What Causes Hairballs In Cats And How To Prevent Them

Do you ever wonder what causes hairballs in cats? As a cat parent it can be upsetting to see your furry friend coughing up hair.

I don’t think there’s any cat owner on the planet who hasn’t experienced this at one time or another. In this post you’ll discover exactly what a hairball is, why your cat vomits them, and if they’re normal.

You’ll also find natural and very effective home remedies to help prevent your kitty getting hairballs. Some of these you’ll already have in your kitchen cupboard!

All cats are fastidious about grooming themselves and spend up to half their waking hours doing it. Your cat has tiny hooks on her tongue that cat catch loose hairs. These hairs are swallowed, then pass into the digestive tract.

Most of the time you’re cat won’t have any problems as hair is passed out in feces. Your cat’s digestive system is designed to deal with this.

In a healthy cat you can expect to see hairballs about twice a year. This is during seasonal changes as coat hair is shed.

In Spring she’ll lose her winter coat in preparation for summer, and in the autumn she may lose hair as her new coat grows.

what to do about hairballs in cats

What is a cat hairball?

Though most loose hair is passed through your cat, sometimes these hairs form very dense balls that can’t be passed.

These hairballs are then regurgitated. Your cat will often make retching or gagging sounds just before the hairball is thrown up.

As distressing as it may seem, your kitty will be perfectly fine after the event, and it won’t stop her eating! Long hair cats tend to suffer most due to the amount of hair that’s swallowed. However, short hair cats aren’t exempt.

The occasional hairball is fine, but frequent hairballs aren’t normal and you need to look for an underlying cause. Sometimes they can be due to over grooming, but they could also be health related.

What causes hairballs in cats?

over grooming can cause hairballs

There are many reasons why your kitty may get hairballs. Obsessive over grooming is one possible cause. It’s often a behaviour issue caused by boredom, or stress, and similar to OCD in people. If this is the case getting a few interactive cat toys may help.

Stress due to moving or a new member in your household can also lead to over grooming. Your cat feels better when she grooms herself, and it’s a way of self soothing.

Other causes for your cat over grooming may include allergies. Itchy skin from flea or ticks can make your kitty constantly bite or groom the affected areas.

You’d commonly see patches of thinning hair if this was the cause. Skin allergies in cats can also be due to an intolerance of certain cat foods.

If you notice your cat starts to groom a lot more than usual it’s a good idea to see your vet. If ticks are ruled out he or she may do a blood test to further investigate.

Why hairballs are cause for concern in senior cats

If your cat is in her senior years it’s quite possible she may suffer constipation. Her digestive system will be slower and food will take longer to pass through.

Cats are no different to us and constipation is all too common in the elderly. However, any hair from grooming will remain in the gut for longer, and your cat may find it very difficult to pass.

Keep a close eye on your kitty and if you notice her straining a lot you need to get her checked over. Your vet may be able to prescribe something to get things moving again.

Danger signs to look out for

If your kitty is constantly retching and nothing comes up, you should be concerned. Hairballs are usually brought up very fast after just a few retching sounds.

Loss of appetite, lethargy and constipation are all cause for concern with hairballs. Blockages can be life threatening so you’d need to see your vet urgently.

How to prevent hairballs in cats

Man brushing pet Sacred Birman cat at home

If you want to keep your kitty hairball free one of the best things you can do is groom her regularly. It doesn’t matter if your cat has long or short hair as frequent brushing removes both loose hair and dead skin cells.

Diet plays an important part in keeping your cat’s digestive system healthy. Food that’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates is best for your kitty.

You don’t have to spend a fortune, but some foods are higher quality than others. Iams have a range of cat foods designed to prevent hairballs. Different flavours are available including chicken and tuna

vetriscience feline furball pro

Vetriscience feline furball pro are soft chewy treats that contain ingredients designed to support a healthy digestive system. The treats are chicken liver flavour and contain papain.

This enzyme helps breakdown mucus that holds hairballs together. This product also contains antioxidants and psyllium fiber.

Fiber helps your cat pass hairballs naturally. This lowers the risk of your feline friend throwing up!

Always make sure your cat is drinking enough water. Dehydration can cause constipation as well as kidney problems. Many cats don’t drink enough and need encouragement.

Pet water fountains are a great way to get your cat interested in drinking. A built in motor creates aerated water from small jets.

This stainless steel water fountain has 3 different flow settings. This is great as it allows you to adjust the flow of water according to the needs of your pet.

I like the safety feature on this fountain as it automatically powers of if there’s no water left. A blue light shows the fountain is full, and if red is displayed you need to add water.

Natural home remedies for treating hairballs

Apart from encouraging your cat to drink there are a few other home remedies that may work. Treating your kitty to a can of tasty tuna or sardines can prove beneficial.

The oil in tuna and sardines acts as a lubricant. Pour some of the oil over her usual food as well. This way you won’t waste any.

Olive oil is also a great lubricant. Add a few drops to food and mix in well. You could also use a few drops of melted butter, but use sparingly.

Scottish salmon oil is an excellent supplement for either your dog or cat. It not only supports the digestive system but boosts heart health as well. If your cat is nearing her senior years you may find it helps her joints and eases stiffness.

I’ve been giving my cat Scottish salmon oil for the past few weeks and he loves it. I just add a few drops to his food twice a day.

Cats will naturally eat grass if they’re not feeling good. It’s a great source of fiber and aids digestion. The juice from grass also contains folic acid which increases oxygen levels in the blood.

If your cat is an indoor cat consider growing a box of grass. You can buy the seeds and it doesn’t take long to reach a good height for your kitty to graze!

Banish hairballs for a happier and healthy pet!

While you won’t completely get rid of hairballs you can drastically cut back on the amount your cat produces. In this post you’ve learned what causes hairballs in cats, and some of the best ways to prevent them.

We’ve looked at when you should be concerned, and danger signs to be aware of. Plus, why hydration is so important for your cat.

We’ve also looked at a few effective home remedies to help aid your kitty’s digestion, making it easier to pass everything through. If your cat’s digestive system is sluggish she won’t feel so good.

It’s exactly the same for us, and I’m sure many of you will know only too well the misery of constipation! We’ve taken a quick look at the dietary needs of your cat and how to ensure she’s getting everything she needs.

I hope this post has been of use to you as hairballs are something all cat mums will come across at least once in their little ones life! I’d love to hear about any experiences you may have had with hairballs. Please leave any comments in the box below.

Wishing you a purrfect day 🙂

8 thoughts on “What Causes Hairballs In Cats And How To Prevent Them”

  1. Great article! My current cat has never had to cough up hairballs (thank goodness) but he also has super fine short hair and is a lazy little sod who never grooms. The bugger is so lazy we have to groom him ourselves daily or he just lets his old hair mat up. Never had a cat as pigpen as him. Maybe you have some advice on this strange behavior?

    My old cat Rose wasn’t as lucky, she went all checkers in on the birth lottery and ended up with super long, coarse fur. She coughed up hairballs at least once a week. If only we could have known back then that there were ways to help mitigate the issue.

    We have another longhair on the way though – we’re going through the adoption process right now. I’ll be saving this page for later, might get some use out of those products if she ever gets as bad as Rose did.

    • Thank you Jordan, I’m afraid some cats are just lazy! Grooming him will help remove loose hair. It’s also possible if he was an abandoned kitten his mum never had chance to teach him grooming skills. Mother cats show their young important life skills such as using a litter tray and grooming. Yes, long, course fur can be a problem with regards hairballs! Good luck with your new cat, and as long as you groom her coat regularly you should be fine:)

  2. My daughter has two cats: one has short hair and other- long. That cat with long hair sometimes has the hairballs. When I come to visit my daughter, I always try to cut these hairballs from the cat. I never thought cats could have health problems that produce hairballs.
    I will show your post to my daughter, and I believe we will change the cat’s diet to prevent hairballs.
    Thanks for the tips!

    • Hi Jidrone, thank you, I’m sure your daughter will find the information in my post useful. Yes, the health of a cat’s digestive system has a big effect on the amount of hair that passes through. My previous long hair cat was always bringing up hairballs in her senior years. Her health had declined by age 18, and she was unable to groom herself. Yes, if your daughter tries giving her cat one of the foods I recommend, that may help 🙂


Leave a Comment

Join Our Cat Loving Community!

Get Cat Care 101, Plus regular blog post updates...

We respect your privacy.