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How do I stop my cat getting hairballs?

Hairballs are a terrible experience for both cat and owner. Clumps of hair bond in your cat's stomach and are vomited up onto shoes, carpets and floors. They can be difficult to clean but worst of all seeing your cat in discomfort is distressing. The question is, are hairballs 'normal', and can anything be done about them?

Are Hairballs Normal?

Technically speaking, no. Cats have been grooming themselves for millennia and their digestive systems are built to cope with the hair that is inevitably swallowed during the grooming process. Hairballs should move through their digestive system without issue. However, this process can go awry and hair can clump up and become trapped in the stomach instead of passing through the digestive system normally. Eventually when the irritation becomes too severe the mass is vomited out by the cat and presents us with the infamous hairball.

Now, you shouldn't worry if hairballs are only a rare occurrence, provided all other things are perfectly normal. If they appear to be a chronic problem however, you should consult your Vet who will perform a number of tests.

Why Do Hairballs Occur?

1. Ingesting more hair than usual

Skin problems such as infections or external parasites can cause cats to shed hair and/or groom themselves excessively, which in turn may lead to hairball issues. Extreme grooming can also be associated with other issues such as stress, boredom or other compulsive behaviours. Conditions unrelated to the skin or gastrointestinal system can equally cause hairballs through excessive grooming, for example if a cat with osteoarthritis attempts to soothe her pain through repetitive grooming.

2. Impaired Gastrointestinal Motility

Improper function of the gastrointestinal tract can make your cat unable to process even a normal amount of hair the way it should. The root cause of hairballs can be down to inflammatory bowel disease, internal parasites and many other serious conditions.

How do I Prevent my Cat getting Hairballs?

The first step should be consulting your Vet. They'll be able to examine your cat and determine the root cause. Provided it's nothing unusual or serious, the following steps can help.

1. Higher Fibre in their Diet

Additional fibre in your cat's diet will speed up the digestive process, allowing hairballs less time to clump and form in the stomach. How best to increase your cat's fibre intake should be a question for your Vet when you first ask about your cat's issues with Hairballs. One option is to use a diet specifically formulated to combat hairballs and boost digestive health, which will contain a higher volume of fibre to increase digestive activity.

2. Changing to a more Sensitive Diet

Inflammation of the digestive tract (most often caused by food intolerance) is at the bottom of most hairball problems. Hypoallergenic diets prescribed by your Vet are ideal, however many over-the-counter foods can do the trick provided you monitor your cat's condition, and should there be insufficient improvement then a more restrictive diet may be required.

3. Help Groom your Cat yourself!

More frequent brushings will naturally limit the amount of hair ingested by your cat and should alleviate some of the symptoms. 

As long as your cat's hairballs are fairly isolated incidents, happening no more than once a week - feel free to give these tips a try. However, if they don't work, or if your cat's problem becomes more serious, it's time to see your Vet. As ever, your Vet is the best person to see about these sorts of problems as they will be able to diagnose the problem and suggest appropriate treatment for your Cat.

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