A cat covers its eyes.

Hairballs are something that most cat owners accept as part of the territory of living with a cat. After all, they are covered in fur. Equipped with a super-unique tongue that easily lifts dead or loose hair, dirt and debris from their coat, cats strive to be extra-clean all the time. The barbs on the tongue that feel scratchy to us are pointed backwards, making it all but impossible for them not to swallow a mouthful of fur from their coat. 

This is all normal feline behavior, but if your cat’s hairballs seem excessive or out of control they may have something else going on.

What Is a Hairball… Exactly?

Most hair that is ingested during grooming is effectively passed through the GI tract and deposited in the litter box. However, if there is too much hair in the stomach it may not easily pass into the intestines. So, the only recourse for your cat is to cough up the excessive accumulation of hair. 

Debating the Shape

Contrary to their name, hairballs aren’t actually round. As the pass back up through the esophagus, the hair is squished into an elongated, cylindrical shape. You may easily see hair in this, as well as partially digested food and stomach acids. 

The sound of your cat’s hairballs are likely very upsetting. You can predict what’s coming once you see them hunched over, wheezing, gagging, coughing and retching. 

The Line

Some long-haired cats may experience hairballs more often than short-haired breeds, but all cats can suffer from hairballs. The important thing is not to accept the behavior as normal. Indeed, if it happens routinely (more than a few times a year), your cat could be struggling with a variety of potential health problems. 

The Obvious Risk

If given the chance to grow too large in the stomach and pass into the GI tract, your cat’s hairballs can actually cause a dangerous intestinal obstruction. This can lead to emergency surgery as it’s unlikely to resolve on its own.

Looking Out

You may notice that lethargy, inappetance, constipation or diarrhea accompany the presence and frequency of hairballs. If so, please contact us as your cat may need immediate veterinary care.

What Else?

Your cat’s hairballs may be the result of over-grooming. You can mitigate this by spending valuable time with your fluffy kitty, while brushing and combing them out. 

Over-grooming is a soothing behavior for cats, and it’s something they lean on when stressed or anxious. Providing an engaging environment for them is key to their health and happiness.

Treating a Cat’s Hairballs

Adding certain ingredients to a cat’s diet can improve their skin and coat, reducing shedding and decreasing hairballs. Fiber can also help to take excess fur all the way through the GI tract. 

A cat’s hairballs can also be linked to allergy or skin disorders. Also, constant wheezing or retching without a hairball can indicate asthma or other issues. 

When your cat isn’t sleeping, eating or playing, they’re spending time working on their gleaming, shiny. If you have questions or concerns about your cat’s hairballs, and how you can support their overall health, please let us know. Our veterinarians and staff members are always here for you at Highway Veterinary Hospital