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Tips for Preventing and Treating Hairballs in Cats

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Posted by Dr. Kim on Apr 27 2012


On many occasions, I’ve had my slumber interrupted by the sound of my cat producing a hairball. One extremely unpleasant night, I even stepped on one of these slimy suckers! It’s a common story I have also heard from many of my cat-owning clients.

A hairball is the byproduct of the normal grooming a cat performs daily. Over time, fur that is accidentally ingested during the grooming process builds up in the stomach, and eventually comes back up. It usually resembles a tube-shaped ball of hair, which can help differentiate it from vomit. If you have more than one cat, you may notice that the hairball is a different color than the cat that produced it, due to mutual grooming habits.

Occasional hairballs are normal, but if your cat is producing them often – more than once every few weeks – there is likely an underlying cause that needs attention. Gastrointestinal problems, including stomach motility issues and irritable bowel disease, may be to blame.

On rare occasions, hairballs can cause obstructions. They can grow so large in the stomach that they cannot pass through to the intestines, thereby becoming gastric foreign bodies. Similarly, they can pass into the intestines, only to get stuck there. Gastric foreign bodies may be retrieved under anesthesia via endoscopy, but intestinal foreign objects will likely require surgery, which can be covered by your Petplan veterinary pet insurance policy.

There are many hairball remedies on the market, but many of them are fraught with controversy. Petroleum-based products have long been touted to help move hairballs along, but veterinarians do not favor them as they have not been proven to help. The same goes for diets “specifically formulated” for cats with hairballs.

The best solution is to keep your cat well groomed, especially long-haired cats. Daily brushing will help keep the amount of hair ingested to a minimum.

If your cat has more than the occasional hairball, check with your veterinarian. These unwelcome deposits may be a symptom of an underlying pet health issue that needs to be addressed.