Hairballs in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies

Anyone who has a cat knows that cats get hairballs and that it is usually a really nasty affair. However, most people do not really understand why this happens or whether or not there is anything they can do about it. Hairballs are going to be a fact of life no matter how you look at it if you are going to have cats for pets. But there really are some things you can do to help decrease the amount of hairballs your cat gets and to help the cat pass them more quickly.

Why Do Cats Get Hairballs?

The answer to this question is very simply really. Cats are very clean animals in terms of grooming themselves. They groom themselves on a continual basis and use their tongues to do so. When a cat licks his fur, his tongue has tiny little sand paper like bumps that catch the excess hair. This hair is usually swallowed and passed right away through the intestines and out through the feces but in some cases a bit of it builds up in the stomach and causes a hairball. When this happens the cat will have no option but to vomit the remaining hair up. These are the little disgusting long and slimy things you find on your living room carpet.

Do All Cats Get Hairballs?

The short answer to this question is yes; all cats do get hairballs. However, they are much more common in cats that have longer hair such as Persian, Angora and Maine Coons. A short haired cat will still get hairballs but they will probably not accumulate as often and they may not pose as much of a problem in terms of passing them. However, this is just a general statement and this does not mean that your short haired cat will not be prone to hairball problems. If you live in a cooler climate then your short haired cat may actually grow a longer coat and if you live in a warm climate then your short haired cat may shed more often.

How Can You Tell If Your Cat Has Hairballs?

The first symptom that appears when a hairball is present is that horrible coughing sound your cat makes as he is trying to expel it. This is normally accompanied by the cat vomiting the hairball successfully but this is not always true. If for some reason you notice that your cat has not passed the hairball then there may be something more serious going on. Your cat should not be continuously coughing, retching or hacking without producing a hairball. In addition, should your cat become lethargic, constipated, lose his appetite or develop diarrhea you should immediately seek medical attention as there may be a blockage present that is causing serious or even fatal complications if left untreated.

Grooming Regularly Helps

The more often you groom your cat and help to remove excess hair from his coat, the less his chances of developing large hairballs will be. Make sure that you groom him often, at least twice a day and that you use a brush that is specifically intended for cats. Not only does grooming your cat help with hairballs but most cats really love the attention and you will be giving your cat an extra bit of attention in doing so. In addition, if you do happen to have a longer haired breed of cat then you will want to take him to a groomer at least twice a year to have his hair trimmed down some. This is especially true if you live in a hot climate.

Special Cat Food

There are many brands of cat food that come with a special brand of hairball formula to help prevent the build up of hairballs and assist the cat in passing them naturally. These cat foods can be found in a number of places and usually your cat will not know the difference between one of these cat foods and what he east every day. This is unless you have spoiled your cat in which case he may very well turn his nose up at the food. For more information on the most ideal specialized cat food to feed your cat ask your veterinarian for suggestions. You may also try disguising some of this special food with what your cat likes eating. Some people have to coax their cats to eat the food while others have no trouble at all.

There are also other products such as hairball remedies that come in a tube and can be placed on the cat’s tongue. These products usually resemble petroleum jelly. However, they are totally different as petroleum jelly is toxic and should never be used in place of hairball remedy. You can also try discouraging your cat from grooming too often if you notice that he does it more often than what seems normal. While there are no proven methods of eliminating hairballs, some of the above strategies may help to at least make the problem a bit more manageable. Some cat owners rarely ever notice hairballs as the cat passes them when outside or when the owner is nowhere near. However, some cats have a much bigger problem getting rid of hairballs than others.

1 Comment

  1. Well written but I think you missed some important information in this… most healthy cats should not get hairballs.

    Hairballs are a sign, not a diagnosis; excessive shedding (hair/skin problems), digestive issues (IBD, allergies), coughing (asthma or other airway dz), and a bunch of other issues should be ruled out before you chalk it up to just hairballs.

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