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The Truth about Hairballs

By Roslyn Ayers, PetSafe Web Content Specialist

Roslyn loves Lilly, who rarely has hairballs. She initially thought her three other persians might have her cleaning up furballs all over the house, but she has been pleasantly surprised that she was wrong!

Every cat owner knows the warning sound of the Hairball Hack: hack, gulp, hack, gulp, hack-- ker-pluh. Cats keep clean by licking themselves, ingesting some fur in the process. While most of the fur is digested easily, sometimes cats get rid of it by vomiting it up in the form of hairballs.

But how often do cats really get hairballs and are hairballs really a big deal? Cats with longer fur tend to get hairballs more frequently. To help prevent hairballs for long-haired cats, you should brush your cat a few times a week and wipe your cat with a clean cloth afterwards. Keep in mind that every cat is different.

Living with 3 Persians, I thought I would be brushing them and cleaning up hairballs all the time. Yet I rarely find those hairy little presents lying around the house. I clean up only a few hairballs per year. Short-haired cats aren’t immune to getting hairballs. Cats who groom themselves more often may have more hairballs.

Hairballs can also be seasonal. Some cats shed some of their furry coat in the summer, and more grooming plus more hair can lead to more hairballs. Talk to your vet if you notice your cat grooms the genital area obsessively as this can be a sign of a UTI.

Some cats are just more prone to hacking up hairballs than others. They might have more sensitive stomachs, or they might shed more often. Some cats throw up hairballs once a week, once a year, or almost never. Only you will know what is normal for your pet.

You should speak to your vet if your cat throws up more than one or two times a month, or if your cat is throwing up more often than usual. Lots of hairballs or vomiting can also be signs of inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.

Are hairballs dangerous? Yes, but rarely. Hairballs can cause blockage of the cat’s stomach or throat, which may require surgery to correct.

A few years ago, my friend’s short-haired cat Velvet stopped eating and using the litterbox for 3 days. After taking her to the vet, they discovered Velvet had such a large hairball in her tummy that it was blocking her intestines.

Luckily, Velvet was fine after getting some medication and a laxative. She now gets hairball prevention formula dry food.

Hairballs can lead to serious medical problems if you don’t know what to watch out for. If you’re worried about your cat’s hairball problem, don’t be! Occasional hairballs are normal. You can easily prevent hairballs by brushing your cat more often and talking to your vet about hairball prevention food or supplements.

How often does your cat get hairballs? Do you have a special hairball remedy that works for your cat?


ABOUT ROSLYN At PetSafe’s Knoxville headquarters, Roslyn Ayers is the Web Content Specialist. Roslyn comes from a family of animal lovers and has a B.A. in Writing/Communications from Maryville College. She has volunteered with various animal rescues in Tennessee and South Carolina. Roslyn currently shares her home with four cats.  

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A friend of mine suggested butter for hairballs. I find it works, and it’s a lot cheaper than the hairball remedies they have at the store.

Alice, I never would have thought about butter. Thanks for reading and for sharing! :)

I wish I would have known about this because my mom’s cat Houston was a short haired cat that groomed himself regularly and often groomed his sister Chi Chi. He started to get sick real bad and I had never known what was wrong. Now that I have read this report I am happy to have found out but also sad in the way that I could of helped Houston get better with a little laxative. He did have a hard time throwing up hairballs when he would hack and cough nothing was coming up and it actually made me worry. Thank you for writing this.

The post is absolutely fantastic! Thanks for sharing about About Hairballs.

It’s nearly impossible to find knowledgeable people on this topic,
however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about!

petrolleum jelly works wonders!

Our cat, Lucifer is an ordinary house cat, we have him for 5 years now, and we never noticed any hairballs at all. Which I find really concerning, since of course he grooms himself, and does sometimes the weird coughing noises too, but nothing ever comes out.
In the last year, he is outside almost every day, but I hardly believe he had any hairballs there, since the coughing sounds are still happening with nothing coming out :(

I have had my cat NANA for over 5 years and she has never had hairballs, i was wondering if that was a problem but she is in great health, fat and lazy. But we love her and she gets along great with our 2 female Pomeranian dogs , she also is a female cat. She is a great cat who kills spiders and bugs that find their way in our home. But i was wondering if no hairballs normal? But i see she is a healthy cat.

Hi Carolina,

Nana sounds like a real sweetheart. Some cats never have hairballs, and that’s completely fine. You know what’s normal for your cat. My cat Lily is a DSH (domestic shorthair), and she almost never gets hairballs.

You really only need to worry if your cat has too many hairballs, or if your cat stopped hacking up hairballs and there are other medical symptoms.

Thanks for reading!

I noticed that when Tyson try’s to cough up a hair ball or maybe looks like hacking up one. The back of his body moves and, then when he’s finished there’s nothing. It’s like it doesn’t want to come out. He’s a little over weight 18 lb for a 11 year old tuxedo cat. BTW: My mom emailed me this site. I recorded the video just incase. Sounds weird but we live in an apartment in NYC. Thx

Hi Erin,

He could have a large hairball that’s working its way out. Get Tyson to your vet if he develops any other symptoms or just doesn’t seem like his normal self.

You can also have your vet check for signs of feline asthma or a respiratory infection.

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