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Hairballs are a natural part of cat life. As a pet parent, it’s not uncommon to find a damp hairball on the floor or duvet cover once in a while. These hairy wads are unpleasant but generally not a big deal. Yet, finding too many hairballs — or seeing a cat hacking without producing a hairball — could mean the pet has an underlying gastrointestinal condition. They might also have a skin issue leading to excessive grooming.
Knowing how to prevent cat hairballs includes:
Finding the cause
Reducing the amount of loose hair
Following hairball remedies that help move ingested hair through the digestive tract
Hairballs are precisely what their name implies: balls of dead hair. When cats groom, they run their tongues across the coat to clean it of dirt, debris, and loose hair. These rough tongues are excellent for capturing unwanted items, with angled surface ridges pushing loose hair into the mouth and throat.
Hair is mainly composed of a protein called keratin, which cats can’t digest. So if a cat can’t pass that loose hair from their stomach into their intestines, they’ll end up coughing up the clump. This clump of undigested hair will be mixed with stomach acids and bile, leading to a wet mass (often with a slight odor).
While nothing can completely prevent cat hairballs, there are many ways to reduce the frequency and size of the hairball. The goal for pet parents is twofold: minimize hairball events and ensure the ingested hair makes it into their pet’s feces.
While it’s still possible for a cat to hack up a small hairball now and then, these clumps shouldn’t cause the pet any stress or difficulty. The hairballs also shouldn’t interfere with a cat’s health or well-being. Pet parents can learn how to help a cat with hairballs with the following five tips.
First, pet parents must make some preventative care changes if their cat gets hairballs often. With that in mind, one of the best ways to reduce frequent hairballs is to introduce regular brushing as part of the cat’s daily care routine. Although both short-haired and long-haired cats can develop hairballs, long-haired breeds like Persians, Maine Coons, Himalayans, and Norwegian Forest cats have an increased risk because of their long, fluffy hair and heavy-shedding coats.
Some cats readily accept brushing and grooming, while others dislike this activity and may require a slower approach. When pet parents begin, they should use a comb for tangles and move slowly to avoid yanking their cat’s hair. Next, use a rubber or soft-bristle brush and move in the direction each hair grows.
For short-haired cats, pet parents should start at their head and move toward the tail. For long-haired cats, it’s best to begin with the belly and legs before moving from head to tail. Treats and slow, gentle motions can help pet parents bond with their cat during grooming.
What is excessive grooming? It is grooming that leads to harmful skin and coat effects — such as bald spots, red blisters, or even open sores. For cats, licking and cleaning are positive grooming habits until they become obsessive.
Cats can spend anywhere from 30-50% of each day engaged in grooming, but if they groom too frequently or too intensely, they can do more harm than good.
Sometimes, cats groom excessively because of dry, itchy skin, seasonal or food allergies, or even flea, lice, or parasite infestations. Besides health issues, cats might also over-groom because of stress, anxiety, or boredom. All of these causes can result in hairballs.
Many times, excessive licking becomes a way to self-soothe. For example, a cat could experience stress in a multi-cat home or feel lonely or bored if left alone all day.
To help a cat throwing up hairballs from too much grooming, pet parents need to find the cause. They can start by inspecting their cat’s coat for fleas or lice and observing how the cat behaves in the home. Helping their cat de-stress with more bonding time, cat play spaces, and stimulating activities can go a long way toward curbing the desire or need for self-soothe grooming.
Next, pet parents should check in with a veterinarian for any medications their cat might need, especially if they suspect an infection or infestation. The vet might also prescribe medication, supplements or probiotics to help calm an anxious cat with hairball sensitivities.
Hairballs that get too big for the intestines could create a dangerous situation from an intestinal blockage. The cat might have symptoms such as:
Lack of appetite
Abdominal pain or swelling
Pet parents can give their pet a hairball laxative to help a hairball move through the cat’s digestive tract. Before doing so, ensure the vet knows what’s happening and doesn’t suspect another medical issue. For severe blockages, the vet might urge a pet parent to take their pet to an emergency clinic for immediate care. Pet insurance can also help support pet parents financially if their cat experiences a sudden, costly health issue.
Unlike hairball laxatives that simply push hair through the intestines, hairball supplements work to improve gut health and help a cat minimize the chances of hairball formation.
These supplements have a blend of ingredients that help nourish the intestines and immune system and hydrate the skin. Healthy skin can also help stabilize a cat’s shedding frequency so that more hair remains in the coat for longer.
The final hairball remedy focuses on healthy food. To help reduce hairballs, pet parents can give their cat a high-quality diet full of nutrient-rich ingredients like omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber. These ingredients help support healthy digestion and keep waste moving through the feline gastrointestinal tract.
Anti-hairball dry cat foods can also have dietary enzymes that help break down the keratin proteins so that they don’t cause problems later on.
If “how to help my cat with hairballs” is a thought frequently on the mind, hopefully these tips will boost confidence when it comes to helping a cherished cat. Remember, hairballs are unpleasant but less likely to cause issues when they’re small and infrequent. From regular grooming to vet-formulated hairball laxatives and supplements, there are many ways to reduce hairballs and improve a cat’s coat.
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