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Cat Hairballs & Shedding: 7 Tips to Solve the Big Hairy Deal

by | Jun 29, 2022 | Cat Behavior & Care | 2 comments

Karma-Kat recently has “urped” up more cat hairballs, and I know why. I bet you didn’t know that in hot weather, cats lick and groom themselves to cool off. Of course, that can lead to more hairballs, so in hot weather or shedding season, you may see an uptick in these problems.

Cat hairballs can be a big problem with longhair cats.

Longhair cats like this Persian require extra grooming help to prevent cat hairballs.

Cat Hairballs: What You Need to Know

It’s shedding season, and cat hairballs (sometimes even dog hairballs, URK!) can be a problem at this time of year. Many cat owners discover wads of wet fur—hairballs—late at night when they step on them with bare feet. Cats seem to instinctively choose to decorate the most stainable portions of the carpet. Refer to this post about cleaning accidents on the carpet.

It’s normal for cats—especially those with long fur—to experience hairballs once in a while. Cats spend up to 50 percent of their awake time grooming and swallow fur in the process. What doesn’t end up in the litter box comes out the other end as nasty cigar-shaped cat hairballs.

cat hairballs prevented by combing and brushing

Combing it out means it won’t be swallowed–and end up on your carpet! Refer to this post for managing fur in your house.

But swallowing lots of fur isn’t healthy, and hairballs are more than a nasty nuisance. Kitties that produce three or more hairballs a month should be checked by the vet to rule out other health issues.

Hairballs cause diarrhea, appetite loss, coughing, retching, constipation—or even deadly intestinal blockage. Cats have had hairballs as big as baseballs that require surgery to be removed! Most cases won’t need surgery, though, and most hairballs can be easily eliminated. Refer to these tips to untangle your cat hairballs problems.

cat hairballs are reduced by grooming cats

Grooming cats reduces the chance for hairballs.

7 CAT HAIRBALLS TIPS

Groom the cat. The cheapest, easiest hairball cure for cat hairballs is to regularly comb and brush your cat. Any hair you remove won’t be swallowed to end up staining your upholstery. The Furminator eliminates up to 90 percent of shed fur. Seren-kitty LOVES her Furminator (Magic loves his dog version, too).

Feed a hairball diet. A variety of commercial products are designed to prevent cat hairballs. They include extra nondigestible fiber. That helps push swallowed hair through the digestive tract, so it is eliminated naturally with each bowel movement. Most of these are dry diets, though, and cats do much better on wet foods.

Add some fiber. If you’d rather not switch foods, just add fiber to kitty’s regular diet. Cats love and need lots of protein but that sometimes promotes constipation and doesn’t help move the swallowed hairs. Mix in a teaspoon of plain bran or Metamucil to canned meals. Flaxseeds or psyllium husks, available in health food stores, also act as natural laxatives and work well. Add ¼ teaspoon of flaxseeds or psyllium for every meal.

Offer pumpkin. Canned pumpkin—the plain type, not for pies—is very rich in fiber and cats often love the taste. Get a jumbo-size can, and divide into teaspoon-size servings and freeze in an ice cube tray. Thaw one serving at a time, mixing into the regular food or offer as a treat once or twice a week. Some cats actually love fresh green beans or cat grass, so offer for extra treats and bowel health.

Give a bit of honey. If your cat doesn’t appreciate canned pumpkin, you can offer a natural laxative, two or three times a week. Combine raw oatmeal, honey, and olive oil into a paste. Offer one to two tablespoons as a treat when hairballs are a problem.

Lubricate the gut. Butter will make your cat purr, but it won’t help hairballs. Digestible fats like butter can cause diarrhea and usually get absorbed before they can move the problem out. Instead, offer non-medicated petroleum jelly. It looks nasty but many pets like the taste. It will coat the hairball to make it slide more easily out of the system. If kitty refuses to accept a finger-full scraped into his mouth, just spread the jelly on his paw so he has to lick it off as he grooms. We’ve been using Vetoquinol Laxatone for Karma (maple flavoring, who knew?!). Commercial hairball remedies often add salmon or malt flavoring to similar petrolatum products. Take care to follow label instructions or your veterinarian’s advice, though. Overuse of these products can interfere with the pet’s use of fat-soluble vitamins.

Do your cats suffer from hairballs? How do you manage the problem? Do tell!

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2 Comments

  1. Marilyn. Birdsong

    My rescue has a hairball problem. She refuses to eat anything but dry food. I am going to try the pumpkin though. I have tried Vaseline but she slings it off her paw. I need to rub it in really good—-just as soon as she trusts me more. She is hard to medicate. Even flea drops!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Marilyn, if she won’t eat anything but the dry, look for “hairball formula” on the label. That can help. And let me know how she likes the pumpkin (it works for dogs, too!). Also…when grooming, there is no rule that says you have to groom the whole cat at one time. Just a little every night can help, while they sit on your lap and you watch TV. *s* Even stroking with an old sock or pantyhose “footie” will pull off loose fur.

      Reply

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