What exactly are hairballs?
Cats are very clean creatures and your kitten will spend approximately five hours a day grooming herself. In doing so, she'll pick up any loose hairs from her coat. These are difficult for her to spit out, so she'll probably just swallow them. Most of the time, this will cause no problems whatsoever and the hairs will just pass through the digestive tract. Sometimes, however, the hairs can remain in the stomach and form a hairball.
How does the hairball get out?
Usually, once a hairball has reached a certain size, the cat vomits it up (look out for sausage like balls of hair), although some will pass hair in their stools. Either way, it rarely causes much distress. Every now and again, though, a hairball can be difficult to get rid of and the affected kitten may have repeated bouts of ‘gagging’ or vomiting. If you are at all concerned, don't hesitate to call your vet.
In some very rare cases a cat may be unable to pass the hairball naturally and surgery may be required. Thankfully, this is very unusual.
How can you help to prevent hairballs?
One of the best ways to help prevent hairballs is to groom your kitten regularly. Get into the habit of doing this when she's very young, so she gets used to it.
Preventing a bad hair day
The type of grooming brush you use can be important and your vet can offer you advice on which one is best for your kitten. Many people with short-haired kittens favour a rubber brush. They're soft enough not to cause any discomfort but great at removing loose hair. If you have a long-haired kitten, you'll need to be even more diligent with grooming. A large-toothed, metal comb is probably a good choice. You'll need to step up the regularity of your brushing during Spring and Summer when your kitten will moult more heavily. This needn't be a chore, though. It can be a good way for you and your kitten to bond. A cuddle or a game is a nice way to round off a brushing session.
Can diet have a role in preventing hairballs?
There is some evidence that a high fibre, dry food such as Hill's Science Plan Hairball Formula can help reduce the formation of hairballs in the gut. Ask your vet for advice.
Remember - hairballs may not be nice but they're rarely anything to worry about
Seeing your kitten struggle with a hairball can be upsetting, but it's important to remember that most cats have problems with them from time to time and there's hardly ever any reason for real concern.