While hairballs frequently are harmless to cats, they sometimes can be dangerous. It's important as a cat owner to know the signs that your cat may be suffering from a lodged hairball and what to do to help. Also, there are things you can do to lessen the occurrence of hairballs in your cat.
Don't think your cat won't get hairballs because it has short hair, or because you don't see it grooming excessively. Virtually all cats get hairballs from licking their fur to clean themselves. The fur accumulates in their stomachs and a few things can happen: The cat can vomit up the hairball or pass it in a bowel movement, or it can become lodged inside the cat's intestines.
Often, you'll only know that your cat has had a hairball after it vomits up the plaque of fur. Sometimes, however, hairballs become stuck inside a cat. Your cat may display some symptoms that can clue you in: The cat might exhibit a repeated dry cough, or may retch after eating. Some cats may be fatigued, depressed or uninterested in food.
When your cat is displaying those symptoms, it's possible that a hairball may have passed from its stomach into his intestine. That could cause a life-threatening blockage in the intestinal tract. The blockage can cause your cat to become dehydrated and malnourished.
If you suspect your cat is suffering from a hairball, something you can do at home is administer some petroleum jelly orally. Put the petroleum jelly on your cat's lip or paw and it will ingest the substance through licking. The jelly will coat your cat's intestines, which may help it to pass the hairball. It isn't a bad idea to give your cat petroleum jelly once or twice a week, especially if it grooms often. If that doesn't work, take your cat to the veterinarian.
The best treatment for hairballs is prevention. Brushing your cat will reduce the amount of loose hair it ingests during grooming. Some cat foods are specially designed to help reduce hairballs, so check those out. Increasing your cat's fiber intake also can help. Adding canned pumpkin or asparagus to your cat's food will up the fiber. Keeping your house clean is a big help, as well; if your cat eats bits of string or thread off the floor, those can get wrapped up with the hairball and make it much worse. Treating your cat for fleas also can reduce fur balls. When your cat has fleas, it will lick more as it tries to rid itself of the pests.