All About Cat Hairballs Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Methods for Hairballs

All About Cat Hairballs
expert or vet photo
vet verified PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian DVM

Thumbnail of O.N.E. Advanced Nutrition Hairball Formula Dry Cat Food

O.N.E. Advanced Nutrition Hairball Formula Dry Cat Food

Dry Food
{{petcare_price|currency}} Price in Cart w/PetPlus {{petplus_price|currency}} See PetPlus Price in Cart

Anyone who has a cat at home has heard the hacking sound of a hairball being dislodged, but do they warrant our concern? Learn all about the causes and treatments for hairballs.

The sound of a cat coughing up a hairball can be revolting, and then of course, there is also the need to clean up the resulting mess. But are hairballs really a major health problem, or are they just normal a byproduct of a catโ€™s grooming?

Hairballs, which are known technically as trichobezoar, occur as a result of your catโ€™s inability to digest hair. Our cats spend a great deal of time grooming themselves, and some hair inevitably makes its way into their body during all the licking of fur. This hair needs to come back out of your petโ€™s body, and can do that either as part of feces, or by being regurgitated.

While it can be unappealing to watch and hear a hairball exit your cat, the alternative can be worse: hairballs that do not leave your catโ€™s body and block the stomach or intestines may need to be surgically removed.

Causes of Hairballs

Hairballs are caused by hair that is ingested, and does not leave the catโ€™s body in the form of feces. The hair lingers in the stomach and liver, and eventually makes its way back out through the catโ€™s mouth.

Symptoms of Cat Hairballs

The most common symptom is a telltale cylindrical hairball coughed up on your floor or furniture. Because of its shape, it can easily be mistaken for cat feces. You may also hear your cat making a retching noise as they regurgitate the hairball from their stomach. Some symptoms are more problematic, and include constipation, constant coughing, and lethargy.

Prevention and Treatment for Hairballs

There are several ways to prevent against hairballs, with the simplest and most effective method being to frequently groom your cat, and discourage them from excessive grooming themselves. Other tactics that can help are feeding your cat a special diet to prevent the formation of hairballs, and providing them with laxative-like remedies, which can help dispel the hairballs.

What Causes Hairballs?

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 catโ€™s digestive tract, and leaves your cat in the form of feces. However, hair that is not emitted through feces will linger in your catโ€™s stomach and intestines, and will then need to be vomited up. In some serious cases vets may prescribe medications such as Cat Lax to remove hairballs and clear the blockage.

Likely Candidates for Hairballs

Hairballs occur more frequently in longhaired cats, like PersiansAngoraMaine 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. Itโ€™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 itโ€™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, itโ€™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 youโ€™ll want to get a diagnosis right away.

More on Cat Care

How to Wash a Cat
What to Do when Your Cat Doesn't Self Groom Enough
5 Common Cat Medications

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.

Was this article helpful?

You May Also Like

Image for 5 Common Cat Medications
5 Common Cat Medications

Common Meds Your Cat May Need

Read More
Image for Dandruff in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention.
Dandruff in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention.

Yes, dogs (and cats, too) can get dandruff! Usually a sign of your pet's skin being dry, here's how you can treat and prevent dandruff entirely.

Read More