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Hairballs: Safely Minimizing Them in Your Cat

Brushing your long hair cat can minimize the incidence of hairballs and intestinal blockage.

Most cat owners have had the less-than-pleasant experience of coming across a hairball their precious feline has hacked up. Hairballs are the tangled knots of hair that cats swallow when they’re grooming themselves. Cats cough up hairballs when they can’t pass them through their digestive tract and get rid of them in feces.

Minimizing Hairballs

Grooming your cat regularly will decrease the number of hairballs, especially if your cat has long hair. You may also want to keep fresh cat grass growing in a pot for your feline to nibble on. The extra fiber can help your cat pass hairballs more easily. If the fiber doesn’t work, the veterinarian may suggest a lubricating oil that will help move hairballs through the bowels.

If your cat periodically gets hairballs and sometimes has difficulty passing them or coughing them up, you can try petroleum jelly as an at-home lubricant. Add a small amount (no more than ½ teaspoon) to some canned cat food (dry isn’t ideal for mixing in the petroleum jelly) two or three times a week. If your cat turns her nose up at this, you can try adding a teaspoon of butter to her food two or three times a week.

When too much hair builds up in your cat’s stomach, the irritation will cause her to hack and gag until she vomits up a hairball. Cats are most likely to have hairballs if they have long fur or groom themselves excessively. Hairballs also tend to happen more often in the spring, when shedding increases. An occasional hairball isn’t usually a problem, but if they become frequent, a visit to the veterinarian is in order to determine whether there is a blockage in the cat’s digestive system.

Recognize the Signs of an Intestinal Blockage:

  • Repeated coughing or gagging as though trying to force himself to vomit
  • Wheezing
  • Loss of appetite or lethargy
  • A distended stomach
  • Diarrhea

When Hairballs Become Dangerous

As we mentioned earlier, hairballs aren’t always dangerous, but when they become impacted in the digestive tract, they can cause an internal blockage that may prevent your cat from defecating or vomiting up the hairball. In some reported cases, hairballs the size of a fist have been surgically removed from unfortunate cats. If you notice that your pet is straining to pass a hairball or that she can’t defecate, get her to an animal emergency room as soon as possible.


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