Cats are beautiful creatures and their fur is generally shiny and very clean. This is because cats are extremely fastidious groomers. Studies have suggested that on average, cats spend about 8% of their waking hours grooming!
What causes hairballs?
Cats self-groom with their rough tongue and forepaws to systematically clean their entire body. Licking stimulates skin secretions that keep the coat waterproof and shiny, while the saliva deposited on the coat helps to keep cats cool during warm weather. If you live with multiple cats, you may also notice that some spend time grooming each other while resting in their favourite sleeping spots.
One unfortunate drawback to cats’ meticulous grooming habits is the formation of hairballs in the digestive tract.
The backward-facing “barbs” on a cat’s tongue act like a comb, meaning the hair is caught and swallowed. While much of the hair will pass through into the faeces, some swallowed hair can accumulate in the stomach. This is then formed by normal digestive movements into a ball or sausage shape. Once it becomes large, it is either regurgitated (vomited) or it passes down the intestinal tract and may cause intestinal obstruction.
Although this is a natural process, it causes concern for many cat owners. Coughing, gagging or regurgitating within one or two hours of consuming a meal are signs that your cat may have trouble passing a hairball.
Cats who groom excessively (or are shedding) can be more susceptible to hairball formation and regurgitation. Long-hair breeds are also more likely to have hairballs and may suffer from intestinal obstruction by hairballs, even when they are still kittens.
How can I help?
If you notice your cat regurgitating hairballs frequently, ask your vet for advice. However, you can also help your cat to reduce hairball formation in a number of ways:
- Brush your cat regularly to remove shedding hair and prevent excessive hair ingestion
- Verify that you cat is not suffering from fleas, which increases grooming and ingestion of hairs
- Feed your cat with foods specifically designed to aid in hairball passage
Diets that are higher in fibres can help reduce the number of hairballs. The fibre pulls the hair through the intestines so that it is deposited in the faeces rather than be regurgitated as a hairball.
In the PURINA® PRO PLAN® cat range, Housecat and Derma Plus (dry food) and Nutrisavour Housecat and Derma Plus (wet food) are all formulated to help minimise the formation of hairballs in cats and ease the passage of hair through the intestine thanks to a high level of fibres.