Cat grooms itself

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Hairballs and Cats: What Every Pet Owner Needs to Know

Cat hairballs are these horrible clods of slimy fur, deposited on your newly bought rug or cashmere throw. The slimy mess is accompanied by some disturbing sound effects and isn’t the most pleasant thing to see when you wake up. But they are just part of cat life. In this article, we’ll cover what cat hairballs look like, what causes hairballs in cats, which breeds are predisposed to hairballs, and how to prevent them.

What Does a Cat Hairball Look Like?

Hairballs are scientifically called trichobezoar. There are different sizes – from the size of a dime to the length of a finger. Hairballs are covered in a slippery or slimy substance and usually have a tubular shape when hair accumulates in your cat’s esophagus. But if the hair reaches the stomach, the hairballs may look like small or formless clumps of matted hair. You can find them in brown, green, and orange.

What Causes Hairballs in Cats? 

It’s no secret that cats are meticulous groomers. That’s why they rarely need baths. Our feline friends like to stay clean and spend 25 percent of their day grooming. While grooming with their velcro-style tongue, they swallow dead hair. That hair is not digestive and most of it should pass through the gastrointestinal tract and be excreted in their stool. But some fur can remain in the cat’s stomach and form a hairball. That fur must come out of your cat’s body somehow, and it usually happens when it vomits. 

Other reasons cats can develop hairballs are stress, flea infestation, allergies, or other skin problems. This is because they lead to increased grooming. 

Which cat breeds are predisposed to Hairballs?

All cats love to groom when not sleeping or eating, but not all cats have hairballs.

Certain cat breeds are more likely to develop hairballs than others.

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Long-haired breeds such as Persians, Himalayans, Ragdolls, Maine Coons, Norwegian Forest Cats, Siberians, Turkish Angoras, and Domestic Long Hairs as well as cats who shed more than usual or groom themselves more frequently, are more likely to develop hairballs.

That’s because they have more hair to deal with. It is especially common for cats to develop hairballs as they shed their heavy winter coats in the spring when temperatures warm up.

Because kittens do not know how to groom themselves, they do not develop hairballs.

How to prevent hairballs in cats? 

Nothing can be done to completely prevent hairballs in cats. However, there are four simple things you can do to reduce their frequency.


    1. Grooming

The most effective and simplest way to avoid hairballs is to brush your cat regularly and thoroughly. The more you brush your cat, the more dead fur will be captured. Therefore less fur will end up as a hairball in your cat’s tummy. 

2. Diet

Feed your cat less food but more frequently to stimulate peristalsis and minimize hairballs.

Adding more fiber to your cat’s diet will help reduce hairballs:

  • Many manufacturers have specialized hairball formulas that improve your cat’s digestive system. It is recommended to switch to the new food slowly, to prevent stomach upset. When the hairball problem resolves, the cat should return to her old food.
  • Cat grass is another source of fiber that can be used to ease digestion and eliminate hairballs. A good rule of thumb is that treats, including grass, should be no more than 10% of a cat’s total caloric intake.
  • Malt paste improves your cat’s digestive tract too, because it is rich in fiber. It eases the passage of fur that is ingested. 

3. Increase a water intake

Another way to reduce hairballs is to ensure your cat gets enough water. Water is a natural lubricant and helps the digestive system work properly. In general, cats do not drink much. That’s why it is important to provide fresh water in an easy-access place and feed them wet cat food. 

4. Decrease stress

When cats lick themselves, they release endorphins, the hormones of happiness. It is their way of coping with stress. But when a cat grooms itself too much, it can get hair loss, skin sores, and hairballs.

If there isn’t an underlying medical problem, all you need to do is decrease stress.

Reasons why Your Cat might be stressed:

  1. Moving to a new apartment or house
  2. Moving the litter box to another place
  3. Changing meal times
  4. Arriving of new family members (baby or pet) in the house
  5. Loud parties and noises

How to reduce your cat’s stress? 

  1. Stick to the routine – feed your kitty at the same time every day;
  2. Create a safe place where she can hide;
  3. Clean the litter box daily;
  4. Play with her – 15 minutes of playtime will reduce her stress; 
  5. Use pheromone – containing sprays, collars, and plug-ins.

When to see a vet? 

Hairballs in cats are usually not dangerous. But if your feline friend vomits hairballs several times a week or daily, you should take her to the vet. 

They can become an urgent health problem when your cat:

  • repeatedly tries to throw up with nothing coming out
  • has constipation
  • has diarrhea 
  • is lethargic
  • refuses to eat.

These symptoms could be a sign of a life-threatening blockage that requires surgical intervention to remove the hairball and save your cat’s life.

Final thoughts

Hairballs may not be the best part of cat parenting. But with a little care, a healthy diet, and some love and attention, you can help your cat avoid hairballs.

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