Hairballs in Cats: Prevention and Treatment

Hairballs in Cats: Prevention and Treatment

hairballs in cats
hairballs in cats lina angelov

How often do cats have hairballs?

Hairballs are difficult for pet owners to deal with. We feel bad for our beloved cats when they cough and pant and make noise, but we cringe when we find those gross little treats on the carpet. Not to mention, they smell bad and can stain fabric! We wonder if they can get caught on our cat, if they hurt, if they can kill our cat, or if their appearance means we’re not doing a good job grooming them.

Hairballs are so prominent in the feline world that April 28th is now Official Hairball Awareness Day, that’s because cats spend 25% of the day grooming themselves and most cats do. receive once or twice a month. But when are they dangerous?

As cats age, they groom more and more and hair accumulates in the GI tract; eventually it is expelled in a tubular form. Hairballs also happen to cats of all hair lengths and breeds. Even regular grooming may not necessarily prevent them from forming. But how do you know when a hairball has gotten stuck and is causing an intestinal obstruction and more serious health problems? Can a hairball kill a cat?

Symptoms of hairballs in cats

  • Nausea, retching, hacking
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • Weightloss
  • vomiting and diarrhea
  • swollen abdomen

did you know

A trichobezoar is a hairball: “bezoar” means “a mass trapped in the gastrointestinal tract” and “tricho” is related to hair.

Brushing your cat can help prevent hairballs.
Brushing your cat can help prevent hairballs. Tran Mau Tri Tam

What causes hairballs in cats?

Hairballs are often the result of a cat’s grooming. The cat’s tongue is like Velcro, its papillae are slanted and literally “hook” things. (If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, you know it!) As your cat becomes more particular about grooming as he ages, his tongue catches loose hair and then swallows it. The more hair is swallowed, the more hair accumulates until it eventually forms a hairball. Hair is made of keratin and therefore cannot be digested.

Eventually, depending on its size, it is forced out of the stomach and regurgitated through the esophagus; this is why you hear gagging, gagging, and gagging just before it comes out.

Cats prone to trichobezoars include

  • Long-haired cats (Maine Coons, Persians, Ragdolls)
  • Cats that groom themselves excessively (compulsive grooming)
  • Cats that are not properly groomed (require brushing)
  • Cats with a lot of hair loss that are stressed or have health problems


Never try to medicate your cat at home with products for humans or those not recommended by your veterinarian: the wrong product can be life-threatening!

Can a hairball kill a cat?

Yes, they can kill cats if they pass into the small intestine and take up residence. Dr Richard Goldstein of CornellExplain:

“This is rare,” he notes, “but it is very serious when it occurs. Without surgical intervention, it can be fatal.”

If a trichobezoar gets big enough, it can actually cause health problems in your cat. If it gets too big, your cat won’t be able to expel it or pass it through the gastrointestinal tract. This can cause a cat to stop eating, act lethargic or depressed. Also, an obstruction can cause the tissues of the digestive tract to become necrotic. Otherwise, it is called an impaction – impactions require veterinary care and treatment. If the impaction continues for a long time, your cat may require emergency surgery.

If your cat is having trouble producing a hairball, you should take your cat to a vet. Sometimes retching and retching can actually indicate ingestion of a foreign object, such as string, rubber band, foam, plastic, or any other small object your cat may find and attempt to ingest.

Offer treats to keep your cat from fearing the big, bad brush!
Offer treats to keep your cat from fearing the big, bad brush! Mikhail Vasiliev

How to prevent hairballs

  • regular brushing: Regular combing or brushing is absolutely essential for cats of all coat types, but rubber brushes are especially helpful. I tried using synthetic bristle brushes on my cat but they don’t seem to pick up hair so I switched to rubber brushes like the CELEMOON (found on Amazon) – this one is soft and she prefers it because her hair and body are thin. Try to brush your cat once a day. If they object to brushing, consider rewarding them with treats as they get used to it. If your cat’s hair is too much to handle, consider sending your kitty to a stress-free handling groomer. Note: Hot weather can increase shedding.
  • Proper Nutrition: Certain cat food companies offer special hairball formulas that can help them pass through the cat’s GI tract. Also make sure that your cat is fed high-quality food and receives adequate nutrition for optimal hair health, as malnutrition can contribute to hair loss. Foods high in fiber generally increase the motility of the gastrointestinal tract. You can also offer them cat grass that provides additional fiber. Note: Always offer fresh water to your cat!
  • Regular health checks: Have your cat seen by the vet at least once a year, as various diseases, such as thyroid problems, can cause hair loss, leading to unwanted ingestion of hair. The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal lymphoma can cause similar symptoms but have greater consequences.

reward with treats

If your cat doesn’t like being brushed, reward him with treats! A little love of food goes a long way when it comes to getting your cat to behave.

  • Reduce stress: Stress can cause excessive hair loss, as well as excessive or compulsive eating and grooming. Reduce stress by removing stressors or offering shelter to them.
  • Enrichment offer: Some cats overgroom not only out of stress but also out of boredom. Compulsive grooming is similar to excessive paw/body chewing in dogs. When animals are bored or understimulated, they will keep to themselves. Excessive grooming falls into this category.
  • Hairball Products: Visiting a vet is recommended rather than purchasing a hairball product to use at home. However, you can wash your cat with a moisturizing, hypoallergenic, cat-friendly shampoo if she tolerates a bath; this can help reduce shedding. Laxatives and lubricants should only be administered by a vet!

Diagnosis, treatment and remedies

Your vet will do an x-ray or ultrasound to determine a potential blockage and the location of the blockage. They can often determine gas accumulation and soft tissue distension with this type of imaging. They may also do blood tests, looking at the liver and kidneys.

Beyond formula, your vet might recommend a high-fiber diet with beneficial enzymes to aid digestion. Many cat hairball formulas are flavored over-the-counter products and act as lubricants for the GI tract, but most veterinarians do not recommend these products. Do not give them with food, as they may interfere with digestion or have unwanted side effects, especially in animals with sensitive gastrointestinal systems.

How to clean up cat vomit

Whenever my cat has a hairball, I definitely pick it up with a paper towel and look at its contents: it should be clumped hair (the color of your cat’s coat), some food, and maybe even some cat grass. . Make sure your cat doesn’t ingest household items or vomit bile or blood!

I can’t say enough about miracle of nature (I like the lavender scent/spray bottle) for pet accidents. It’s great for all kinds of stains, but it’s especially helpful on carpet and upholstery (always read the back label!). Apply it to the accident site, wait 5 minutes and wipe it off. Do not let your pets near it until you clean it up. The smell is pleasant to us but probably offensive to your pets, so they should leave the area alone.

The best thing you can do to help your cat

When it comes to preventing hairballs in cats, the best thing to do is brush your cat regularly and take him to the vet for a full checkup. Your vet will always point you in the right direction and rule out any underlying medical issues. This is correct.

Don’t try giving your cat olive oil or follow any unproven remedies you read about online. Treating hairballs at home is a big no-no. While you may find some success remedying problems, you certainly want to rule out any other health issues with proper blood and chemistry work (such as a thyroid problem or gastrointestinal upsets). Good luck and share your story below.

This article is accurate and true to the best knowledge and belief of the author. It is not intended to replace the formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription or advice of a veterinary medical professional. Animals showing signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Laynie H. (Author) from Bend, Oregon on July 25, 2019:

Thanks for reading Liz, our current kitty has them all the time. He has medium hair, not very fluffy. She also goes around eating the hair of our other dog and cat. . . which is so weird.

Liz Westwood from the UK on July 25, 2019:

He gives some good advice for cat owners in this article. I remember the cat we had when I was a child that had hairballs.

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