat’s life. This can include more playtime and trying to maintain a household routine so the cat doesn’t feel disturbed by too many changes going on at once in its normal environment.

Remember, not all hairballs are bad. They’re to be expected when it comes to cats. But if you notice a sudden uptick in the number that are being produced or other variations, it might be time for a visit to the vet!

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