How To Treat Hairballs in Cats

Hairballs are a virtually unavoidable part of being a cat. They are also an unavoidable part of being a cat-owner since you are the one that will have to clean up when your cat unceremoniously dumps them at random locations in your property!

However, they aren’t just unpleasant. Hairballs can also be a serious health problem for your furry friend, causing the stomach and intestines to become blocked unless the hairballs are expelled.

What causes hairballs?

Cats are notoriously fussy creatures and spend many hours preening themselves to perfection. Hairballs are actually a result of this natural, fastidious grooming habit.

Your cat’s tongue is covered with microscopic, hook-like structures which help them to lap up fluids and eat. However, it also means that when they lick their hair to groom it, some fibers become stuck on their tongue and are then swallowed. Although most of the hair travels down through your cat’s digestive system with no problem, sometimes some of the hair can stay lodged in the stomach. Over time, this amount of hair in the stomach can accumulate and eventually your cat will vomit it out in the form of a long, thin tube of hair.

Hairballs are more likely in breeds of cat with long hair, and those felines that shed excessively. However, any cat can develop hairballs, and the more they hone their grooming technique, the greater than the chance that your cat will experience hairballs.

Symptoms of a hairball

It is important for any responsible cat owner to understand the symptoms of a hairball as this will allow you to provide prompt treatment. Left untreated, it is possible for a hairball to cause a life-threatening blockage in the intestine.

Common symptoms of a hairball include:

-         Constipation

-         Reduced appetite

-         Retching/gagging

-         Vomiting – the vomit may contain a mix of bile, food, and hair

If your cat experiences these symptoms persistently for more than 24 hours, make an urgent appointment with your vet.

Treating hairballs

Prevention and treatment of hairballs are relatively straightforward and rarely requires veterinary intervention.

Regular grooming

One of the easiest ways that you can prevent hairballs from occurring is by regularly grooming your cat. By using specially designed brushes to remove as much loose hair as possible, by the time your cat comes to grooming herself there will be much less errant hair to get stuck to her tongue and pass into her stomach.

Specialist food

There are also specialized ‘hairball formula’ cat foods available. These products are high in fiber and designed to improve the health of your cat’s coat, reduce shedding and encourage any hair in the digestive system to pass cleanly through.  

Laxatives and medications

If you suspect your pet has a hairball and it isn’t coming out of its own accord, it may be necessary to help ease the path of the hair through the intestinal tract. This can be done using laxatives or other prescribed medications. However, you should never give your pet laxatives or any other drug without first seeking advice from Dr. Curie.


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