Hairballs are a pretty frequent occurrence among cats. It's normal for a cat to produce hairballs – they spend lots of time licking their fur, and so swallow lots of hair. However it's important to keep a close eye on your cat and make sure that hairballs aren't at the root of bigger and more serious problems.
How are hairballs formed?
Have you ever had a look at your cat's tongue? If you have, you'll surely have noticed its rough and bumpy texture. When your cat licks itself, its tongue grips onto old hairs which then pass into the cat's digestive system.
These hairs can't be digested and get mixed in with feces, after which they are normally excreted. Your cat may simply vomit these balls of undigestable hair back up; though it can sometimes be worrying to watch, bringing up hairballs in itself isn't dangerous.
A long-haired cat is much more likely to bring up hairballs. The problem is also worse during the malting seasons – spring and autumn.
How can you prevent hairballs?
Simple tricks will help your cat to manage its hairballs. Brush your cat regularly to remove old hairs that have come loose. This is even more important for long-haired cats, who need to be brushed at least once a week and as often as daily during moulting periods.
Don't forget to treat your cat for fleas – if your cat is itchy, it will lick itself more.
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If you have a house cat, make sure it's getting enough exercise, as this stimulates its digestive system. Keep an eye on your cat's food too – it's important that he or she is getting enough fibre. It goes without saying that you should also look out for your cat's general health and wellbeing.
For example, if your cat is anxious, it may develop compulsive behaviour such as licking itself more than it needs to. If this is this case, a consultation with an animal behaviourist is necessary.
Though home remedies such as recipes using paraffin or cod liver oil exist, it's best to talk to your vet if you think your cat has a hairball problem. Self-medicating carries the risk of doing your pet more harm than good. Using catnip or special treats in the form of granules may help to reduce the number of hairballs produced.
Though they are mostly harmless, hairballs can become problematic if the hair blcoks the cat's intestine. This can sometimes be fatal and so should not be taken lightly; urgent treatment is required in such cases.
Symptoms of a blockage include vomiting after every meal or after every drink. A cat suffering with this will stop going to the toilet or eating, and will lose weight. The cat may also develop a distended stomach. If you notice these symptoms, consult your vet as a matter of urgence.