Dangers of hairballs for cats

Have you ever had to dash out of bed, in the middle of the night, at the sound of your feline friend coughing up a hairball? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! But, the real question is, what’s normal when it comes to your cat’s hairballs?

Although it’s common for cats to cough up hairballs up to three times a year, frequently producing hairballs could be a cause for concern.

Thanks to expert veterinary advice from our partners at Joii Pet Care, we’re about to explore the dangers of hairballs and what you can do to prevent hairballs becoming a hassle for your cat.

Causes of hairballs in cats

While grooming, your cat will swallow some of their own hair. Small amounts of hair, or fur, should pass straight through your cat’s digestive system and be removed through their poop. However, a build-up of hair, or fur, in your cat’s stomach can force them to cough up a ‘hairball’ or ‘furball’.

This build up of hair is sometimes a result of overgrooming, which is when a feline licks their coat constantly, and might cause your cat to cough up hairballs more often.

Reasons for overgrooming can include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Stomach pain
  • Joint pain
  • Itchy skin (due to allergies, fungal infections, fleas, etc.)
  • Hunting and eating prey
  • Digestive problems.

Which cats produce more hairballs?

Cats who hunt, and long-haired cat breeds (like the Norwegian Forest, Domestic Longhair, Persian, and Ragdoll cats), are most likely to cough up hairballs.

Although hairballs can affect cats of all ages, Joii noted that 52% of their hairball consultations are in cats aged four years and younger.

Did you know? The team at Joii see a peak of calls about hairballs during the summer months – in fact, they represent around 2.5-3.7% of the total calls they receive during these times! Although this may vary depending on weather conditions and temperature, as cats usually moult more in the summer this can cause them to swallow more hair.

Symptoms of hairballs in cats

Sometimes, the symptoms of coughing up a hairball can be confused with respiratory problems so it’s important to recognise the signs.

Symptoms of a hairball in cats can include:

  • Dry cough – as if something is stuck in their throat
  • Gagging or retching
  • Vomiting – bringing up the hairball with liquid/undigested food.

Signs your cat’s hairball is causing a blockage:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Straining to poop
  • Diarrhoea
  • Tiredness. 

Speak to a vet if your cat is showing symptoms of a blockage.

Please take your cat to the vet straight away if they are:

  • Vomiting repeatedly
  • Refusing to eat
  • Bloated
  • In pain.

Health conditions that can make hairballs worse for cats:

  • Chronic (long-term) pain (e.g. arthritis, pancreatitis, etc.).
  • Stomach problems (e.g. IBD, megaoesophagus, reflux, etc.).
  • Itchy skin (caused by allergies, parasites, infections, etc.).
  • Overgrooming (caused by stress, compulsive disorders, etc.).

How do hairballs get diagnosed?

It’s easy to recognise a hairball most of the time because you can see a ball or lump of cat hair – or fur – and it will likely to be found within a pile of liquid and/or undigested food.

However, symptoms of hairballs can be similar to the signs of other conditions in cats. So, when your cat sees a vet, the vet will discuss your cat’s environment and lifestyle with you before performing a full health examination to diagnose hairballs.

Depending on the suspected cause of your cat’s hairball problem, the vet might:

  • Use skin scrapes to check for mites
  • Check the skin for infection, using skin scrapes and cultures
  • Test your cat’s blood, poop, and/or pee
  • Offer a behaviour referral
  • Scan your cat’s stomach
  • X-ray your cat if a blockage is suspected.

Cat hairball treatment

There are several treatment options if your cat is producing too many hairballs, and your vet would discuss these with you.

Treatments for occasional hairballs might include:

  • Laxative pastes – these push hairballs straight through your cat’s digestive system and removes hair via their poop.
  • Special food – there are certain types of high-fibre cat foods that can help reduce the number of hairballs your cat produces.

Treatments for hairballs caused by illnesses might include:

  • Medication – to ease stress and anxiety.
  • Behaviour modification programme – provided by a qualified feline behaviour expert.
  • Identifying and treating illness – to prevent your cat from suffering with hairballs due to an underlying health problem.

How to help your cat with hairballs at home:

  • Hairball treats – help to prevent hairballs from causing blockages, thanks to active ingredients that support healthy digestion.
  • Cooked pumpkin – some cats dislike the taste of pumpkin, but it is rich in fibre and helps move hair through your cat’s digestive system.

Products that are not suitable for treating hairballs in cats include:

  • Coconut oil
  • Butter
  • Fish oil.

Contact your vet if you need more ideas for helping to ease the burden of hairballs for your cat at home!

Preventing hairballs in your cat

Luckily, there are ways to prevent your cat from getting so many hairballs:

  • Brush your cat regularly – by removing as much of their loose hair as possible, you’ll reduce the amount of fur available for your cat to swallow.
  • Skin supplement – if your cat is itchy, a skin supplement might lessen their discomfort and keep their skin healthy; always ask your vet for advice before giving any supplements to your cat.
  • Keep up to date with flea, tick, and mite treatments – use vet-approved products to protect your feline friend from fleas and other parasites.
  • Keep your cat hydrated – for cats who don’t drink much, offer wet food or provide a feline-friendly drinking fountain to encourage them to drink.
  • Cat grass – special grass that contains a blend of barley, wheat, and rye seeds can help to support your cat’s digestion.
  • Essential oils or pheromone diffusers – can help to ease your cat’s anxiety.

Always speak to a vet if you’re concerned about your cat producing hairballs. And remember, Animal Friends customers who have a cat policy with us can access free video consultations 24/7 through the Joii Pet Care app!

Looking for more cat advice?

We’ve written some handy cat advice guides, to help you unlock the secrets of your mysterious moggy.


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