Hairballs are one of the less appealing parts of being a cat mom or dad. Not only are they a nuisance to clean up, but they can also be a sign of an underlying health problem in your feline friend.

Key Takeaways: 

  • If your cat is getting hairballs, it's essential to monitor them for any concerning symptoms. If hairballs occur frequently or if your cat is retching, vomiting, or coughing without producing a hairball, consult with a veterinarian.
  • Causes of hairballs include grooming behavior, ingestion of other hair or fur, lack of fiber or hydration, and medical conditions or disorders.
  • Treatments for hairballs include changes in diet, increased hydration, hairball remedies, grooming and brushing, and medical interventions.

In this blog post, we’ll take a close look at cat hairballs — from cat hairball symptoms to hairball treatment for cats and prevention. We’ll answer all your pressing questions, so you can get to the root cause of those pesky hairballs.

Cat Hairball Symptoms

How do you know your cat is getting hairballs? They’ll likely start showing some of the following cat hairball symptoms:

Coughing or hacking 

If it seems like your cat is coughing or hacking up a lung, it could be a sign they’re trying to regurgitate a hairball. When you hear them making sounds like they're gagging, give them space and let them expel the hairball naturally.

Vomiting or retching

If your cat is vomiting or retching and you notice a tube-shaped mass of hair and saliva, it's likely your cat is bringing up a hairball. 

Lack of appetite 

A hairball may cause your cat to lose their appetite if they're in discomfort. Because they don't feel well, they may also refuse their favorite foods or treats and may appear lethargic or not interested in playing.

Constipation or diarrhea

Hairballs can cause a blockage in your cat’s digestive tract, making it difficult or even impossible for them to pass stool. This can cause cats to get diarrhea or become constipated and experience pain and discomfort.

Lethargy or depression

Having frequent hairballs can leave your cat lethargic or depressed. They may appear less interested in their surroundings and may sleep more than usual. 

Causes of Hairballs in Cats

Hairballs in cats can be a nuisance for both you and your feline friend. However, knowing the causes can help you prevent them from occurring. Let's take a closer look at some of the most common factors that contribute to hairballs in cats:

  • Grooming behavior: Cats are natural-born groomers. Unfortunately, all this licking can cause them to swallow a lot of hair, which is indigestible. When large amounts of fur accumulate in your cats stomachs, it forms hairballs.
  • Ingestion of other hair or fur: In addition to grooming, cats can also swallow hair or fur from their environment. This happens when cats groom other animals or lick furry or fibrous objects in their surroundings.  
  • Lack of fiber or hydration: A diet lacking fiber can make it difficult for cats to pass hair through their digestive system. Similarly, dehydration can make it harder for cats to pass hair, as water helps move things through their system. 
  • Medical conditions or disorders: In some cases, hairballs can be a sign of an underlying medical condition or disorder. For example, cats with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may be more prone to hairballs. Other conditions that can contribute to hairball formation include hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and liver disease

Hairball Treatment for Cats

If you notice your cat grooming itself often or coughing up hairballs, take action. This will prevent hairballs from causing discomfort and more serious health issues. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments for hairballs in cats:

Make changes to their diet

If your cat is experiencing hairball issues, consider changing their food. There are plenty of "hairball control" cat food options that you can find wherever you normally buy your cat's food. Fiber supplements are another great choice to add some extra fiber into kitty's diet. Fiber works to move hair through the digestive system, decreasing the chances of hairball formation.

Make sure they’re drinking enough water

Encourage your kitty to drink more water by ensuring their bowl is always full of fresh, clean water. Adding wet food to her diet can also increase her hydration.

Hairball remedies for cats

Examples of hairball remedies for cats include petroleum jelly, vet-prescribed laxatives, and hairball control treats that work to lubricate the digestive tract. A lubricated digestive tract moves hair through much easier and faster.

Grooming and brushing

The best way to prevent hairballs in cats is to brush them regularly. This can reduce the amount of hair they ingest while grooming themselves by removing loose hair, which helps prevent hairballs from forming. Most kitties love being brushed, and it's also a fabulous way to bond with your fur baby.

Medical interventions

In severe cases, medical interventions, including pet surgery, may be the only way to remove hairballs from a cat’s digestive tract. The surgical procedure, known as a gastrotomy, involves making an incision in the belly to remove the hairball. It's important to note that this type of surgery is generally only recommended when other treatment options have been exhausted, and the hairball poses a significant risk to the cat's health.

BetterVet Can Help

While hairballs are a pretty run-of-the-mill issue in cats, it’s important to make sure you’re doing what you can as a cat owner to protect your fur baby from getting hairballs. If your cat is getting hairballs and you’re worried about changes in their behavior, eating, drinking, or sleeping habits, contact your vet

At BetterVet, we understand the importance of maintaining your cat’s overall health and well-being. That's why we offer flexible, on-demand mobile veterinary care for cats and other pets. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How do I help my cat pass a hairball?

To help your cat pass a hairball, try putting a small amount of petroleum jelly on their paws for them to lick. You can also add a hairball gel to their daily diet. Both of these options can help lubricate the hairball and make it easier to pass through the digestive system.

How do you know if your cat has a hairball blockage?

If your cat is experiencing loss of appetite, lethargy, and frequent vomiting, it could be a sign of hairball blockage. Other symptoms may include constipation, diarrhea, and difficulty passing stool. If you suspect your cat has a hairball blockage, it's important to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible to prevent further complications.

How often should my cats throw up hairballs?

Cats should not produce more than one hairball per month. If you notice your cat throwing up hairballs more frequently, it may be a sign of an underlying issue such as excessive grooming or a digestive problem. 

When should I start to worry about my cat’s hairballs?

If your cat produces occasional hairballs once a month and is otherwise healthy, there's no need to worry. However, if your cat experiences inappetence, lethargy, or withdrawal along with frequent vomiting or retching without producing a hairball, it's time to talk to your veterinarian.