Hairballs... Normal Cat Quirk or Health Warning Sign?

Despite our best efforts to always find our fur babies cute and adorable, it can be pretty disgusting when Kitty retches up a hairball – especially if you step on that nasty ball of fur and stomach contents in the middle of the night! But as a pet parent, you know occasional hairballs are just part of having a magnificent feline in your life.

PrettyLitter Hairballs... Normal Cat Quirk or Health Warning Sign?

But what if Kitty is hawking them up daily? Is that normal? Or is it a sign that Fluffy needs to visit the vet?

Here's what you need to know about hairballs and how you can help Kitty to live a healthier, hairball-free life.

What Are Hairballs?

Our "Word of the Day" today is trichobezoar! A trichobezoar is a lump of hair in the stomach or intestines. It's made up of a mat of hair fibers, saliva, and stomach contents, which is what gives the gloppy mass its extreme ick-factor.

Disturbingly, trichobezoars are a lot like the clogs of hair you find in your shower drain. Unfortunately, though, you won't be able to install a drain filter in Kitty's stomach.

Once a ball of hair forms, there's only one way for Kitty to get rid of it – and it usually involves you waking up in the middle of the night to her retching.

Why Do They Occur?

Thanks to papillae, the backward-facing tiny projections on Kitty's tongue, anytime your furry friend grooms herself, loose hairs get caught on her tongue. Those hairs make their way down Kitty's throat and into her tummy.

Fur mostly consists of keratin, which isn't digestible, so Kitty's body must pass it one way or the other. Normally, individual hairs are able to move freely through her digestive system and – there's no way to put this delicately –come out the other end.

When the hair doesn't pass through her intestines like usual, it remains in her stomach and accumulates over time. The result is the hairball we pet parents have come to know (and despise) so well.

Are Hairballs a Health Warning Sign?

According to the experts at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, hairballs may indicate a more complex health problem when coupled with other health warning signs.

Once weekly hairball-retching sessions are normal, but daily occurrences are something to be concerned about. Excessive grooming that produces frequent hairballs can also be a sign that Kitty suffers from a skin condition.

PrettyLitter Hairballs... Normal Cat Quirk or Health Warning Sign?

If you notice that Kitty looks a little rough lately – with thinning patches of hair, red blotches on the skin, or missing patches of fur – it could be due to a flea infestation or allergies. Your vet will be able to determine exactly what the problem is and treat it accordingly.

Bringing up a hairball is one thing, but if Kitty also vomits and refuses to eat, it can be a sign of gastrointestinal problems. Because a hairball can become an intestinal blockage, symptoms like these have to be taken seriously.

Also, because hairballs are so common for cats, some pet parents may overlook frequent hacking as a natural part of cathood, but it can actually be a sign of a respiratory problem such as asthma. If the peace of your house is often interrupted by Kitty's coughing, then a visit to the vet is definitely in order.

To get some extra insight into your kitty's internal health, switch to PrettyLitter. Our health-monitoring, odor-blocking, light-weight, dust-free litter changes color to indicate possible problems with your fur baby's health.

How Can We Prevent Them?

The good news is that you can often prevent or drastically reduce hairballs with a little effort on your part. According to PreventiveVet, there are four different methods for keeping Kitty healthy and hairball-free.

Daily brushing is one way to keep Kitty's hair on a brush and not in her stomach. Brushing her regularly will cut down on the amount of hair she ingests and the nightly retching sessions so that everyone sleeps better. Hurray!

Deshedding tools are especially helpful to keep Kitty's fur sleek, particularly if your fur baby hates the hairbrush. They are more effective than normal brushes at removing Fluffy's undercoat. Bonus: a deshedding tool reduces the loose hairs you find all over your furniture and clothes!

Regular trips to the groomer might not be on Kitty's list of favorite things to do, but it can save you from fighting with her over taking a bath. Professional grooming helps keep Kitty's skin in good condition and her fur silky while removing the build-up of loose hairs.

A hairball diet is an option if Kitty's hairballs happen frequently – like multiple times a week. There are many different types of cat food designed to reduce the occurrences of hairballs, but any diet changes should be approved by your vet first.

Daily grooming sessions with your little one can also be a great opportunity for you to assess how she's doing physically and make sure there are no skin conditions, fleas, or other health problems that need to be addressed.

So how often does your kitty retch up a hairball? Weekly? Monthly? Let us know the gruesome details in the comments below! As always, if you have any questions, we're here to answer them.




Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

Author



21 Responses

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

February 11, 2020

Hi @Carol & @Hope – Bathing depends on the cat. Some kitties need to be bathed more frequently than others if they spend time outside or if they are heavy shedders.

If you have an indoor tiger, she should be keeping herself pretty clean and you can bathe her every 6-weeks. If she spends time outside, or has longer hair that prevents her from staying clean, it’s recommended that she be bathed more frequently.

Be careful not to bathe her TOO frequently, though, as this can cause skin irritation. For specific recommendations for your unique kitties, be sure to consult with your vet.

We hope this helps! :)

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

February 11, 2020

Hi @Marianna – Your kitty must not be feeling good. :( I’m sorry to hear that your cat has been throwing up so frequently.

It’s common for cats to throw up every once in a while but in your case, your cat is tossing his cookies regularly. We highly recommend getting your cat in for a vet visit, as it may be a symptom of a deeper medical issue.

Feel free to share any updates with us. We hope your cat feels better soon!

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

February 11, 2020

Hey @Lorraine – The hairballs may be upsetting your cat’s stomach, which could cause a change in appetite.

We definitely recommend consulting with your vet and seeing if a hairball medication can help her pass the hair more easily or to regulate the hairballs.

Your vet may even recommend changing up her diet to improve her digestive system. Hairballs can be serious if left untreated so the sooner she get’s a doctor visit, the better.

We wish you the best of luck. Thanks for reaching out!

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

February 11, 2020

Hi @Dawn – It’s definitely a good idea to get a vet’s opinion on Otis’ health. While the hairball medicine is great for regulating the hairballs, it may not be a good sign that your cat is heavily reliant on the medication.

Your vet may recommend a change in your cat’s diet or may do some allergy testing to get to the root of the issue.

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

February 11, 2020

Hi @Torrey – There are different factors that can cause your cat to pass hairballs, like the changes in the seasons, if she’s shedding more frequently or less. But if she’s coughing up fewer hair balls and still eating, drinking, and pooping normally, it sounds like she’s doing well!

It’s never a bad idea to visit your vet for a checkup. If you notice irregularities in your cat’s hairball occurrences, you might want a doctor’s opinion to rule out allergies or other causes.

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

February 11, 2020

Hey @Betty – Thanks for sharing! Your cat is absolutely normal. If hair isn’t passed through the hacking-up of hair balls, the hair will likely come out of the other end. Or, your cat’s hair isn’t consumable. Maybe your cat’s hair is short and ends up on your couch before it ends up in your kitty’s belly. :)

Brenda Stout-powell
Brenda Stout-powell

January 31, 2020

Before I started using Pretty Litter, my male cat was having daily sessions of throwing up after he ate. My first thought was a nasty hairball which he could not get rid of without some help so here we go with the hairball remedy gel. That did not seem to solve the problem so the Vet ordered an upper and lower GI…
Nothing there! ($$$$)
My Pretty Litter arrived! After a week I was noticing more and more dark blue showing up when he urinated. Back to the Vet! The Vet discarded the information about the blue color in his litter box. The Vet wanted to run the GI test again ($$$$). Nope, nope, nope!
I went to the pet store and bought UA medicine for him. After 1 week and me with several scratch from administering the oral drops, he is not showing any blue in his box and the color returned to the normal range. He is active again and playful.
Thank you Pretty Litter! My fur baby is better and only produces 1-2 hairballs a month now.
Follow your instincts and look at your cat’s pretty litter box,
Kitty Momma Brenda

Carol Chevlin
Carol Chevlin

January 31, 2020

Thank you for the hair ball information.
My question is, how often should my kitty be bathed? Hope is a year old and hasn’t had a bath? I might add, she is more like a Tiger!

Sincerely

Carol Chevlin

Claire Nelson
Claire Nelson

January 31, 2020

By far the best cat litter I have ever used!

Lisa Warsh
Lisa Warsh

January 31, 2020

My Booboo Kitty has a fur ball once or twice a year. The long period of time between retching sessions could be due to daily brushing. She loves the brush. She asks to be brushed about once every hour. I gently give her a groom, especially on her cheeks and chin. As she loves that the most. I am grateful that her hair is not a huge problem. My long hair is more of a problem then hers. Lol

Marianna Scherman
Marianna Scherman

January 31, 2020

Hi. So my cat throws up every day or night. But not hairballs. He throws up his grass that he eats and or just liquid. What does this mean???

Linda
Linda

January 31, 2020

I feed my long haired cat Iams Hairball formula and it works great! My cat is happy and healthy and rarely winds up vomiting hairballs. Maybe once a month if that.

Charlotte Stukes
Charlotte Stukes

January 31, 2020

Our cat rarely gets a hairball. We have had her 2 or 3 years now and she has only had two. I don’t know if this is because she is a shorthair cat or not.

Joan Rpry Vecsey
Joan Rpry Vecsey

January 31, 2020

About once a month my cat will have 2 to 3 days of small hairballs. I am trying an organic hairball remedy to her food.

Jess
Jess

January 31, 2020

My cat usually hacks one up once a week. I started her on the hair ball treats by Hartz and that has helped to make it every 10-14 days.

Lorraine Jones
Lorraine Jones

January 31, 2020

My cats seem to lose interest in eating when they haven’t fully regurgitated hairballs. Is this typical?

Dawn Perry
Dawn Perry

January 31, 2020

I have 3 fur babies and they range from 12-2 years old. I have noticed my oldest fur baby-Otis has fur balls and we do brush him and give him hairball medicine everyday to help him, which seem to work but if my husband feeds them he sometimes forget to give the medicine to Otis and then Otis not my husband starts coughing again. Is it time to take him to the vet? Also, my younger fur babies Oscar and Ozzy don’t seem to have any issues but when is it a good time to start them on hairball medicine? One is 2 and one is 9.

Torrey Parshall
Torrey Parshall

January 31, 2020

My 15 y/o kitty used to have hairballs 2-3 / month. The last year or more it’s only been once or twice every 6+ months. Should I be concerned. She eats, drinks and poops normally, and appears healthy – she’s an indoor cat and not overweight.

Teresa
Teresa

January 31, 2020

I have a 14yr old long hair calico, she used to trow up once a day or more. I groom her regularly but didn’t seem to help. i love your litter so much I decided to try the Pretty please food. What a big difference in her, she only throws up once or twice a month now. great job guys!

Betty
Betty

January 31, 2020

My cat never coughs up hairballs, and he is a fastidious groomer. Is that Norma?
I love your litter.

Lisa
Lisa

January 31, 2020

Cali Kitty throws up a hairball once-twice a week-is brushed and on special hairball food but still seems to be having struggles. Have also added pumpkin to her food, she will not eat grass planted for her- so we dhall see.

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