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What Are Cat Hairballs And Can I Prevent Them?

cat hairballs

If you have a cat, you’re familiar with the choking and gagging sound that accompanies cat hairballs. You know that when you hear that sound, you’ll have to clean the hairball off your floor or, if you’re unlucky, your couch or bed. Even though they’re unsightly, they’re necessary to your cat’s health.

What Are Cat Hairballs?

Hairballs form from the natural cleaning habits of your cat. Although we call them hairballs, they are not in the shape of a ball. Since they exit out of your cat’s esophagus, they form into a tube shape that’s usually about one to five inches long. They are probably the color of your cat’s coat mixed with the gastric liquid that is picked up in your cat’s digestive system.

Thankfully, most of the hair your cat digests will come out naturally in the litter box. The rest will form a hairball. Long-haired cats are more likely to produce them, but short-haired cats will too. The older a cat gets, the better they will be at grooming, and the more cat hairballs they are likely to produce.

It’s not a bad thing if your cat is producing a hairball once every week or every other week. It means that their digestive system is doing a good job of purging unwanted hair. Feline hair contains keratin, which is indigestible, so purging is one of the only ways to get it out of their system.

If a large hairball is caught in your cat’s intestines, it could pose a major health concern. If it grows too large and can’t pass it naturally, you will need to take a trip to the vet.

Symptoms Your Cat Has A Hairball

If you notice your cat hacking, gagging, or retching, it may sound alarming. Still, it’s better for your cat to purge the cat hairballs out before it becomes a problem. It shouldn’t take too long for your cat to get the hairball out of their system.

Once your cat starts retching or gagging without a hairball appearing, it may be time to call your vet. Other signs that the hairball is impeding their digestion are vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, constipation, and diarrhea. One or more of these symptoms can mean that a hairball is trapped.

An intestinal blockage can be diagnosed with a physical exam, x-rays, bloodwork, and possibly an ultrasound. Then, surgery might be necessary to remove the hairball. This is of course, only in extreme cases.

Preventing Cat Hairballs

There are a few tricks to preventing cat hairballs!

  • Groom Your Cat Daily

    Start by grooming your cat every day. Remove as much hair as possible before they do it themselves. If you have a long-haired cat, consider taking them to a groomer twice a year in addition to brushing them. Preventing the hair from getting into their digestive system is the only way to help prevent hairballs from becoming an issue.

  • Switch Their Food

    Some cat food brands now offer a hairball formula. It will help strengthen your cat’s coat, minimize shedding, and help the hair move through the digestive tract. Other hairball products can also help pass a hairball using a mild dose of laxative. Please, don’t give your pet a laxative without speaking to your veterinarian first.

  • Get Them An Alternative

    Keep an eye out for excessive grooming. If your cat is excessively cleaning themselves, try and get them to move their energy and attention onto something else. Refocus them on a toy or a scratching post instead.

Veterinarian In Pompano Beach, Florida

If you need help with cat hairballs or other issues surrounding your pet, please call the All Aboard Animal Hospital at 954-785-7780 to schedule a veterinary appointment. Our experienced and compassionate veterinarians are here to help you and your beloved feline friend through all the obstacles cat ownership has to offer.


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