Friday, April 24, 2015

Everything You Need to Know About Hairballs

Though hairballs are quite common for cats, they are unpleasant for kitties and their human companions.  In addition, hairballs can cause a stomach or intestinal blockage, which is a very dangerous situation.

What Causes Hairballs?

Hairballs result from a cat's natural grooming habits.  According to WebMD, when your cat bathes herself, the hook-like structures on her tongue (papillae) grab loose and dead hair.  She will inadvertently swallow some of her fur while she's grooming herself.  According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the main structural component of a cat's hair, keratin, is not digestible.  However, hair usually goes through the digestive system without any problem.  When some of the hair stays behind in the cat's stomach, hairballs form.  Eventually, your cat will vomit up the hairball in order to get rid of it.  Despite their name, hairballs usually have a thin, tubular shape rather than a round shape because they have to travel up through your kitty's narrow esophagus to be expelled.  

Some cats are more prone to hairballs than others.  Specifically, long-haired kitties, like Persians and Maine Coons, cats who groom excessively, and those who shed excessively are especially prone to developing hairballs.


Cats usually gag, hack, and/or retch before they vomit up a hairball.  According to Dr. Richard Goldstein, DVM, assistant professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, it is not uncommon for a kitty to have a hairball every week or two.  However, hairballs can pose a serious threat if they become too large and are not able to pass through the narrow sphincters that lead from the stomach to the intestinal tract or from the stomach to the esophagus.  It is also very dangerous when a hairball gets stuck in the small intestine.  Stomach and intestinal blockages are life-threatening and typically require surgery to remove.  Signs of a possible blockage include: gagging, hacking, retching, or vomiting without producing a hairball,  diarrhea, constipation, lethargy, and lack of appetite.  Please call your veterinarian if your cat exhibits any of these signs.  

Preventing Hairballs

There are several things you can do to help prevent or reduce the incidence of hairballs for your cat.

  • Groom Your Kitty: Jewel never had a problem with hairballs, and maybe that was due to the fact that she absolutely loved being brushed!  Brushing your kitty on a regular basis reduces the amount of loose and dead hair she will swallow while she bathes herself.

    If you have a medium or long-haired feline that doesn't like being brushed, you could take her to the vet or a professional groomer to get a haircut twice a year.  Cat Care graduate Ginger is a gorgeous mediumhair orange ladycat.  She hated being brushed, though, so every so often, the vet tech at Cat Care gave her a cute lion cut.  You can see how adorable she looks in the photo on the right.
  • Discourage Excessive Grooming: Cats groom excessively for a number of reasons.  Please don't automatically assume that if your cat is grooming excessively that he has a behavior issue.  Take your kitty to the vet.  Your vet will be able to determine if your cat's excessive grooming is caused by a medical or behavioral issue.  
  • Increase Your Cat's Fiber: Doctors Foster and Smith suggest adding fiber to your kitty's diet as it adds moisture and bulk to your feline's stool, which makes it easier to pass.  Cat grass is easy to care for, cheap, and a good source of fiber.
  • Laxatives: There are many petroleum-based laxatives and hairball treatments you can purchase at most pet stores that coat the hair in your cat's stomach, making it easier to pass through the digestive system.
  • Hairball Formula Food or Treats: You can find hairball food or treats at most major pet stores.  Hairball food is designed to promote a healthier coat, less shedding, and to help hairballs pass through your kitty's digestive system.  Carmine and Milita enjoy Greenies hairball treats.  An added bonus of these treats is that they are also good for dental health!
Remember, it is always best to consult with yourveterinarian before you try any new food or over-the-counter or home remedies for hairballs.  It's also important to consult your vet if you have any concerns regarding your kitty's health.  

How do you treat hairballs? 



  1. You have some really great advice here. Truffles has the shortest hair of any cat I've ever had, but she has more hairballs than any of them too! I need to talk to her vet about what might be missing in her diet that she can't pass them naturally. Of course it doesn't help that she's grooming herself every waking minute.

    We love using the various hairball treats, and also coconut oil is supposed to work well too. I just wish it wasn't so messy.

    Thank you for the sweet mention on today! Congrats :)

  2. Great post about the darn hairballs. They are hard to get rid of. You all have a super day.

  3. One of my cats has a very thick coat and occasional issues with hairballs. Weekly brushings help to keep them at a minimum.

  4. I saw the interview on too - that is awesome! Paws up to you!

  5. I still haven't seen Callie have any hairball issues thankfully... paws crossed there. She doesn't seem to like being brushed either, but I try to sneak some in when I can.

  6. Truffle and Brulee definitely have problems with hairballs. Grooming them is a daily necessity, yet there are still hairballs.

  7. Such important information for cat owners to know. This is one of the things that people really don't seem to understand about cats. My kitties don't have too many hairballs, but it does happen occasionally. Ginger's lion cut really is cute on her!

  8. Excellent post - I never knew they could be dangerous! With 4 cats this is great info - thank you!

  9. Oh yea, my Sister Zoe can tell you how dangerous those boogers are indeed!

  10. Nice post - hairballs are not much fun! We add pumpkin to our kitties meals to increase their fibre intake and help prevent hairballs.

  11. Wally is the yakker here. Unfortunately, he's not fond of any of the normal remedies like hairball treats, pumpkin in his food, etc. So it's a struggle to keep him from having hairballs.

    Island Cat Mom

  12. TW got real worried several weeks ago when I was coughing and retching and nothing came up. I was eating and playing lots though. I was also moaning in my sleep. Eventually the hairball came up and the moaning stopped. I usually get only one a year. Thanks for the great advice.

  13. Would you believe Waffles has never coughed up a hairball? ...that we know of. Katie has much more of a problem with them. We need to be better about her regular brushings. : )

  14. This is a very informative post- thanks. I keep brushes in many places around the house where Mickey and I hang out. He loves to be brushed and it's become part of our routine. I guess that's why he doesn't have hair balls.

  15. Luckily for us, Gracie, Zoe and Moosey all like to be brushed, so we don't have too many hairball issues here.

  16. Smokey has only ever had 1 or two hairballs, instead we often find little balls of fur floating around the house that we like to call "Smokey's Tumbleweeds". Thanks for sharing! It was very interesting!

  17. VERY excellent article for us and very good for me as I sure have a hairball problem. Good thing mommy brushes me and combs me too. Who knows how much worse it could be. I also eat Greenies Hairball treats but I thrown them up a little too frequently. Then mom lays off letting me have them. Later in the week she tries a few.

  18. We groom our cats -- and I love giving them fresh "salad" -- a bowl of organic oat grass grown just for them!
    --Purrs (and wags) from Life with Dogs and Cats

  19. Great info!!!! Thank you :) ... good thing my Raven loves her cat grass :) I also give her a tiny bit of coconut oil to keep things moving correctly (especially because it is good for them and she loves it :) )

  20. Lexy used to get hairballs all the time. Mommy switched to a good brand hairball control food and now she hardly ever gets them.
    This is a great post with a lot of great info.
    Lola and Lexy