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Cat hairballs – if you’ve ever lived with a cat, chances are that at one time or another you’ve come across (or even stepped on) one of these gooey, tubular masses of grossness. Needless to say, we’d much rather spend our time cuddling with our kitties than cleaning their hairballs off of our floors or feet.
So what do you do if you have a cat with a hairball? Thankfully, there are ways to prevent these paws-itively yucky gobs of fur from happening!
What Causes Cat Hairballs?
Cats are meticulous groomers, and they use their tongues to get the job done. Cat parents who have enjoyed the occasional affectionate tongue bath from their kitties will be familiar with the rough texture of our furry friends’ tongues. That’s because their tongues are actually covered by tiny barbs which are perfect for removing dirt and other debris from their coats. They’re also perfect for grabbing excess fur, which they then swallow.
Much of the time, this fur can pass through the stomach and intestines and come out the other end with no trouble. However, when a large amount of fur becomes trapped in kitty’s stomach, it gets regurgitated back up in the form of a hairball, or a cat furball.
What are other symptoms of cat hairballs and what can you do if your cat is getting hairballs?
Cat Hairball Symptoms
The tell-tale cat hairball symptoms are all very familiar to most cat owners. They often include:
Most of the time, these sounds signal your cat is about to expel a hairball. However, there are other more insidious signs that your cat is having difficulty with a hairball and may need medical attention. If you notice any of the following signs in your cat, it’s time to skip the home remedies and head straight to your veterinarian:
- Continuous hacking or retching without producing a hairball
- Changes in digestion, such as diarrhea or constipation or lack of appetite
- A swollen or hard belly
However, if your cat is getting hairballs and has no trouble expelling them, there are things you can do at home to minimize their frequency.
Natural Remedies for Hairballs in Cats
Thankfully, hairballs are not usually a sign of a serious problem. However, if you’ve ever watched a cat in the process of coughing one up, you’ve probably noticed that it isn’t a pleasant experience for them. Not that we particularly enjoy the cleanup, either! You’ll be happy to know that there are a few easy and natural remedies for cat hairballs.
Remedy #1: Brushing
Of course, one of the most effective ways to deal with hairballs is to prevent them in the first place. Regular brushing removes much of the excess fur that would normally be swallowed and regurgitated. It also provides a special opportunity for some bonding time with our kitties.
While some cats just love being brushed, others may not be quite so enthusiastic. Introducing grooming time gradually may help them to adjust with as little pain (for cat or cat parent!) as possible. Starting with one or two strokes with a grooming glove and following up with special treats may make the transition easier.
Another pawesome tool I’ve dug up for kitty grooming is the Furminator. It’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and it’s a great way to gently remove excess fur that could lead to hairballs.
You can gradually increase the time spent brushing as your kitty learns to tolerate, and hopefully enjoy, this quality time spent together. Brushing doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process. Just a few minutes each day is usually enough for long-haired cats, and short-haired cats may only need to be brushed a few times each week.
Remedy #2: Fiber
We know that humans need to take in enough fiber in our diets, but did you know it’s important for our kitties too? Increasing the fiber in your cat’s diet can help the fur that she swallows to keep moving through her digestive tract instead of being vomited back up.
Some possible sources of fiber include hairball-control cat foods, canned pumpkin, or small bits of fruits and veggies such as apples, carrots, or sweet potatoes. Most kitties love the taste of pumpkin, and sprinkling a little pumpkin powder on their food adds fiber and a whole bunch of other healthy vitamins. Always make sure that you talk to your vet before increasing your cat’s fiber intake, since too much fiber (or fiber from the wrong source) can have some uncomfortable and unpleasant side effects!
Another yummy way to control hairballs is with treats! I love these Temptations Hairball Control treats, because they not only help eliminate hairballs, they also clean kitty’s teeth.
A teaspoon of fish, safflower, or flax oil added to your cat’s food can coat a hairball, allowing it to pass through your kitty’s system.
Another option is a hairball prevention jelly containing slippery elm, marshmallow, or papaya. These are usually given once or twice a week. Tomlyn Hairball remedy is a lubricant that comes as either a gel or a soft chew.
Remedy #4: Hydration
If a cat’s diet isn’t providing enough moisture, her digestive tract is working harder than it should, which may make her hairball problem worse.
Most cats actually prefer to drink moving, running water. That means that, even if your cat has constant access to a nice clean bowl of water, she may not be drinking enough. A water fountain is a perfect way to entice kitty to drink more. My cat Olivia and I love our Catit Flower Fountain! I used to leave the faucet in my bathroom dripping just a bit so Olivia could go in and get a drink. But now my faucet is off, and she can drink clean, running water to her little heart’s content!
Drinking water is important, but your cat can also get hydration from her food. A cat who eats a diet composed of mainly dry kibble may not be getting the moisture that she needs. Gradually introducing canned food will increase her water intake. Thus, it will help her digestive tract to move all that hair and debris through instead of sending it back up where it came from.
While most hairballs are harmless, there are a few danger signs that we want to be on the lookout for. A kitty who is dry heaving or vomiting undigested food, stops passing stool, has abdominal swelling, or loss of appetite needs to see a veterinarian right away.
In most situations, however, trying these natural remedies can make a big difference. Our cats (and our floors) will thank us for making hairballs a thing of the past!