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How to Prevent Hairballs in Cats: Top 9 Prevention Tips

Cat throwing up hairball on a couch

Hairballs are a problem for every cat owner at one point or another during their cat’s lives, and it’s not necessarily a pleasant experience. If this sounds like you and you’re wondering how to prevent hairballs in cats, this one is for you.

We’re going to give you an in-depth look at what hairballs are, why cats get hairballs, symptoms your cat may have a problem with hairballs, and several ways to help prevent them. You can then apply all of these things to your cat and see if it helps with this unpleasant but common issue. 

What Are Hairballs Anyway?

Hairballs are small tufts of hair that form in your cat’s intestines after they repeatedly groom themselves. Since your cat has small hooks on their tongue, they snag all of the loose pieces of hair before swallowing them where they form a hairball.

Although the majority of this hair will pass through your cat’s system and your cat will expel it with their waste products, it doesn’t always leave this way. If it doesn’t, your cat’s body rejects the excess hair by triggering a gag reflex that leads to throwing up. 

Almost all cats will experience hairballs at one point in their lives with the exception of hairless cats, but breeds with longer hair are more likely to have more hairballs. Your cat will most likely also have more hairballs as they get older because they’ve learned how to groom themselves properly by this point.

Symptoms of a Hairball Problem

If you think that your cat has ongoing symptoms of chronic hairball problems, there are signs and symptoms that you can keep an eye on. This will give you a good idea if you have a serious issue on your hands that may require veterinarian intervention or if it’s something you can deal with at home. They include but are not limited to: 

  • Bowel Movement Changes: When cats have ongoing issues with hairballs, they can start to have problems with having regular bowel movements. The hair can make it extremely difficult for your cat to excrete their waste products, and this can turn into constipation

  • Coughing or Gagging: Your cat could try to unsuccessfully cough up the hairball because they know it’s there, and this can result in a lot of gagging, hacking, or coughing. Although this isn’t necessarily dangerous for your cat, it can be unpleasant to hear and experience. 

  • Diarrhea: Maybe your cat is starting to experience constant diarrhea without having any major diet or environmental changes. If so, your cat’s stomach could be getting upset but the influx of hair, and this can cause runny stools. 

  • Distended Abdomen: A swollen abdomen that sticks out or distends is usually the sign of a more serious health issue with your cat. It means that there is a blockage somewhere, and you’ll need the intervention of your vet to help relieve the distension. 

  • Lethargic: If your cat has an ongoing issues, they can start to get lethargic due to the loss of nutrients from them throwing up. They may not want to eat or drink like they normally do, and you’ll most likely see a decline in how much they want to play. 

  • Weight Loss: Your cat can start to lose weight if the hairball obstructs their digestive tract for a longer period of time. When you can combine this with the more frequent vomiting spells, this can lead to rapid weight loss.

Nine Tips for Preventing Hairballs in Cats

Like most things in life, prevention is a much better option than treatment. There are several easy things you can do to help prevent your cat from having hairballs, and you can try one or two of the methods below to see which ones work on your cat. 

1. Switch to a Special Cat Food

There are special cat foods available that come designed to help combat hairball problems and give your cat a healthier digestive system. These cat foods usually have slightly higher amounts of fiber in them to help move the hair through your cat’s digestive system, and they also have enzymes that work to break down the hair to allow it to pass through your cat’s system. 

2. Brush Your Cat More Often

One of the best ways to prevent hairballs is to get into a grooming routine and brush your cat for a few minutes every day or every other day. This grooming will help to remove any dead or loose hair from your cat’s coat, and this ensures that there’s less hair for your cat to digest overall.

3. Keep Your Cat Active

The more active your cat is, the better their digestive system will be able to work. Ideally, your cat should have a block set aside each day for playtime. This can be at any point during the day, but this play will help to balance your cat’s digestive system and prevent hairball buildup.

4. Feed You Cats Treats with Fiber

You can introduce fiber into your cat’s diet to help encourage a smooth transition through your cat’s system. Feeding them a teaspoon of pumpkin every few days should help, or you can feed them green beans, sweet potatoes, bran flakes, or cooked oats.

5. Discourage Excessive Grooming Sessions

If your cat is anxious or bored, they can start to focus on themselves and groom excessively. In turn, they get more hair into their system, and this can lead to more hairballs. Make sure that your cat has more than enough toys around the house, and play with them every day.

6. Give a Hairball Remedy

You can get hairball remedies from your vet, and they’re usually a gel or paste that you mix into your cat’s food that smells like fish. These remedies usually contain a small amount of mineral oil or petroleum jelly, and these things work to lubricate your cat’s intestines and help push the hair along. 

7. Hydrate

Many cats don’t get enough water throughout the day, especially if they eat dry cat food. Hydrating your cat and making sure that they always have fresh and cool water available is a way to improve their skin and coat health. In turn, it can help cut down on the amount of hair they shed.

8. Schedule a Vet Visit

Maybe your cat has something going on medically that’s causing the hairballs, and you’re not aware of it. Scheduling a visit with your vet not only allows your vet to examine your cat, but it can also help to rule out any serious medical condition that could cause excessive hair loss. Your vet can also suggest treatment options.

9. Add Oils to Your Cat’s Food

Adding olive oil or even a teaspoon of melted butter to your cat’s food is a great way to help encourage any hair to move through your cat’s stomach and intestines. There are lots of calories in butter though, and this means that you may want to restrict how much you give your cat to help prevent weight gain.

Bottom Line

Now you know several ways how to prevent hairballs in cats, and you can start to apply them to your own cat to see which ones work best for your situation. Once you find one that works, you should start to see a marked decrease in the number of hairballs your cat has. Also, you should notice that your cat appears to be happier and healthier overall.