Hairball Management

Yuck! Why cats get hairballs & how to manage them


If you’re a cat owner, there’s a good chance you’ve heard it before… that coughing, hacking noise from your cat—the telltale sign that a hairball is on the way. Or maybe you’ve just discovered the mess on the floor later—possibly by stepping in it—and had to clean it up.

Either way, hairballs can be an inconvenience to pet owners. But are hairballs normal for cats? How many are too many? And is there anything you can do about them?

Read on to learn more about hairballs and how to prevent them.

Hairball Management for Cats

No one—human or feline—enjoys hairballs. If you’ve ever stepped on a gooey hairball mess in the middle of the night, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Plus, hairballs involve vomiting, which is no fun for your cat either.

So, are hairballs normal for cats? When are hairballs a cause for concern? And how can they be prevented? Read on to learn more.

What Are Hairballs?

Hairballs in cats are clumps of hair that are vomited up from the stomach.

You might recognize your cat is having a hairball if you hear the characteristic retching or cough-like noise. Technically, hairballs are vomited rather than coughed. But initially, it may sound like your cat is coughing or wheezing.

Then, you’ll see your cat bring up a tube-shaped or round clump of wet hair, which is likely accompanied by digestive fluids and partially digested food.

It’s also possible you might not catch your cat in the act, but instead, you find the mess later.

Why Do Hairballs Occur?

There’s no doubt about it—hairballs are gross. But to some extent, they are natural for cats.

Cats groom themselves by licking. Barbs on their tongue help comb the coat and remove loose fur and debris. Some of those loose hairs are then caught on the tongue and swallowed by the cat.

Most of that swallowed hair moves harmlessly through the digestive tract and is passed in the stool. However, too much hair in the stomach or intestines could result in a blockage. So, in some cases, a cat must remove that hair from their digestive system by vomiting it out.

However, a cat shouldn’t be having hairballs too often. Frequent hairballs could indicate an underlying health problem.

There’s no rule set in stone for how many hairballs are too many. But more than 1-2 hairballs a month is generally warrants further investigation with a veterinarian.

There is some natural variation in hairball frequency between individual cats. Long-haired breeds are more prone to hairballs due to having a lot more fur than other breeds. However, even in long-haired cats, excessive hairballs can be uncomfortable.

Could Hairballs Be a Sign of a Health Problem?

Excessive hairballs, increasing frequency of hairballs, or hairballs accompanied by symptoms of illness or behavior changes warrant a veterinary consultation.

Potential underlying causes could be anything that upsets normal digestion or causes a cat to ingest more hair than they normally would. The list of possibilities includes, but is not limited to, inflammatory bowel conditions, parasites, anything that causes a cat to overgroom (skin problems, fleas, or stress/anxiety), systemic diseases like diabetes or a kidney problem, or certain types of cancer.

Many conditions that cause increased hairballs can be well managed, while others are more serious. Either way, it is best to seek care sooner rather than later.

And many cat owners receive good news from their veterinarian—peace of mind that your cat is healthy and just needs a management plan to reduce those pesky hairballs.

How Do You Manage Hairballs?

In an otherwise healthy cat, there are many things cat owners can do to minimize hairballs. It’s always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian and see what is recommended for your individual pet. But some common tips for hairball management include:

  • A healthy diet specifically formulated for hairball control. A high quality, nutritionally complete and balanced diet is important for overall health. And some cat food recipes are specially designed to aid in digestive health and hairball prevention.

    One example is our Indoor Cat Gold recipe, which features a unique, balanced blend of soluble and insoluble fibers, including:

    • Soluble fibers (dried tomato pomace and psyllium seed husk) that supply energy to beneficial bacteria that live in the intestines. They also slow stomach emptying so food can be better digested and help with peristalsis (normal intestinal movements that transport contents along). Additionally, psyllium seed husk promotes binding of hair to food particles to help with transport through the digestive tract.

    • Insoluble fibers (beet pulp and miscanthus grass) to help bind hair and transport it through the digestive tract to be excreted in the stool. Insoluble fibers can also support healthy gut bacteria for overall digestive health.

  • Grooming care. Many cats can benefit from daily brushing. This removes loose hairs before your cat has a chance to ingest them. Occasional baths or professional grooming/hair trimming can also help some cats, especially those with long or thick coats.

  • Hairball prevention products. There are some dietary supplements for hairball prevention, including lubricating products that facilitate hair passage through the digestive tract.

Check with your veterinarian prior to beginning any new supplement or medication, to make sure it’s cat-safe and a good fit for your individual pet.

Nutritional management is an important tool when it comes to preventing hairballs. Good health starts with what we put into the body. And hairball prevention can be as simple as filling your cat’s food dish each day.

Have more questions about hairball management or how our Indoor Cat Gold recipe can help? Contact our Customer Service team at 1-800-325-6331 (1-800-267-6028 in Canada) for a personalized feeding recommendation for your pet.

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