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All About Hairballs in Cats

Most cat owners know all too well that hairballs are a common problem for cats. And, while they are usually just unpleasant for you and kitty, they can sometimes lead to very serious health complications.

Hairballs develop during grooming, when the hook-like structures on a cat’s tongue grab hair and pull it into the mouth, where it is swallowed. Most of the time, this swallowed hair passes through the digestive tract without causing any problems but other times, a little bit of hair remains inside the stomach. When this happens, the trapped hair forms a tiny ball that catches other hair as it passes through the digestive tract. Over time, the hairball continues to grow larger and larger.

Small hairballs are expelled via your cat’s esophagus, and it’s these hairballs that you’ve likely cleaned off your carpet or couch. If the hairball grows too large to vomit up, it may continue to get larger inside your cat’s tummy until it forms a potentially life-threatening blockage. This condition requires emergency veterinary attention.

Stopping hairballs from forming and helping them pass freely through your cat’s digestive tract are the only means of preventing complications. The following tips will help reduce the size and frequency of your cat’s hairballs:

1. Groom your cat frequently to remove loose hair. Brush or comb your cat every day using a brush designed specifically for cat hair. If you cat dislikes being brushed, take her to groomer every few months and pet her while wearing a grooming glove. These gloves are designed to grab and remove loose hair.

2. Switch to a cat food formulated to help control hairballs. These products are higher in fiber than regular cat food and contain ingredients to reduce shedding and improve the health of your kitty’s skin and coat.

3. Consider a cat laxative or hairball product if she grooms excessively, seems constipated, or coughs up hairballs frequently. Hairball remedies lubricate hairballs to make them slide more easily through your cat’s digestive system.

4. Distract her from unnecessary grooming with a new toy or some extra attention. Some cats groom when they are bored, anxious, or lonely. You can cut down on how much hair your kitty swallows by cutting down on her grooming time.

5. Watch out for compulsive grooming. Sometimes, frequent or large hairballs in cats is a sign of compulsive grooming, a potentially harmful condition. If your cat seems preoccupied with licking her fur, pulls her hair out, or otherwise grooms excessively, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible. Behavioral or medical intervention can help.

Repeated problems with hairballs may signal an underlying problem that is not treatable at home. If the above steps do not help control your cat’s problem, or if your cat seems unwell in any way, schedule an appointment with your vet for a full examination.

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