A cat stares at a hairball on the couch.

When your cat isn’t eating, sleeping, or playing, they’re probably grooming themselves. Indeed, they are an exquisite keeper of their coat and simply won’t stand for any dirty, debris, tangles or, you guessed, dead or loose hair. As a result of their fastidiousness, they swallow a great deal of hair. Most of it passes through their digestive system without incident. But sometimes, it comes back up. 

If you’ve wondered about your cat’s hairballs from time to time (and if they really are something to worry about), we’ve got the basics for you.

A Case of the “Oh, No’s!”

Even the sound of your cat’s hairballs is off-putting, let alone the mess they leave behind. The gagging, wheezing, coughing sound followed by the horrendous vomiting noise is always upsetting. But beyond the inconvenience, your cat’s hairballs may point to possible health problems.

Zooming In

You’ve probably noticed that your cat’s tongue is scratchy. Covered in small hook-like shapes, the tongue helps lift dead or loose hair. Because they are pointed backwards toward the throat, the hook-like shapes influence how much hair is swallowed. 

A closer look in their litter box may sometimes reveal that some of the hair passes just fine out the other end. But if they swallow too much hair that cannot easily be digested, regurgitating their hair is the only option.

Aside from the Obvious

In addition to the retching and gagging reflexes, your cat may also show a decreased appetite, lethargy, and even troubles in the litter box, such as diarrhea or constipation. Please seek veterinary care promptly if this is the case at home. 

What Do You See?

Despite their name, hairballs aren’t round. Because they have to wind their way back up through the esophagus, hairballs are usually elongated, tube-like shapes. You can easily see that hair comprises most of it, but you may also see food particles and other stomach contents.

Bad to Worse

Many cat owners worry that their cat’s hairballs are indicative of something terribly wrong. If they happen all the time, we recommend having them examined immediately. Sometimes, hairballs can lead to gastrointestinal problems, including obstructions that require surgery. Your cat’s hairballs could also be explained by allergies or skin disorder.

Preparation, Prevention

Long-haired breeds may be at higher risk for developing hairball problems. One of the best ways to reduce how much hair they consume is to maintain brushing and combing every week. Grooming them is also a great bonding exercise.

Additionally, we may have to look at their diet for more clues. Before you switch their food, we can discuss what types of ingredients may help reduce or even prevent your cat’s hairballs. Specially-formulated foods can improve coat and skin qualities, reduce shedding, and even add fiber to help with digestion.

Your Cat’s Hairballs

Spending extra time with your fluffy kitty can reduce any stress or anxiety, which may fuel over-grooming. Be sure they have an engaging environment, lots of toys, and extra love.

Please let us know if you have additional questions or concerns about your cat’s hairballs. Our veterinarians are always here for you at Androscoggin Animal Hospital.