orange cat licks paw

All About Hairballs!

Reading Time: 5 MIN

Almost every cat owner has seen a hairball, and many of us have stepped on them on our way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Hairballs are gross and squishy, but unfortunately very common. However, do we really know what hairballs are and what causes them? And why do some cats get them more frequently than others? What are the best ways to reduce the number of hairballs in our home? Let’s learn a little about hairballs on Hairball Awareness Day, April 29th!

A gray cat grooming itself.

What are Hairballs?

  • Grooming, which is normal and helpful to cats, can also cause hairballs (which are also known as trichobezoar).
  • A cat’s rough tongue will pull loose or shed hair from their coat during grooming, and most of this hair will be swallowed by the cat.
  • Some of the swallowed hair will stay in the cat’s stomach instead of passing through the intestines and into the litter box. When this hair stays in the stomach, a hairball starts to form.
  • Hairballs will then be vomited up by our cats onto our floor or furniture where we won’t see it until we’ve stepped in it.
  • When a hairball is forced up a cat’s long thin esophagus, it can cause him to make gagging and choking noises, but it should pass pretty quickly.
  • Hairballs can be anywhere from 1-5 inches long, and they are usually accompanied by a small puddle of saliva or stomach bile.
  • We are more likely to see hairballs in long-haired cats or cats who groom themselves frequently or obsessively.
  • Hairballs are most common during shedding season when there is a lot of loose hair for a cat to ingest at grooming.
  • Cats have also been known to eat thread, rubber bands, twist ties, and other small, interesting objects from the floor when they find them, and this can contribute to the potential danger of a hairball. Keep this stuff off your floor!
  • Other animals such as rabbits and cows have been known to have hairballs as well.
  • Humans have been known to have hairballs in rare cases, usually, caused by struggles with pica or trichotillomania. This has led to the surgical removal of hairballs from the stomachs of humans.

Causes for Concern

Hairballs can cause intestinal blockages when they have trouble passing. Watch your cat for loss of appetite, constipation, and diarrhea.

If your cat continues to choke, gag or otherwise attempt to vomit up a hairball without success for more than a couple of minutes, it is probably time to get to the vet.

Hairballs can normally occur anywhere from once or twice a year to about once a week. If your cat begins having hairballs much more frequently than usual, it may be cause for concern.

Sometimes surgery is the only way to remove a hairball that is stuck or has become too large. If your cat is exhibiting the symptoms mentioned above, the safe move is to get in to see your veterinarian.


Regular Brushing

A maine Coon being brushed.

I know that cats groom themselves to stay clean and that’s just one point they have over dogs! However, cats who shed excessively, have lots of long hair, or who groom obsessively may really benefit from daily or weekly brushing. We can help them by removing all of the excess hair they have already shed before they lick it up and it ends up in the stomach. There are many brush and comb options available at Hollywood Feed.

Change in Diet

A orange cat eating at a bowl.

I have seen proponents of high fiber diets for reducing hairballs. It is thought that high-fiber foods may help to bind together and release hair from the stomach and intestines through the intestinal tract. Pet grass is also high in fiber and keeping some indoors may be a fun treat as well as a hairball remedy for any cat.

Other people feel just the opposite is true and believe that grain-free, low-carbohydrate diets are the way to go to reduce hairballs. A raw or a canned food diet are great options if you choose to try grain-free and low-carb because these foods are much closer to the diet that cats evolved to eat in the wild than dry kibble is. Dry kibble and grain may be increasing upset stomachs and vomiting in some cats, especially those already having issues with GI distress. Read more about raw diets and canned foods.

All cats are different, and a high fiber diet may work better for reducing hairballs in some cats while a grain-free, low-carb diet will work better for others. Keep this in mind when you start looking for a new food for your cat and ask the sales associated at your local Hollywood Feed store to help you pick out the perfect food!

Supplements for a Healthy Coat

Products with Omega 3 Fatty Acids and coconut oil are great options when you’re looking for a supplement to keep your cat’s coat healthy, sleek and shiny. These ingredients will keep fur from becoming damaged and dry, thus more likely to fall out and be licked up by our cat. Healthy fur coats will shed less. It’s that simple! If you have any questions about the best supplement for your cat (or anything else!) email to get a response from an expert.

Less Licking

A gray cat licking its paw.

If your cat is an obsessive groomer, then try to encourage him to groom himself less. Every time you catch your cat grooming, try to do something to distract him. You could get a new toy or two to play with, a meaty treat he really enjoys, or try pointing out a bird outside your window for him to watch. The less time our cat spends grooming himself unnecessarily, the fewer hairballs he will get.

Products for Purchase

There are products that are made specifically to  help cats who have hairball problems, and they are usually petroleum jelly based mild laxatives. These are okay to use sometimes, but probably not something you would want to have to use on a regular basis. If you find that your cat needs a laxative frequently, try some of these other options for reducing shedding like brushing and using a healthy supplement to improve fur quality!

Does your cat get hairballs? How often? What have you been able to do to successfully reduce your cat’s hairballs? Let us know in the comment section below!

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Barbara C Collinsworth Collinsworth

    Very informative. Thank you for the information.

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