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 cat’s
Hairballs, which are known technically as
trichobezoar, occur as a result of your cat’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 pet’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 cat’s body and block the stomach or intestines may
need to be surgically removed.
Hairballs are caused by hair that is ingested, and does not
leave the cat’s body in the form of feces. The hair lingers in
the stomach and liver, and eventually makes its way back out
through the cat’s mouth.
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.
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 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. 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 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.
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
How to Wash a Cat
What to Do when Your Cat Doesn't Self Groom
5 Common Cat
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.