My cat has hairballs. Why and how can I prevent them?

cat hairballsCats are about the cleanest pets man can have, but with their daily grooming comes one major disadvantage- hairballs. When cats groom themselves, loose and dead hair gets attached to their tongue and is then swallowed. Most of the swallowed hair can actually pass through the digestive tract without causing any problems. However, some of the fur stays in the stomach and small intestines where they accumulate to form hairballs. These hairballs cause inflammation of the gastric linings and in order to get rid of them, the hairballs are eventually vomited by the cat.

Hairballs are more common in cats that have long hair, those that shed a lot of hair and also in cats that groom themselves compulsively.  Generally, hairballs are indigestible and when they are not removed from the stomach, they can cause constipation, decreased appetite, and blockage of a cat’s stomach or throat which may require surgical intervention to correct. Hairballs are not usually dangerous, but if your cat throws up hair more than once or twice in a month, you should contact your vet for help. Excessive throwing up of hairballs may be a symptom of a severe condition such as cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.

There are a few symptoms that you may observe when your cat has hairballs. Some of them are quite normal, but others should be reported to your vet as soon as they are observed. Such symptoms include:

  • Continuous vomiting, gagging and retching without producing a hairball
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Can I help prevent hairballs?  

There are a few steps you can take as a cat owner to reduce the size, frequency and number of hairballs.


By grooming your cat yourself, you reduce the amount of fur that your cat can swallow.  Proper grooming will involve the use of an appropriate brush that will grip the loose hair and drag it out of the cat’s coat without causing pain. For breeds with long hair, you should untangle the hair with a comb before brushing it out. You should brush your cat’s coat at least once a week to reduce the risk of hairballs. For, long-haired cats, they should be brushed every day.


You should ask your veterinarian for the right products to use. These products are usually gel-like laxatives that do not get absorbed into the body. They lubricate the intestine and help get rid of the hairballs. They also come in different flavours, so you can find one that will suit your cat.


There are a number of hairball-reduction cat foods that you can choose from. These foods are formulated to give your cat a healthier coat, reduce the quantity of hair being shed and also facilitate the movement of the hairballs through the cat’s digestive system. You should ask your vet for assistance before deciding on the product to choose.


Some cats groom obsessively and this can result in the cat having bald spots on some parts of the fur. You can curtail this habit by ensuring that there are no fleas or other parasites on your cat’s body that may be responsible for the continuous grooming. You should also provide new toys and fun activities that will take up some of your cat’s time so they are distracted from grooming all the time.

With a little extra attention, you can help keep hairballs to a minimum and thus reduce the chances of constipation, blockages, or worse. See your vet doctor regularly and report any observed unusual behaviors in your cat.

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