Hairballs in cats

Hairballs are a common problem in cats. Passing hairballs 2-3 times a year is normal, but if it happens more frequently it is not. All adult cats, except for hairless breeds, can get hairballs.

Hairballs can also be called furballs and trichobezoars. They can be so common in cats that they’re almost considered normal. Cats bring them up when hair accumulates in their stomach. Hairballs are easy to manage when they happen occasionally. But frequent hairballs may signal an underlying health problem.



Causes of hairballs in cats

Cats swallow hair when grooming. This hair should pass out in their poo. But if cats eat too much hair or if it can’t pass through their intestines normally, it builds up in their stomach.

We may see cats passing hairballs often if they are overgrooming due to:

  • Pain in their tummy or joints
  • Gastrointestinal problems that cause a delay in passing the hair
  • Itchy skin and hair loss, due to allergies, fungal infections or parasites, such as fleas and mites
  • Behavioural problems, such as stress and anxiety
  • Eating prey



Symptoms of hairballs in cats

The signs cats show when having problems with hairballs are often confused with respiratory problems. Signs include:

  • Having a dry cough that sounds as if they’ve got something stuck in their throat
  • Gagging or retching
  • Vomiting and bringing up the hairball, with liquid or undigested food

Signs that a hairball is causing an obstruction or blockage in your cat’s tummy include:



Cats at higher risk of having problems with hairballs

Cats with health conditions and other illnesses that predispose to hairballs.

  • Chronic pain- older cats with arthritis or pancreatitis
  • Gastrointestinal diseases, such as IBD, megaoesophagus or reflux
  • Itchy skin and overgrooming – cats with allergies, parasites and infections
  • Behavioural challenges -stress and compulsive disorders leading to overgrooming

Certain breeds: Long-haired cat breeds

Lifestyle factors: Cats who hunt



Diagnosing hairballs in cat

Diagnosis is straightforward when there are hairballs amongst liquid or undigested food in vomit.

But symptoms can also be confused with respiratory problems, like asthma. This happens when the hairball gets stuck at the back of your cat’s throat, but they swallow it down again.

Bringing up occasional hairballs shouldn’t be a reason for concern. But if your cat brings up furballs regularly, it is important to have them checked by a vet to find out why.

Vet investigation of hairballs includes:

  • Discussing all the information you can give about your cat’s environment and lifestyle
  • Performing a full physical examination

And depending on the above:

  • Performing skin scrapes or cultures to check for mites or infections
  • Offering blood, poo and urine tests
  • Offering a behaviour referral
  • carrying out skin scrapes or cultures to check for mites or infections
  • Performing tummy scans and x-rays if an obstruction is suspected


Vet treatment

Vet treatment for hairballs in cats

For occasional hairballs:

  • Laxative pastes: increase the movement in the gut and help drag the hairballs out with the poo. These can be used daily for short periods or weekly for maintenance.
  • Special foods: Hill’s Science Plan Hairball Indoor Adult Cat is high in fibre and helps reduce hairballs.

For Hairballs due to other illnesses.

  • Medication to help with stress and anxiety, alongside a behaviour modification programme, normally provided by a qualified animal behaviourist.
  • Identifying and treating the underlying problem


Home treatment

How to look after a cat who suffers from hairballs at home

  • Laxative pastes: help keep hairballs moving through the intestines and out in poo.
  • Specially formulated foods: high in fibre and easy to digest. These diets help by increasing the movement of food through the gut and dragging the hairballs out in the poo.
  • Hairball treats
  • Pumpkin: rich in fibre also, bulks up the poo and helps push out the furballs. It needs to be offered cooked. Not all cats will take to this remedy.
  • Coconut oil, butter and fish oil do not help to remove hairballs. This is because they are digested and absorbed within the gut and do not have lubricating properties.



Tips to help prevent hairballs in cats

All home remedies, if used regularly can help prevent hairballs from causing vomiting. Or at least reduce the frequency of it happening.

Additionally, you can try:

  • Brushing your cat regularly: removing loose hairs and mats, and keeping the coat clean and healthy will reduce the amount of hair your cat swallows
  • Offering a skin supplement: this will keep the skin healthier and less prone to itching
  • Keeping up to date with flea, tick and mite treatment –  a product from your vet is recommended
  • Keeping your cat hydrated by encouraging them to drink using a water fountain or offering wet food
  • Cat grass: a special blend of seeds (barley, wheat, rye) that is cat safe and friendly. Grass increases fibre in the diet and helps digestion. It also helps to drag the hairballs through the intestine.
  • Essential oils or pheromone diffusers may help to relax your cat


When to worry

When you should be worried about your cat and hairballs

Seek help from a vet in practice if your cat is:

  • Being sick repeatedly
  • Not eating
  • Looking bloated
  • Showing signs of pain

Joii can help if:

  • You’re worried about your cat bringing up hairballs frequently
  • You want to discuss food that helps with hairballs
  • You’d like to know more about products to prevent hairballs in cats
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