Hairballs In Cats: Signs & Treatments

Hairballs are an unappealing by-product of a healthy, clean cat lifestyle. Nevertheless, like with everything in life, too much of anything is not good.

Excessive hairballs can be detrimental to your feline’s health. Read on to learn what hairballs are, how to know if your cat has one and how you can treat them.

Hairballs in cats

Hairballs are clumps of dead hair and digestive fluids that have developed in the stomach of your cat. They are formed when cats groom themselves and ingest the hairs, which form hairballs in their stomachs.

Your cat probably didn't have hairballs when it was a kitten, but that has developed as your cat grew older. This is quite normal. As cats get older, they become better groomers, hence better at removing fur from their coats with their mouths, resulting in more hairballs. 

Why does my cat have a hairball?

Licking their fur is how all cats clean themselves. Little spikes on their tongues grab the hairs as they shed. Barbs on the tongue face backwards, a natural feature that helps cats grab loose hairs, but it also means cats have no choice but to swallow the hair they groom.

The majority of the time, this hair can travel through the stomach and intestines without causing any problems. When a considerable amount of fur becomes stuck in the kitty's stomach, it is regurgitated in the shape of a hairball, also known as a cat furball.

Are hairballs normal for cats?

Many cat owners find hearing their cats coughing and retching quite upsetting and disturbing, and they begin to wonder whether there is something they should be concerned about. This type of self-grooming is quite natural, and cats should do it to maintain their hair health.

Some cat owners believe their cat throws up a hairball on a daily basis, but this is not the case. Hairballs should only occur on rare occasions in cats, generally less than once a month. The majority of grooming hairs will pass through the digestive system and into the litter box without issue.

Cats do not normally vomit on a regular basis. If your cat's vomiting becomes more frequent or chronic, or if it refuses to eat,  you should see your local veterinarian for an examination.

Signs that your cat has a hairball

Here are some symptoms you can keep a lookout for if your cat has a hairball:

  • Gagging
  • Continuous vomiting
  • Hacking 
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Lack of energy
  • Pain or discomfort in the abdominal area

Hairball treatments

While there are no guarantees that hairballs will not occur, there are steps you may take to reduce their frequency:

1. Give high quality food

It’s important to feed your cat high quality cat food such as a fully balanced raw diet. By doing so, it will ensure its digestive tract is healthy, which will reduce the number of hairballs that get stuck in it.

If a cat has recurring problems, you can feed your feline friend hairball control cat food. These high-fiber formulations are meant to promote the health of your cat's coat, reduce shedding, and help hairballs move through the digestive tract in felines.

Occasionally supplementing the diet with small amounts of cooked pumpkin in your cat's diet can help to reduce the likelihood of hairballs by assisting in the movement of food through their digestive system.

2. Groom cat regularly

Although cats are typically adept at grooming themselves, brushing on a regular basis can help remove stray hairs, dander, and debris that would otherwise get ingested and create a hairball.

You can also use this time to bond with your cat. If you can't get your cat to brush, consider taking them to a professional groomer every six months or so for grooming and a haircut.

3. Give more water

If your cat consumes dry food, their diet is most likely deficient in water to satisfy their hydration requirements. As a result, their digestive system may not work as efficiently as it should. Hence, you should increase its water intake by providing a clean and  fresh water supply for your cat.

Many cats prefer flowing water over still water. Therefore, to encourage your cat to drink more, consider purchasing a water fountain.

Giving wet or fresh cat food may also offer sufficient moisture to keep the digestive tract working smoothly, lowering the chance of hairballs.

4. Homeopathic remedy

There are a few homeopathic hairball remedies you may try, which your cat might like. You can try giving it a teaspoon of pumpkin or squash baby food to ensure your cat gets more fiber and help the fur pass through her digestive system more easily.

If your pet prefers greens, give it a pot of live wheatgrass, which will provide the same nutritional benefits as the pumpkin and squash. Some cats enjoy butter, and a tiny dab of it can help lubricate its intestines sufficiently to allow the hairball to leave smoothly.

Do consult with your veterinarian before starting any natural home remedies.

  1. Don’t encourage excessive grooming

Excessive grooming causes cats to ingest more hair, which can lead to more hairballs. If your cat spends too much time cleaning itself, play a game or spend more time with it to break up the grooming sessions. 

You could also want to get your cat a new toy or do anything to make their day more interesting if they're grooming excessively out of boredom.

Can I feed my cat olive oil for hairballs?

Oil in your cat's food can help lubricate the digestive tract, making it simpler for hair to flow naturally through. Three days of mixing one teaspoon of olive oil into your cat's diet can assist your cat. Olive oil is a lubricant that also acts as a laxative and is simpler to digest than petroleum.

How to help my cat pass a hairball?

Make sure your cat's food is high in fiber to assist it to pass a furball safely. Instead of two substantial meals a day, feed it several little meals throughout the day. 

Hair may be swept through the gastrointestinal tract using a gastric lubricant. You can also help it to pass a hairball by feeding it malty snacks, cat grass, and natural stool softeners.  Always ensure your cat is hydrated as this helps it to excrete better.

Why are hairballs dangerous?

Hairballs are harmless in and of themselves. However, it's unusual for them to generate one every few weeks or for more than 48 hours at a time on a regular basis.

If your cat has a lot of hairballs, it might be an indication that it has digestive difficulties, parasites, or other health concerns.

A clump of matted hair may become a significant health hazard if it becomes too large. If a hairball is stuck in the intestines or stomach of a cat for an extended length of time, it may mineralize and harden. This will be excruciatingly uncomfortable for the cat.

If the hairball is tiny enough to pass through the small intestine but too large to pass through the feces, it is likely to become stuck and cause significant problems. This is an uncommon occurrence that can only be corrected via surgery.

Similarly, if the hairball gets excessively firm, it is more likely to become trapped in the cat's esophagus when it is being vomited, causing injury to the esophagus.

Concluding remarks

Hairballs are normal for cats but prevention is better than cure. Remember to regularly groom your cat, hydrate it and feed it good food. Here at PetCubes, our fresh cat food is made with the finest ingredients and nutrients that will help your cat maintain its health. It is also easy and simple to make, saving you time and energy in preparation. Give your darling cat a healthy meal today!

Reviewed by: 

Dr Francis is one of the top wildlife nutritionists in Asia. Originating from Montreal, Canada, he left at 21 to pursue his Masters and subsequently a PhD in wildlife nutrition at Oxford Brookes University. Instead of taking the path of common animal science to learn about farm animals, or through the veterinarian space and taking a certificate in nutrition, he took the road less travelled to dive deep into the world of animal ecology, metabolism and nutrition.