The Collins English Dictionary defines a hairball as being a mass of hair which forms in the stomach of a cat as a result of licking and then swallowing the fur.
Hairballs can be miserable for your Maine coon. Coons shed a lot of fur and as a result, the breed is more prone to developing issues with hairballs. Fortunately, there is plenty you can do at home to treat hairballs and prevent them from re-occurring.
In general, this is not a problem in Maine coon Kittens. This is because they have much less fur to deal with. As they grow and begin to develop thick fur coats and that lovely neck ruff, hairballs can rear their ugly heads. That is why you are much more likely to find them in an adult cat.
In this article we will discuss what causes hairballs, how to recognise them, how to treat them and finally, how to prevent them. If you are an experienced cat owner and you are sure that your coon has a hairball then just scroll down to the treatment and prevention section at the bottom of the post.
There are a number of signs that your Maine coon may display which can be a clue that they have a hairball.
Finding a hairball on the floor is one of the more disgusting things a Maine coon owner has to contend with. Obviously if your coon is bringing up hairballs then the problem has declared itself. It may be a good sign though that the are managing to expel them by themselves.
If your Maine coon has been making some strange sounds lately then they could very well be trying to expel a hairball. Listen out for retching, wheezing, gagging or hacking sounds as these are a clue that they might be trying to bring up a ball of fluff.
Vomiting is quite common for Maine coons who have hairballs. In trying to force up a hairball they may cause themselves to vomit. Unfortunately this vomit may or may not include the hairball.
They may also have trouble moving their bowels and this may go either way. Some cats will become constipated as the hairball is causing a total blockage of their bowel.
Others will have diarrhoea and this is because liquid stool is all that can pass through their partially-block digestive system. As all Maine coon owners know, diarrhoea in a Maine coon is not fun to manage. All that fur makes for a whole lot of dingleberries.
If you Maine coon has a large enough hairball in their stomach then this will cause them to eat less. If your coon does not experience the feeling of hunger then they will not feel the need to eat as much or as often. If this carries on for several days, then the reduction in calorie intake will cause them to lose weight. As soon as you notice that this is happening you need to take your coon to see the veterinarian as they may require urgent treatment.
Having a hairball trapped in their digestive system will make your coon feel terrible. This can have a negative impact on their general mood and they may be more lethargic than normal. Eating less will mean that they have less energy too as they are not getting all of the calories and nutrients that they require to maintain an active lifestyle.
Hairballs form when cats swallow their own fur. For the most part this is not intentional. It simply occurs when they lick their fur when grooming themselves. Ingesting small amounts of fur every now and then is generally not a problem.
Over time though this can build up into a large mass in their stomach. This is mass cannot work its way along the digestive tract easily. If it continues to grow and the cat is unable to pass it themselves then this can form a complete blockage. This is known as a bowel obstruction and is a medical emergency.
Hairballs are much more common in cats with longer hair and who shed a lot. Unfortunately, these two traits describe the Maine coon breed perfectly. Hairballs are a lot more common in Maine coons than other breeds of cat.
It’s easy to get your hands on an over-the-counter hairball relief remedy. These act to relieve digestive upset, preventing vomiting and aiding digestion with their laxative effect. Here is an example of what you might look for (link takes you to Amazon).
An easy thing you can do at home is to make some changes to your Maine coon’s diet. Lubricating the digestive tract can allow hairballs to pass more through more easily. This can be done by including a small amount of butter of olive oil in your coon’s food (more easily incorporated into wet foods).
You can also increase the amount of fibre in the diet, as you would for a human with digestive troubles. This is most easily done by switching to a ‘furball control’ dried food. For more information on these, keep reading as I will be discussing these foods later in the post.
Maine coons are not good at drinking water. They love to splash it around on the floor and jump in the shower but actually drinking it, not so much. Increasing the fluid in their diet can help to lubricate the digestive tract. This can be done in a couple of ways.
The first is to increase the proportion of wet foods in their diet. Maine coons get the majority of their hydration from wet foods and therefore you should not be feeding them a diet which consists solely of dried foods. Swap 25% of their dried foods for an additional portion of wet food. You could even consider switching to a raw food diet.
Maine coons do love running water. They are much more likely to drink from a running tap than from a bowl of still water. This may be because of the natural instinct that running water is likely to have less bacteria in it. Many owners find that a cat water fountain is a good way of increasing fluid intake in their coon. Click this link to see my recommendations for the Best Cat Water Fountains.
In the more severe cases, say when bowel obstruction has occurred, then surgery may be the only option. If your coon cannot eat and cannot open their bowels due to a hairball blockage then surgical removal is required. This may seem extreme but will provide instant relief for your Maine coon. You can then focus on their recovery and methods of preventing it for happening again in the future.
Preventing hairballs for re-occurring really boils down to two things 1) stopping them from shedding so much fur and 2) preventing your coon from swallowing fur which has shed.
Regular grooming is important for any Maine coon, but it is essential for a coon who is suffering with a hairball problem. Ideally Maine coons should have a gentle brush once a day; this should only take a few minutes.
Once a week you should perform a more thorough grooming routine with them. If shedding is a real problem, say in the summer months, then consider performing this routine twice a week instead.
To see my recommendations for which brushes are best to use on a Maine coon then click here to see my guide. Also, you can click here to see my owner guide for Grooming Your Maine Coon.
Bathing your Maine coon on a regular basis can significantly reduce the amount of shedding and in turn prevent the amount of fur your coon ingests when grooming themselves. Bathing itself is a good way of loosening dead fur but using a special ‘Hairball control’ cat shampoo is even better. Be sure to use a shampoo which has been designed for cats. Do not use human shampoo when bathing your cat!
The shampoo I am recommending for this is the Furminator Hairball Prevention Shampoo. This shampoo is specially formulated for cats so is of a pH which is kind to their skin. It also works to loosen the dead undercoat so that it washes out easily. Click here to check availability of this product on Amazon.
For a guide to bathing your Maine coon, including a handy video, please see my previous article, The Ultimate Guide to Grooming and Bathing Your Maine Coon.
A key to reducing the amount of fur being shed is to ensure that your Maine coon has a well-balanced diet. A diet which is high in omega fatty acids will help to maintain a healthy, glossy coat.
For Maine coons who are prone to developing hairballs, it may be wise to switch to a specific ‘hairball control’ dried food. These products contain natural ingredients such as vegetable fibres which bind to the hairs in the stomach, allowing them smoother transit through the digestive system.
If you are considering switching your Maine coon’s food to a ‘hairball control’ brand then you may wish to first discuss this with your veterinarian. Here are a few good examples for you to consider:
This Hill’s Science Plan product is formulated to aid with hairball control. It contains vegetable fibre to bind with any hairs in the gut. It also contains vegetable oil to lubricate the gut and aid digestion.
Click here to see this product and read the reviews on the ZooPlus website.
This formulation contains 6% natural pea fibre to aid digestive transit allowing your coon to pass any fur that they swallow nice and quickly. It’s high in omega fatty acids to promote a healthy coat and prevent shedding.
Click here to check current pricing on Amazon.
Royal Canin is a favourite amongst Maine coon owners, given that they manufacture foods specifically formulated for Maine coons. Their hairball care formulation is not specific for coons but is a very effective product. They’ve included dried beetroot husks and psyllium (a combination of seeds and husks) to give this dried feed a high fibre content to improve gut transit.
Click here to see this product and read the reviews on the ZooPlus website.
So, if your Maine coon does have a hairball, don’t panic! There’s plenty you can do to help them out. If you are worried that it isn’t resolving then seek help from your veterinarian. You can then work on preventing it from happening again in the future.