Cats, known for their finicky bathing habits, may swallow loose hair as they lick themselves clean. Usually, the hair passes easily through the cat's digestive system but occasionally it clumps, forming an hairball. When this occurs, the cat may try to vomit up the hairball. According to "The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Dogs and Cats," this is not a serious condition, but if your cat suffers from chronic hairballs, a home remedy may offer some relief.
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Lubrication is commonly used to help a cat pass an hairball. Commercial products are available in pet supply stores, but you can try a bit of petroleum jelly. Dab a 1/4 tsp. on the roof of your cat's mouth, just behind its teeth. The cat will lick it off and swallow. Alternately, place the petroleum jelly on the front of its paw if you can't open its mouth. Most cats will lick the paw just to remove the offending substance.
Butter may be an effective substitute for petroleum jelly and most cats enjoy the taste. Offer the cat up to 1 tsp. of butter daily for a week. Butter also acts as a mild laxative, encouraging the cat to pass the hairball.
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Alter your cat's diet and address its grooming needs to reduce future problems. Increase the cat's daily intake of dietary fiber. Check the nutrition label on its food and switch to a brand with more fiber.
Brush the cat frequently, especially during spring and fall shedding seasons. A small, slicker brush found in pet supply stores will gently remove the loose hair before the cat can swallow it. Follow up with a quick wipe-down using a damp rag to remove hairs the slicker may have missed.