As cold weather approaches, cats shed their warm-weather coats to grow in their cold-weather coats. The seasonal shedding period leaves more pet hair than usual floating around. Of course, your feline children consider this hair bonanza an opportunity ingest as much as possible and then gift you their best hairballs, preferably on your pillow or in the middle of the couch. One of your best defensive maneuvers may be to simply brush your precious kitty more often, vacuum and sweep up her hair regularly and supplement her with a beneficial remedy to help her easily pass the additional amounts of hair she is ingesting. Please note that if you cat has frequent and recurring hairball and vomiting issues this is not a healthy situation and can often be the result of one or more underlying causes. However, with regular coat grooming and a healthy, species-appropriate diet, hairballs should not be an issue for any cat.
What Causes Hairballs?
When your cat grooms himself, he swallows his own hair. Hair mixes with saliva and travels down to the stomach where it either slides on through to the intestines, or takes up residence as a delectable, food-infused hairball. Unable to eliminate it, your cat must vomit this indigestible ball of food and fur with the usual unpleasant retching noises. In addition, certain serious medical conditions such as IBD and intestinal lymphoma can cause hairballs.
If you think hairballs are a problem for you, consider what they do to your cat. Not only must your cat suffer the vomiting, he may also experience constipation, decreased appetite, coughing and dry heaves.
Carefully examine store-bought hairball remedies
If you review the ingredient list of hairball remedies offered pet supply stores (both “big box” and “boutique” stores) you may be surprised to see that many of the commercial hairball remedies contain ingredients toxic to cats and which can compromise a cat’s immune system and organ function if used on a regularly basis.
- Corn syrup and corn products: Several of the most popular store-bought hairball remedies have recently changed their formulas to include corn syrup or corn products. These ingredients are generally not good for your cat’s health and can actually sicken your cat. The use of corn and corn products in cat foods has been linked to pancreatitis, diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, bladder inflammation, bladder and kidney stones, IBD (which also includes chronic vomiting and diarrhea) and dental decay. It has been removed from many cat food brand formulations with only the lowest-end food brands continuing to use it as an ingredient.
- Petrolatum/petroleum jelly: Some of the commercial hairball remedy products marketed as “natural” may use either petrolatum or hydrogenated/hydrolyzed vegetable oil as one of the main ingredients. Petrolatum, also known as petroleum jelly, is refined crude oil. It contains contaminants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These contaminants are linked to cancer, reproductive/developmental toxicity and endocrine dysfunction, among other things
- Hydrogenated/hydrolyzed oils: These oils are highly processed chemical products derived from refined petroleum and gas (i.e. petrochemicals.) The hydrogenation process applied to unsaturated fats produces saturated and transfats. Trans fats are present in some hairball remedy formulas in place of petrolatum, but they are produced by using a petroleum product.
- Soybean oil, soy protein and other soy derivatives including lecithin: These products are also ingredients found in some brands of hairball remedies. Cats are particularly susceptible to harm from soy products. Soy contains compounds that may negatively affect cats by interfering with nutrient absorption, normal growth, thyroid function, and hormonal development. Cats also do not have the liver enzymes to deactivate the phytoestrogens in soy. In addition, the processing of soy foods produces a free glutamic acid which is a neurotoxin which may cause brain damage. In recent years, soy-based ingredients have been removed from many cat food products.
- Other questionable ingredients include mineral oil (a mixture of hydrocarbons also derived from crude oil), and non-specific or unspecified animal digest. Unspecified means the “animal digest” may have come from an animal who was diseased or otherwise impaired prior to going to slaughter. It may also include material from roadkill and shelter-euthanized animals, all of which is approved for use in pet food products.
There is no nutritional or health benefit for your cat from any of the foregoing ingredients. In fact, your cat may experience stress to her organs and bodily functions trying to process and purge out the toxins that are in these products.
Home Remedies and Prevention
You may prefer to give your cat something besides commercial hairball reduction products which contain many of the foregoing harmful ingredients. Long term use of these ingredients can interfere with your cat’s ability to absorb important fat-soluble vitamins including Vitamins A, E and D. As a rule of thumb, more than one hairball a week is abnormal and unhealthy. If the following tips don’t work to reduce hairballs for your cat, please seek veterinary help.
Your cat may get relief from just one of the following, but you may want to combine several of these suggestions to maximize the benefit. Remember, however, that any time you change your cat’s diet, you should do so by gradually introducing the new elements.
- Grain Free: Grain free diets often help considerably with hairballs. They can prevent hairballs because they are easier on your cat’s digestion. Look for foods with no wheat, gluten, barley, rice or corn.
- Pure 100% canned pumpkin (not the pie filling): Add a teaspoon to your cat’s regular food several times per week.
- Probiotics and/or digestive enzymes: Mix into your cat’s wet food or sprinkle on dry kibble. Make sure the probiotic and/or digestive enzymes are specifically formulated for cats. Probiotics can benefit your cat by boosting his immune system, easing intestinal functions and assisting with elimination.
- Wheat Grass: You can buy live wheat grass in many grocery produce sections. Your cat will love nibbling the grass, which provides extra roughage necessary for the elimination of hairballs.
- Grooming: Try to groom your cat every day with a cat brush. He may enjoy the massage and you’ll eliminate excess hair before it he has a chance to swallow it.
Hairball Eliminating Recipe:
This recipe is not original to us but may be useful to help you control any hairball issues and, as a side benefit, condition your cat’s skin and coat while promoting organ and joint health and cognitive function. It is loaded with vitamins and minerals cats need to maintain good health.
In a bowl mix the following until thoroughly combined:
1) One raw egg yolk (if possible, organic, cage free, vegetarian fed brown egg); and
2) One ounce cod liver oil (plain, unflavored, no additives). Please note that there are cod liver oil products made specifically for pets.
Give your adult cat approximately 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon at room temperature with his meal several times a week (or after the meal if you are brave enough to try to get it down his throat). For help getting medicines into your cat, see our article on compounded medications.
Depending on the severity of the hairball problems, you may want to give your cat 1/8 teaspoon of the mixture on a daily basis until the problem is resolved. You will, of course, also want to find out what the real root cause of the problem is. The mixture should be refrigerated and can be stored for up to 10 days. Prior to giving to your cat, gently shake the mixture to re-combine it. This recipe can also be used for hairball prevention every 7-10 days or twice weekly during seasonal shedding periods.
Some serious risks to be aware of:
Although hairballs can initially be a digestive nuisance for your cat, they can quickly develop into a life-threatening condition for your cat. Hairballs that grow too large can block the intestines and necessitate emergency surgical removal. Keep your eyes peeled for signs of blockage, including swollen abdomen, non-productive cough, depression, lethargy and weight loss. If in doubt, take your cat to the vet for an exam.
Updated on 3/11/2016
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