I believe every cat owner has been there, and Maine Coon owners are no different. Your perfectly quiet cat that you thought was utterly content suddenly starts coughing and retching and you have a minor panic attack. It sounds horrible and you sit there, paused, waiting for the moment to pass.
Not knowing much about them, but them being a real concern for me, I decided to do some research.
It turns out that a hairball is a result of your cats self grooming schedule. When your Maine Coon washes themselves the combination of the rough tongue and shedding hairs means your cat swallows a small proportion of those hairs. Most pass through quite harmlessly but some stay in the stomach. When enough of them don’t pass, a small ball occurs which the cat needs to get rid of. Your Maine Coon will then try to vomit an retch to eject the offending blockage. While most of the times this is harmless, what I didn’t know though was it can be dangerous. Hairballs can cause intestinal blockages and this seems to be a primary reason why regular grooming of your Maine Coon is essential. A hairball isn’t actually a ball but a string of undigested hair and bile, which the Maine Coon being a long haired cat is more prone.
The Maine Coon being a long haired cat will, or at least should try try to groom themselves often. During the process a lot of hair is swallowed that comes loose. The hair is made of a very tough protein called ‘Keratin’ which your Maine Coon is not able to digest.
Thus the undigested hair travels to the stomach and most of it will pass through and come out the other end. Some however, doesn’t and collects in the stomach which over time will collect into a small ball of indigestible hair that it cannot pass through to its stool.
The Maine Coon then has no choice but to vomit the ball back up in order to clear the blockage. No doing so will cause severe discomfort and health problems. As wincing as it is to watch, it is in effect a reflex that helps your cat.
Some causes for hairballs are;
Whilst thought of as benign things, most people would think that it’s just part of being a cat. Unpleasant for a bit sure, but nothing to worry about.
The answer is not really, but they can provide extreme discomfort if they form in the stomach and are unable to pass, … in either direction.
The main risk may in fact come from choking. A large hairball could lodge in the throat and prevent air passage.
The answer appears to be it’s unlikely, and most cats won’t but it’s certainly not unheard of.
In short, yes. Any long haired cat, such as Persians and Maine Coons are much more prone to hairballs and will as a consequence suffer from undigested hair in the stomach.
There is a lot of preventative work that you can do, but naturally speaking the Maine coon is more prone than short haired cats like the British shorthair.
Anything that makes hair loose on your Maine Coon will increase the number of hairballs.
The Maine Coon, at least most of them have some sort of frontal ruff which while looking majestic also produces a lot of loose hair. Your cat will groom this a lot as it’s within easy reach so a lot of this fur can form in the stomach.
Additionally, being a friendly laid back cat and if your Maine coon is treated well then there should be no stress that produces excessive shedding.
Oddly, a kitten or young adult Maine Coon may be less interested in grooming itself. Thus, hairballs can be more problematic in older cats.
With individual cats, some seem to shed all year around and some on the spring and winter coats. So much depends upon on the natural environment, but you should look out for more hairballs during a natural process of shedding fur, some of which will find its way to your Maine Coons stomach.
Whilst it is obvious to contend that a symptom will be the sound of your Maine Coon retching to expel the blockage as a symptom, sometimes it might be a big hairball and be producing some discomfort.
Thus typically any kind of hacking, gagging, or retching will be a pretty good sign that your cat is trying to expel a hairball.
Sometimes though, their are less obvious signs, especially for big hairballs. Some things to look out for are
An ongoing vomiting, gagging and retching with no hairball produced
Lack of appetite
Everytime your Maine coughs a bit, it’s tempting to think ‘hairball’ and move on. However, there remains another possibility.
The first thing to remember is that it is almost impossible to tell, via sound alone the cause of a cough. Hairballs tend to expel a cylindrical mass of hair and bile, so if these are present, then it will be, by definition, hairball caused.
Your cat may being having an allergic reaction, a cough or lung inflammation problems.
Here’s what I mean;
It should be noted, that although there are a few breeds that are susceptible to asthma, around 1% of all felines are meant to suffer from it, on an individual basis. Maine Coons have no known susceptibility to asthma but there are environmental causes such as smoke, fumes, fragrances and aerosol environments.
Further, places where there are fungus and spores as well as excessive heat and cold spells. Turns out cats are pretty much the same as humans, and certain places give rise to a risk of asthma..
There is a known condition called Feline Asthma, which works pretty much the same as asthma in humans. Such things as allergens can cause inflammation of bronchial tubes and increased production of mucous. Antihistamines can be used for a cure, which reduces the effect of an allergic reaction.
The key difference is that hairballs are stomach related and coughs / asthma are lung related.
Although the wheezing and coughing can sound the same as hairballs, but hairballs do not produce coughing on their own. The feline is trying to bring up something.
Wheezing when breathing is more of a sign of asthma than hairballs. Don’t worry to much, or at least try not to, as coughing and asthma are treatable. I’d certainly recommend a trip to the vet to get a proper diagnosis.
Here’s a good story about someone who learned that her cat had asthma, and not a hairball (https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/cat-health-asthma-coughing-hairball)
As a side note, some of the things that it may be other than a hairball are;
You will probably get of of the following signs
An ongoing vomiting, gagging and retching with no hairball produced
Lack of appetite
Occasionally it’s more symptomatic of a bigger problem such inflammatory bowel disease.
Again, the short answer here is take them to the vet. By all means try the natural remedies, the diet changes and the foods / medicine designed to make any cat ‘pass’ a hairball, but if the problem still persists, then a vet trip seems the wise course.
Most hairball type incidences perhaps go without you noticing, especially if you have an outdoor Maine Coon. Maine Coons are tidy creatures and will try not to litter their environment with hairballs.
So in addition to your cat performing its ritual, is there anything you can do to help. Turns out, yes.
Firstly, groom your cat regularly, particularly around known shedding season or hot weather, or indeed if you notice your cat has a fastidious grooming schedule all of its own. If it does, then there is a combination of more loose hairs, and more grooming which will produce the hairballs.
Grooming your Maine Coon regularly, even if its a quick brush can get a lot of hairs out of the fur. A good, deep rake to cope with that dense fur, built to withstand harsh Maine winters will be much more effective though.
Believe it or not, but there is such a thing as food designed to help a cat eith er pass or stop hairballs performing. If your cat is still retching despite your best grooming efforts then this may be an idea.
If you have kids, you know those high fiber diets designed to get the ‘system working. Well, it’s a bit like that but for your Maine Coon. It’s a fiber rich diet that has the added side effect of being good for the coat.
The high fiber also strengthens the coat so there should be less shedding or hairs pulled when grooming so there are some good effects to these specialized cat foods.
I believe Iams do a good one that seems to be well received.
There are additional products out there that make your Maine Coon’s trip to the restroom a little easier. And more frequent. Quite a lot of them enlarge the digestive tract and try to force the offending hairball out the end with less retching.
Just make sure the large litter tray you have is well filled.
If your Maine coon is a bit bored, or getting elderly, or even just plain lazy then it may groom itself more than it would naturally.
Thus try to ‘pep up’ a bit the activity with more toys, taking it for a walk or playing with them. This will discourage and and eventually emphasize a discouragement of grooming. You obviously don’t want them to never pay attention to themselves, but they are vain at the best of times, it’s just if your Maine Coon enjoys a more active and stimulated life then it most likely will stop the behaviour destructive to it.
While doing the research I came across people who swore by using Coconut oil for their cats to use, … which helps apparently.
I’d recommend you watch this as it seems to me better than those advocating using petroleum jelly and other non natural products.
Maybe try putting some on the paw so it has to lick itself to wash.
So other than the more obvious grooming, changing the diet, using specialized foods and discouraging excessive grooming, is there anything else.
Being a friendly cat, the Maine Coon isn’t prone to stress which is a known cause of shedding that will increase the likelihood of shedding.
The other things that are a little more complicated that can aid in hairball problems are
Fleas and parasites
The trick here would be to make sure that your Maine Coon is as little stressed as possible and perhaps bathe them in some skin allergy shampoos and some that aid flea killing.
If you have a kitten, perhaps get them used to being groomed that may aid the process later. Tring to groom a cat that has never had you do it before might be like trying flick the nose of a tiger.
Technically you can do it, … it’s just unwise.
Adding some kind of lubricant to the food would be a good idea. People seem to recommend mineral oil, but I’ve heard there can be problems. Far better to use a petroleum jelly, or as is my new favorite method, adding Coconut Oil to the food as mentioned earlier.
Most cats, certainly a Maine Coon will be able to pass a hairball relatively easily.
Occasionally, though a Maine Coon may struggle and you will want to try and help them. Inevitably you will ask yourself if there’s anything available to help you on the market..
Luckily the answer is yes, you can. There are a few known things that can help a cat struggling with hairballs.
Diet in your cat, much like humans plays a huge roll in the general well being of your cat. Something within the food could well be causing an allergy, and it’s well worth experimenting with different foods to see if the symptoms come and go.
Your cat could well be allergic to what you are feeding it and as such this is giving rise to symptoms of asthma.
Thus if you suspect something could be asthma, try changing the diet first. Give it a few days and monitor the changes.
I’d never heard of this one one, but doing the research it seems that some people swear by removing the grains in your cats diet.
They seem to be convinced that this caused ease of breathing in their cat. I’ve never encountered this before so wouldn’t know, but it is certainly worth a go, when you are trying to figure out what is wrong. This might be another one of those, check with your vet first type things though, which I’d always advise.
Having a hairball is fine but what if your Maine Coon doesn’t respond and/or you think it’s asthma related.
I think if you suspect an allergy or reaction to something then I have to advise a trip to the vet.
The problem with bronchial infections or reactions is that they restrict the air passageways that will result in breathing difficulties, so you may hear wheezing a lot.
I wouldn’t recommend giving human doses of antihistamines, such that are used for hayfever, but your vet will surely prescribe a treatment that will reduce inflammation.
While doing research I came across this little idea. It’s a paste that smells of tuna that contains hairball type remedies, so you may want to check that out.
It can also be used in chewy treat format, but I love the put a bit on the paws trick. It contains mineral oil, soy lecithin, and aloe vera gel that lubricate any hairs and help them pass in the stool. It’s also rich in all the right fatty acids to strengthen the coat.
I believe it’s intended so that you give your Maine Coon the treat on a ‘little and often’ principle so that hairballs don’t develop in the first place.
An ounce of prevention better than a pound of cure and all that.
I have heard about people using olive oil as the lubricant, and it certainly seem to work.
Olive oil isn’t harmful to any cat, including Maine Coon but if you ask me, I prefer the Coconut Oil approach. Much more natural and healthy.
The idea is you put a little in your cats food every now and again in order to ‘flush’ any offending hairballs in the stomach. Certainly worth a try if your cat refuses to touch anything that smells of Coconut.
Any then go to 7-11 and buy some Bounty bars, as your cat won’t touch them.
So, while hairballs are a little bit nasty for your Maine Coon, they aren’t generally fatal. Just nasty bits of hair that reside in the stomach, that preferentially your cat will want to expel.
The other takeaway would be to maintain prevention rather than waiting for a problem to crop up. I like the Coconut oil trick and just let the cat have a little every now and again.
Occasionally feeding them, or at least mixing some hairball prevention foods might be a good idea. Especially with a Maine Coon that has a long luxurious coat that can ‘aid and abet’ the problem.
The key thing is not to confuse hairballs with cat asthma or allergies. If your cat is wheezing rather than retchting then try altering the diet and perhaps bathe your Maine Coon with some allergy shampoo.
Systematically try different things to see what works. Every cat is different. If in any doubt though, please consult a vet. Air passageway problems, if it is a serious allergy can be extremely uncomfortable for any living creature.
Health is a combination of exercise and diet, so with a few preventative measures, your Maine Coon should be amazingly hairball free. At least as much as they can be.
I will end with try not to worry. Hairballs are part of a Maine Coons lifestyle, and with a little help they can remain small problems, even for such a large cat.