Cat lovers know the sound–that hacking, coughing, retching noise that means Fluffy is about to heave up a hairball. For many kitty caretakers, this purging ritual is simply a necessary evil of having cats. But it needn’t be. With a few simple changes to your cat’s diet and lifestyle, you can minimize or even prevent Fluffy’s hairballs.
Hairballs develop when cats lick themselves as part of their grooming ritual. According to Carol Osborne, DVM, with the American Pet Institute in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and author of Dr. Carol’s Naturally Healthy Cats (Marshall Editors, 2006), most of the hair passes through the cat’s digestive tract and ends up as part of its litter box offerings. But some of that hair can also mix with mucus, causing a gooey ball too big to exit a cat’s body through the back door. Either Fluffy coughs it up, or–in the worst-case scenario–the hairball continues to grow and eventually obstructs his intestines.
Conventional hairball remedies contain petroleum jelly, which lubes up the whole hairy mess and helps it pass through a cat’s digestive system. But Osborne says petroleum-based products can keep a cat from absorbing vital nutrients, particularly the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Natural pet care experts prefer the following ways to prevent hairballs:
- Brush your cat every day with a wire bristle brush to remove excess hair.
- Feed your cat a balanced diet. Osborne prefers a raw diet of meat products mixed with veggies and fresh greens for fiber; you can find some recipes at holisticat.com. If you do buy prepared cat food, Osborne suggests looking for one with natural or organic meat.According to a 2003 study conducted by scientists from the University of Wisconsin and Nestlé Purina, hairballs consist of 15 to 30 percent fat, and lecithin can effectively break up that fat–and the hairball. However, Sandy Arora, founder of holisticat.com and coauthor of Whole Health for Happy Cats (Quarry Books, 2006), says most lecithin is made from soy, which can cause thyroid problems in cats. She gives her Persians lecithin from egg yolks.
- Increase fiber and help move the hair down and out by mixing a teaspoon of pumpkin, pureed prunes, or baby food vegetables into his food. If Fluffy turns up his nose at these offerings, Osborne advises soaking them in juice from tuna packed in water.
- For a homemade fiber booster, Osborne recommends adding a teaspoon per meal of a gel made from 1/4 cup of psyllium husks mixed with 3/4 cup of hot water. Or try a teaspoon of slippery elm mixed with 1/2 cup of cold water (simmer until it thickens).
- Try the homeopathic digestive remedy nux vomica. Osborne recommends one pellet every four hours for up to five days.
- And don’t forget regular visits to your vet. “A healthy cat on a good, balanced, natural diet should really only have an issue with hairballs a few times a year at most,” Osborne says.
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