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Feline grooming: Preventing hairballs in cats

A wonderful thing about cats is that they groom themselves. Yet for every silver lining there is a cloud, and in this case it’s hairballs. If you’re a cat owner, chances are you’ve cleaned up more than your fair share. In most cases, they represent a harmless inconvenience, but occasionally a hairball can result in an intestinal blockage that can be life-threatening to your pet if left unresolved.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce both your cat’s discomfort and the time you spend cleaning up after your pet. 

Why Do Hairballs Happen?

Hairballs are the result of feline self-grooming. In most cases, the feline digestive tract is equipped to pass a certain amount of fur normally. Occasionally, the hair clumps up in the stomach until it forms a sizeable foreign object that the cat, brings up by vomiting to relieve its discomfort. While this is normal and in most cases does not require medical intervention, some owners find the process (and the cleanup) distressing—especially if it occurs on bedding or furniture. 

What Can You Do?

The most basic solution is to groom your cat regularly. No, not with your tongue, with a brush. Since long-haired cats are more prone to hairballs, they should be brushed more often than their short-haired counterparts. If your budget allows, a professional pet groomer can also help you and your cat win the battle against the hairball. 

Now that you’re working on the problem from the outside, what about the inside? Evidence supports the idea that feline diet has a great deal to do with hairball control. Felines are by nature carnivores who require little or no grain in their diets. Yet many cat foods contain carbohydrates as fillers (making them cheaper to produce in volume). Look for foods with a lower carb content and those that are designed as hairball-control formulations. If your pet has no underlying medical problem, these measures should reduce the number and frequency of hairballs.

Some Home Remedies

Over the years, cat owners have developed many home remedies for their cats’ hairball problems. Most involve introducing some form of natural oil to the diet—either through fish oil, corn oil, or olive oil (usually a teaspoon mixed with wet food once daily). The idea is to lubricate the digestive tract to encourage the hairball to pass. 

A Final Note

If your cat presents with persistent vomiting, there may be an underlying medical cause. Both inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal lymphoma can present with frequent vomiting. Always check with your veterinarian if you notice your cat changing their eating habits, vomits excessively, or seems in physical pain, as these could be signs of a medical issue that needs immediate professional attention. 

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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