So, does your cat command your attention and mostly get what it wants? Well, if you ever needed an excuse to shower your little ball of fur with a bit more affection, we present to you, Hairball Awareness Day!
For cat owners, finding a hairball or a wad of undigested hair that your cat coughs up every now and then is no big deal. But there may be instances where you need to pay more attention. And that’s where Hairball Awareness Day, falling on the last Friday in April every year, comes in.
Launched in 2006 by the National Museum of Health and Medicine, this day aims to drive awareness around how hairballs can affect your kitty’s health and also to address prejudices around cats coughing up hairballs.
How to identify hairballs
Despite their name, these disgorged clumps of hair are not usually round. They are generally cylindrical, or tube-like in appearance as they are passed out through the oesophagus or the food-pipe.
Why does your cat get hairballs?
You may have noticed that your cat spends a lot of time grooming themselves. Self-grooming has a number of benefits. First, it’s the main method by which your cat stays clean. Second, it helps them to cool off by spreading saliva (ever so elegantly) over their fur, regulating their body temperature. Third, tiny barbs called papillae on your cat’s tongue stimulate blood circulation as your feline friend strokes its skin. And fourth, grooming lets your cat unwind and calm itself down; you would often find it drop whatever it’s doing for an impromptu licking session!
While there are so many benefits of self-grooming, there is also, unfortunately, a downside: your cat unavoidably ends up swallowing some fur in the process as they are not able to remove it from their tongue. Usually, small amounts of fur would simply be swallowed and find its way to your cat’s stomach. Moderate amounts of hair would normally not cause much trouble either. But since self-grooming in cats often exceeds moderation, the hairball can keep growing and gets too big for their digestive system to handle and is forced out. That’s when your feline friend leaves you these clumps of joy on your couch, in the kitchen, or on your prized Persian rug.
For a cat to regurgitate a hairball once every week or two is considered normal. While long-haired breeds like Maine Coons and Persians are more likely to develop hairballs than their short-haired friends, cats that shed excessively or overgroom are also prone to developing them.
What signs should you look out for?
The little hairy gifts that your cat keeps leaving are without a doubt unpleasant for you, but they can cause some serious problems for your cat, like intestinal blockage, hiatal hernias (stomach bulging up into the chest cavity), or fresh blood in the faeces and inflammation in the lining of colon.
Contact your vet if you notice the following symptoms in your cat, as these may suggest a potentially life-threatening intestinal blockage:
• Lethargy, including refusal to eat for more than a day or two
• Repeated episodes of unproductive retching or true vomiting
It is possible that the frequent hacking has nothing to do with hairballs and could be a sign of another underlying gastrointestinal problem or a respiratory condition like asthma, for which your pet would need urgent care.
How can you manage hairballs in your cat?
Thankfully, there are some easy solutions you can follow to manage this particular problem. Hairballs can be addressed by adding fibre sources to your cat’s diet, through commercially available ‘hairball formula’ or with digestive supplements. But before making such changes to your pet’s diet, it may be best to first consult your vet. Daily combing or brushing your kitty’s fur and ensuring they stay hydrated may also help in reducing the frequency of hairballs. If you still do not see an improvement, overgrooming could be the culprit.
Although it may be hard to tell if you cat is overgrooming, keep an eye on your kitty for any tell-tale signs. You may spot a bald or thinning patch of fur on their body; while these can appear almost anywhere that your cat’s tongue can reach, the belly, legs and abdomen are the most common places to look out for.
World Hairball Day may only come around once a year, but we don’t see any reason why we can’t all spend a bit more time cosying up with our cats while keeping an eye on their grooming habits throughout the year. Additional snuggle-time with our feline friends is always an added bonus (if your cat will deign to allow you).
- Donadelli RA and Aldrich CG. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2020;104(2):715–724.
- Photo credit: Nastya Dulhiier on Unsplash