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What Causes Hairballs?

Why Your Cat Has Hairballs

By Madeleine Burry. January 21, 2013 | See Comments

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    vet verified

    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

    DVM

What Causes Hairballs?

Cats are very clean creatures, which is great. However, their almost obsessive cleaning of their coats does yield one yucky side effect: hairballs. To learn about what causes hairballs, look no further.

Cats are good groomers, licking at their skin and fur to clean it throughout each day. All of this attention to cleanliness, however, has an unappealing side effect. Inevitably the licking leads to some hair being ingested.

When everything goes properly, as a cat licks their fur, the tiny spine-like structures on their tongue, called papillae, brush through the fur. Some of this fur is ingested, and then this hair makes its way through a cat’s digestive tract, and leaves your cat in the form of feces. However, hair that is not emitted through feces will linger in your cat’s stomach and intestines, and will then need to be vomited up.

Likely Candidates for Hairballs

Hairballs occur more frequently in longhaired cats, like Persians, Angora, Maine Coons, or Siamese, and they can also occur more often as the temperature rises and cats shed additional hair. It is more common to find older cats experiencing hairballs than younger cats and kittens.

Persistent Hairballs

Having an occasional hairball is not a cause for concern. However, if cats very frequently have hairballs, it can become hard on their system, and lead to excessive vomiting. It’s a good idea to take your cat to the vet if they have hairballs more than a few times a month. Your vet can help you decide on treatment, and figure out if the hairballs are the result of excessive grooming or a dietary problem that should be addressed as well. Cats that obsessively groom often do so because of stress or anxiety, but it can also be a sign of allergies, so it’s a good idea to rule out an underlying disease or condition.

And, if your cat seems to make the sounds associated with hairballs, but not actually produce one, it’s a good idea to take her to the vet. A long-term hacking cough or recurrent vomiting can be signs of other illnesses, and you’ll want to get a diagnosis right away.

More on Cat Care

The Best Senior Cat Pet Supplies
When to Take a Cat to the Vet
Common Kitten Health Problems

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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