Unsightly, even gross, a cat hairball is not necessarily a dangerous thing. Generally, when a cat expels a hairball it’s a good thing. However, frequent hairballs or hairballs that get stuck in the cat’s digestive tract can bring on a life-threatening emergency. Let’s find out more about the cause and cures for hairballs in cats.
Why do cats get hairballs?
Hairballs develop as a result of your cat’s grooming habits. When a cat grooms, her tongue picks up dead, loose hair. The rough surface of her tongue propels these hairs backwards, down her throat and into the stomach.
Once in the digestive system, the hair combines with bile and other stomach acids. If this mass can’t pass through the digestive track to be expelled…um…out your cat’s other end, then the cat will get very uncomfortable, as you can imagine. This mass of undigestible hair is now stuck in the digestive tract, causing the cat to gag and cough it up, often in a shape that is more tubular than round. It’s not a pleasant sight, for sure. However, it is your cat’s way of getting rid of something foreign to her body.
How often do cats expel hairballs?
Your cat may spew out a hairball as often as once per week or every two weeks. Long-haired cats are more likely to have hairballs and, depending on how frequently they groom and whether or not they are shedding heavily, you may see a hairball upchuck a little more frequently. However, expelling a hairball should not be a daily event (if it is, go see your vet).
Are hairballs harmful to my cat?
As long as a cat is able to expel the hairballs, generally, no harm is done. If a hairball becomes lodged in the cat's digestive system— or, if the frequency of hairballs is concerning to you—then your cat may have a more serious problem and should be seen by the vet.
Hairball Distress Symptoms in a Cat
Hairballs that have passed from the cat’s stomach into the intestine can create a potentially life-threatening blockage within the digestive tract. Monitor your cat for these signs of distress and immediately take your cat to the veterinary hospital:
loss of appetite
unable to keep food down
blood in the stool
Can I do anything to reduce hairballs for my cat?
Yes! The following tips can help reduce the frequency and size of hairballs for your cat:
Groom your cat. Most cats aren’t fond of someone brushing them, but if you start with just a few minutes a day of gentle combing or brushing, our cat should adjust. If the cat won’t have it, you can take her to a groomer twice a year, which is especially good for long-haired breeds.
Try a hairball remedy. Some vets recommend a gentle petroleum-based laxative to help hairballs pass. Always check with our vet for the proper dosing and frequency of giving a hairball remedy to your cat.
Clean Floors. Floors and carpets in your home, as well as any cat bedding, should be kept clean of thread, string, clips, rubber bands, hair ties, and twist-ties, etc., that, if ingested, can become dangerous hairball ingredients.