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Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic Blog

The Most Feline of Frustrations: Hairballs in Cats

A gray cat looking over its tail

Often discussed and more often joked about, cats do seem to have a knack for vomiting on your new rug or upchucking on an expensive leather sofa. Many a pet owner has woken up to the unmistakable sounds of a kitty throwing up. And it’s true, cats tend to be pukers.

When the problem becomes more than occasional, though, it is only natural to go searching for solutions to this messy problem. Hairballs in cats aren’t always as simple as they seem, and the Animal Skin and Allergy Clinic wants to be sure that you know how to help your cat (and your rug). 

Hairballs in Cats

Hairballs in cats, more scientifically referred to as trichobezoars, can and do happen. They result from the hair swallowed during the grooming process. Most of this hair passes through the digestive tract, but what is left behind can accumulate. These leftover hairballs are often not balls at all, but rather elongated cylinders of matted hair.

Long haired cats are more likely to form trichobezoars, and at times when shedding is at its peak the problem can be even worse. 

Pet owners tend to automatically assume that hairballs are to blame for most cat vomiting. The reality, though, is that cats are hair-digesting machines. Their digestive tracts are designed for grooming and digesting the hair they consume during this process. 

So when is it more worrisome? You should always make an appointment to investigate if:

  • Your cat is vomiting more than twice a month
  • Your cat’s appetite has changed (either increased or decreased)
  • Your cat is unintentionally losing weight
  • Your cat is sick otherwise, such as having diarrhea, decreased energy, etc.

Sometimes even though there is hair being vomiting, it is not the cause of the problem, but rather whatever was in your cat’s stomach at the time the vomiting occurred. 

Problems like intestinal parasites, gastrointestinal blockages, food allergies and sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism can all have vomiting as a potential symptom. 

What’s a Cat Owner To Do?

Just because hairballs in cats are common doesn’t mean that you are doomed to a lifetime of battling barf, though.

Once other medical issues have been ruled out as a potential cause of frequent vomiting, there are definitely some steps you can take to mitigate the issue. 

Be sure to:

  • Groom your cat at home frequently to decrease the loose hair ingested during grooming
  • Consider having your cat groomed professionally 
  • Try a diet designed to prevent hairballs
  • Utilize a hairball remedy (typically a light petroleum based product, such as Bag Balm, dabbed on to the nose to lubricate the hair passing through the digestive tract)

If the problem is truly just hairballs, your efforts will not go unrewarded. If things do not improve, though, it is probably time to re-evaluate whether something more serious is at play. 

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