Why Does My Cat... Get Hairballs?

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Is there anything worse than being woken up from a deep sleep to the sound of your cat retching a hairball onto your cashmere throw? Well, maybe there is... when you stumble out of bed in the dark, only to have the soggy mess squish between your bare toes.

What Causes Hairballs?

Cats are fastidious groomers. In the process of preening themselves, they swallow a good share of hair. Since the hair is not digestible, once it’s in the digestive tract, it coalesces into a clump called a trochobezoar (tricho is Greek for hair, and bezoar is a mass trapped in the digestive system).

While some hairballs pass through without incident, others can grow large enough to block the passage of food. This leads to irritation in the digestive tract, causing constipation, diarrhea and loss of appetite.

Eventually, what goes down comes back up. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the tubular-shaped culprit in the middle of the puddle. If not, you may be slapping down your credit card to pay for the surgical removal of the hairball at your local veterinary clinic.

How to Prevent Hairballs

An occasional hairball is normal for a cat — and even tolerable for most owners. But if you start finding hairballs with more frequency, here are a few things you can do to curtail the problem:

Brush your cat daily to remove excess hair. More hair in the brush means less hair on your cat (and your vacuum cleaner). Longhaired cats may also benefit from a trip to the groomer every few months.

Choose a diet designed to reduce hairballs. Most hairball formula diets have increased fiber to help keep things moving along. Increasing the moisture content of your cat’s diet is also helpful — you can either add more canned food or encourage more water drinking with a plug-in kitty drinking fountain.

Invest in commercial hairball remedies. Your veterinarian or your local pet store can provide you with a wide range of intestinal lubricants, usually made with petroleum jelly, in kitty-pleasing flavors like malt, tuna and catnip. Some cats will lick it off your fingers or you can plant a dollop on your cat’s paw, so she can lick it off herself. You can even try a dab of white petroleum jelly, but most cats prefer the flavored remedies.

Increase the fiber in your cat’s diet. Try adding a tablespoon of plain, canned pumpkin or a teaspoon of psyllium to your cat’s food each day until the problem resolves itself, and continue to do so once or twice a week, as needed.

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