Cat owners are all too familiar with hacking and gagging sounds. Seconds after the noises begin, your cat might kindly gift you a slimy lump on the carpet. The occasional hairball is normal, but it’s worth looking into if your cat produces them all the time.
In most cases, pet parents can limit hairballs by incorporating a few simple habits into their cat’s daily routine. Check out these top tips for reducing the number of hairballs in your cat.
- Brush your kitty’s fur: Daily brushing is one of the most effective ways to reduce hairballs in cats. The bristles collect loose hair and minimize how much your cat swallows while grooming themselves. The less hair in a cat’s digestive tract, the less likely they are to hack up a hairball. Consider brushing your cat more often in the spring, because this is when they shed the most. If you don’t normally brush your cat, slowly introduce the tool into their routine until they’re comfortable with it.
- Wipe away loose strands: After brushing your cat, there might be some loose hair leftover on top of their coat. Use an unscented, hypoallergenic wipe to clean off any remaining pieces. Pet stores sell grooming wipes that are safe for cats. A damp cloth or paper towel works just fine, too. The idea is to wipe away the loose fur your brush doesn’t pick up.
- Schedule daily play time: Exercise comes with a myriad of health benefits. Besides weight loss and disease prevention, exercise can also reduce hairballs by regulating your cat’s digestive system. Cats that play everyday visit the litter box on a consistent schedule. Physical activity not only gets your cat moving, but moves their bowels along, as well. Loose hair that gets swallowed will pass through a lot faster. It will end up in your cat’s feces rather than come back up the esophagus.
- Feed them more fiber: In addition to daily exercise, cats need fiber in their diet to stay regular. Fiber prevents your cat’s intestines from getting backed up by adding bulk to their stool. The nutrient alleviates constipation, which means furry clumps will sit in the digestive tract for a shorter amount of time. Some cat-friendly sources of fiber include apples, carrots and plain pumpkin puree. Make sure any fruits or vegetables you give to your kitty are either cooked or chopped into bite-size pieces.
- Mix in some olive oil: Oil reduces the frequency of hairballs by lubricating the digestive tract. This helps hair clumps move a lot easier through the small intestine. Mix a teaspoon of olive oil into their regular food once a week. Olive oil is safe for cats in small amounts, but too much may cause an upset stomach or excessive weight gain. Another trick to add lubrication is by dipping the kitty’s paw in some petroleum jelly. Once they lick it off, the jelly will coat their digestive tract.
- Ask your vet about special food: Fiber and olive oil are great options for supplementing your cat’s regular food. But if the problem is severe, they might need more help than that. Consult your vet about switching to food with a special hairball formula. Pet stores sell food designed to aid cats plagued by frequent hairballs. The food contains digestive enzymes that break hair clumps into smaller pieces. They also provide a special blend of vitamins and minerals that may reduce your cat’s shedding altogether.
- Treat allergy symptoms: Some cats experience more hairballs when their allergies flare up. Whether they have a food, flea or environmental allergy, a common response to allergens is skin irritation. Allergic cats may develop flaky skin or itchy red bumps. This causes them to excessively lick or bite the affected area. As a result, the cat swallows more fur than normal. Check your kitty’s coat for signs of allergies and work with your vet to create a treatment plan.
- Create a stress-free environment: Excessive grooming is a habit among cats dealing with highly stressful situations. Stress can come from anywhere, whether it’s other pets, strangers or a new home. Identify sources of stress in your cat’s environment, then take steps to help them feel more at ease. This may include bedding in a quiet, secluded corner, high perches or calming supplements.
Hairballs are more than just icky messes to clean up. They could be signs of a more serious underlying issue. But for some cats, all they need is a good brushing. If these tips do little to reduce hairballs, speak with a vet to identify and treat whatever’s causing your kitty to hack up those slimy lumps of fur.