Cats get hairballs. Even non-cat owners will probably know that. So, what are hairballs?
How can they be dealt with? Are they dangerous? Well, all of your questions, plus a few more, will be answered on this very page! This information is vital for all cat owners.
After all, we all want to ensure that our furry friends are in the best possible health at all times, don’t we?
Table of Contents
What is a Hairball?
A hairball is pretty much what it says on the tin. It is a ball of…well, hair.
They are found in the stomach of a cat, or pretty much anything that has the ability to eat its own hair.
This includes humans. However, we are going to focus strictly on hairballs in cats.
How do Cats Get Hairballs?
If you have ever watched your cat for more than 5-minutes, then you will know that this is an animal that really likes to keep itself clean.
Very, very clean. To do this, it has to lick itself. Cats do need to regularly groom, after all.
The problem for the cat is that they are licking hair. Cats, as you may well have worked out if your furry friend was being a bit over-affectionate, have incredibly rough tongues.
As these rough tongues move the hair, it picks them up. Of course, the cat will end up swallowing them.
Swallowing a few hairs probably isn’t going to be a problem. Those hairs will eventually work their way out of the system. However, cats that regularly groom will be swallowing a lot of hairs.
These will start to form a hairball in the stomach, and that is just going to cause some pretty major issues for your animal.
Are Hairballs in Cats Dangerous?
In most cases, no. If the hairball is small, then it will just come out of the cat’s system normally.
There is a chance that it may cause them a small amount of discomfort, but it is going to come out.
The real issues come when the hairball starts to grow quite large. This will start to work its way out of the cat’s rear end, but to get there it will have to pass through the digestive system.
Since cats are small animals, their digestive system is rather small as well.
Larger hairballs will not be able to pass through the system quite as effectively.
In fact, they can end up blocking the digestive system. This is deadly. If a cat doesn’t get surgery when this happens, they could die.
Of course, thankfully, as we said, most hairballs are never going to get to the point where they will block the digestive system.
It is more likely that your cat will vomit them up around your home. Unpleasant, but at least it isn’t dangerous to your pet, right?
What Are the Signs of Hairballs in Cats?
To be honest, most of the time you won’t know that your cat is dealing with a hairball.
One day, you could just be sitting there, and the next thing you know the cat is throwing it up.
There will be no warning beforehand, other than that awful retching sound. Spotting when your cat has a hairball that could pose a threat to their health can be a little bit trickier.
One of the first signs that there may be something wrong with the cat is if they look and sound like they are about to cough up a hairball, but nothing seems to come out.
Do bear in mind that there are some hairballs that may take a little bit of working out for a cat, but if they take too long to come out, then this is a major problem.
After this, you may start to notice signs that your cat has an issue with its digestive system.
Cats will become tired. This is because they will not be absorbing all of the nutrients that they need from their food.
They can’t, there is a blockage in their digestive system. So, if your cat seems to be moving a bit slower than normal, or they are sleeping a lot, then they could have a hairball.
Around the same time, that kitty is going to stop eating. They may even avoid drinking.
Finally, they will start to have problems with their stools. They will either be constipated or have diarrhea. Check their litterbox!
If your cat is doing any of the things we mentioned (other than the retching sound) then you need to make sure that you get them to the vet as soon as possible. If you don’t, then it could potentially kill them.
Remember, all of these symptoms can also be tied to other conditions that are not hairballs. The only way to work out what the issue is will be to talk to the vet.
How Do You Deal With Hairballs in Cats?
To be honest, once the symptoms hit the serious part, you should always head to the vet with your cat. You really shouldn’t be leaving things to chance.
If there are hairballs stuck in your cat’s digestive system, then there is a strong chance that the vet will need to carry out emergency surgery in order to clear that blockage.
If it is just at the unproductive vomiting stage, then you may want to get your hand on some cat laxatives. Make sure that they have been designed especially for hairballs.
This will help to break down the hairball and make it a little bit easier for that hairball to be guided out of the cat’s body.
Other than this, there isn’t really much you can do once your cat actually has a hairball.
The bulk of what you can do will be preventative measures. Which, quite conveniently, we are going to be discussing in the next section!
How Do You Prevent Hairballs in Cats?
Prevention is always going to be better than the cure, and that applies to hairballs in cats too!
Remember what we said about cat laxatives in the previous section? Well, if your cat regularly suffers from hairballs, then you may be able to give these to your cats semi-regularly.
You don’t want to go too over the top. You really don’t want to be dealing with the mess that comes from cats taking excess laxatives.
However, follow the instructions on the medication and you should be fine. You may also want to talk to your vet.
They may be able to prescribe something a little bit ‘stronger’.
Brush Your Cat Regularly
Cats shed, and they shed a lot. Guess which cats tend to have the most hairballs? It is those that have owners that do not brush them regularly. At the minimum, you should be brushing your cat at least once every couple of days.
This will help to get all of the loose hairs off of the body of the cat. While this is not really going to 100% prevent hairballs, it should ensure that any hair in the stomach doesn’t really build up to dangerous levels.
After all, the less hair that your cat is going to be swallowing, the better it will be for them.
Also read: Best cat brush for shedding.
You shouldn’t really just focus on the grooming that you are doing for your cat either. You will need to take them to regular cat groomers occasionally if their fur ever presents as a real problem.
This is especially important if your cat has a longer coat. The cat groomer will be able to cut everything back. This should reduce the chances of your cat swallowing long hair.
Obviously, you can always try to cut your cat’s hair in the comfort of your own home, but if you are going to need to have it done, why not have it done properly?
A proper cat groomer will help with so much more than ensuring that your cat’s hair is nice and short anyway.
More ways how to prevent hairballs in cats:
- Regularly brush your cat. This was already mentioned, but it is one of the best things you can do to prevent your cat from forming hairballs. Cats get hairballs when they are licking themselves, and loose hair gets stuck on their tongue so they eat the hair. When you brush these loose hairs away, they will not end up eating them. It is best to start brushing your cat when it is a young kitten, so that it will get used to getting brushed and won’t feel nervous about it.
- Add young grass to your cats diet. You can get special cat grass in pet stores that your cat can nibble on, and doing this will help it pass hairballs. It is the same reason you sometimes see cats outside nibbling on grass in small amounts. You can place the grass inside your house in a safe place, such as where the sun shines or where your cat loves to nap. The cat can then eat it and take in the fiber, but the grass can also be a fantastic source of folic acid, which is needed for the production of hemoglobin in cats. Cat grass is also a natural laxative, aids digestion, and stimulates the need to vomit, which is the best way to get rid of hairballs or undigested food.
You can get some cat grass here, if you are interested.
- Nutrition with high quality food that will strengthen the cat’s skin and fur. Some of these foods also have a high percentage of insoluble fiber that should encourage the passage of hair through the digestive system. Subsequent addition of fiber to the diet can also help, usually something that has a specific mixture of fiber in it such as pumpkin.
- Always keep a close eye on the overall health of your cat. Some cats lick you more than usual, and sometimes such behavior is a manifestation of compulsive behavior, caused mainly by stress or boredom. When this happens you need to solve the problem by giving it enough attention and care, entertainment mostly so it won’t get bored. Play with the cat more than usual whenever it has started to behave like this.
- Regular use of malt paste or similar additives such as mild laxatives in the diet, which helps hair to pass through the digestive tract more easily. Mortar paste can be used two to four times a week, depending on the circumstances.
Also read: Why do cats eat grass sometimes?
Give Your Cat a Healthy Diet
You may also want to start paying attention to your cat’s diet. Higher quality foods are not just higher quality because they are more delicious.
It is because they are going to be packed to the brim with nutrients.
These nutrients (particularly the protein) are going to help to improve your cat’s coat. When your cat’s coat has been improved, it will shed hair less easily. This means they will be swallowing even less.
If your cat has a serious hairball problem, then you could look into buying food that has been designed for cats that are suffering from hairballs.
These foods can be a little bit expensive, but many people that have used them with their cats find that the hairball problem clears up pretty sharpish.
These products tend to help hairballs pass through the system a little bit better while, at the same time, improving the coat of your furry friend.
While hairballs in cats are quite common, in rare cases they can be exceedingly dangerous.
The best thing you can do to prevent them, is to invest in a good cat brush and make sure to groom your cat regularly, daily preferably. Especially if they have long fur.
Doing this, will prevent your sweet cat from ingesting the loose hairs when they lick themselves clean.
It is always wise to keep an eye out for the symptoms of serious hairballs. Other than that, just use preventative techniques, and you should be ‘good to go’ most of the time!