What Causes A Cat Hairball?

If you have a cat, you probably know the signs that your pet is producing a hairball—that unmistakable sound of retching, gagging and hacking that ultimately results in a mass of hair on the floor.

This is a normal process in cats, but you may wonder why hairballs form and what can be done to prevent them.

What causes hairballs in cats?

When cats groom themselves by licking, small, hook-like projections on their tongues can grab hold of the hair, which can then be swallowed by your cat.

Most of the hair passes through the gastrointestinal (GI) system with no problems, but occasionally the hair gets caught in the stomach where it forms a ball or tubular-like structure. If the hairball irritates the stomach, your cat vomits to remove the hairball.

Longhaired cats and felines that groom themselves frequently can be more susceptible to hairballs. Older cats are also more likely to have hairballs than kittens.

When should I call my veterinarian

If your cat is vomiting hairballs more often than one to two times per month, it is possible that there is an underlying issue within the GI system or something else that is causing your cat to over-groom. This might include fleas, ticks or mites, anxiety or a skin infection.

Finally, if your cat makes the noises associated with producing a hairball but doesn’t actually cough one up, a visit to the veterinarian is necessary.

If your cat is eating less than normal after repeated hairball episodes, you should take your cat to the veterinarian.  This could be a symptom of an obstruction or other potentially serious condition.

Options for preventing hairballs

There are some treatments available to prevent hairballs in cats, and your veterinarian can recommend the best method for your cat. Usually designed to move the hair through the GI system, some options include:

  • Specialized foods  that usually work by increasing the fiber content of the food helping to move hair through the GI system.
  • Oral laxatives act as a lubricant and are often flavored to ease in administration.
  • Fiber supplements can be added to your cat’s food to ease hair through the GI tract.

Need More Info?

If you have concerns about your cat’s health, you can make an appointment with your local Banfield veterinarian. In addition to the related articles below, you can also browse the Pet Health Resource section of our site for more information on cat health.