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Why Do Cats Get Hairballs?

  • 6 min read

As a cat parent, you can almost imagine it: you’re minding your own business, and all of a sudden you hear a retching sound, only to accidentally step in a slimy hairball in the hallway. Yuck! There are so many things to love about our feline friends, but a hairball on the carpet definitely isn’t one of them. 

But as gross as they may be, hairball regurgitation is a natural part of being a cat! Here, we will explain what hairballs are, why cats get hairballs, and some things you can do for hairball prevention in your home. 

What Are Hairballs?

Hairballs are much different than regular vomiting. They consist mainly of undigested loose hair and some stomach bile and are often in tubular shapes from being squeezed through your kitty’s esophagus. When a cat throws up a hairball, you often hear a round of short retches, followed by a swift hairball. And if everything else is fine, your kitty is often back to normal in no time. 

Why Do Cats Get Hairballs?

Cats are known for their regular grooming (they spend up to half of their waking hours just grooming themselves!) and while this grooming keeps our feline friends nice and clean, it can also lead to hairball formation. 

Cats have little hooks on their tongues called papillae, which are designed to groom themselves and their kittens. These little hooks grab excess loose fur, which is then propelled down the through and into the stomach. His hair is usually digested, but sometimes excess hair can clump together in the stomach, creating hairballs in cats. If the cat is unable to digest this hairball, they throw it up (usually on the carpet!). Cats may get more hairballs in the warmer months when they are dropping their winter coats. Long-haired breeds may also get more hairballs. 

Besides being inconvenient, hairballs are generally safe for an otherwise healthy cat and are the result of their natural grooming behavior. That being said, always talk to your vet if you suspect something is wrong with your kitty, such as if they’re having extremely frequent hairballs or are frequently retching or hacking. These signs could indicate a different issue, such as a gastrointestinal problem, an intestinal blockage, or a respiratory ailment such as asthma. 

Now that you understand what hairballs are and what causes hairballs let’s look at some things you can do to reduce the number of hairballs your kitty is throwing up. 

What Does it Look Like When a Cat Has a Hairball?

Any cat owner knows that when a cat is preparing to expel a hairball, it looks and sounds a lot different than them throwing up otherwise. Generally, you will hear a series of short bursts of coughs. This usually lasts a few minutes. Then, the hairball will come out swiftly and with little to no resistance. Some cats will take a few steps back when preparing to have a hairball, so monitor them to make sure they won’t fall off anything. And mysteriously, cats always seem to have hairballs on your nicest rugs!

Hairballs can usually be quickly cleaned up with just a normal carpet cleaner. It’s best to wait a few minutes for the hairball to harden a bit so you can pick it up with a paper towel. Then, use a stain and odor remover on the carpet. Be careful not to rub the hairball into the carpet. Instead, dab at the spot with the solution and a clean paper towel. 

How to Prevent Hairballs

Making small changes to your cat’s environment, diet, and grooming habits can help control hairballs. Here are some of our favorite tips for hairball control!

Groom Your Cat Regularly

The first thing you can do for hairball prevention is to groom your cat regularly. Regular brushing and the occasional bath will help reduce shedding and excess loose fur that your cat would normally groom. By helping your cat maintain their coat, you’re helping decrease the amount of fur they ingest. Cats are the ultimate groomers, but we can do our part and help out!

Create a Healthy Diet

Just like nearly every other health concern you might have about your cat, almost everything comes back to diet. Feeding your cat a healthy diet full of protein, fat, and fiber will ensure that their digestion is running smoothly. In addition, a healthy cat’s diet means a healthier coat and healthier coats mean less shedding and fewer hairballs. 

When considering your cat’s diet, always look for dry and wet foods that have meat sources as the first ingredients. Made with top-choice chicken as its top ingredient and fortified with chickpeas and peas, PrettyPlease cat food is formulated with your cat’s wellbeing as first priority. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need to eat meat as their main form of nutrients. This protein, along with natural fiber sources from legumes, ensures they get enough fiber and moisture to digest all that cat hair. 

Provide Fresh Water

Speaking of moisture, making sure your cat is drinking enough water is another cat hairball remedy. Make sure you have enough water bowls throughout the house to make it easy for your kitty to get a drink. If your cat doesn’t seem interested in their water bowls, you can also try a fountain to provide them with fresh running water. Some cats are more interested in this. Anything to get them drinking!

Try Hairball Cat Treats

There are countless treats and cat food options on the market today that claim to help control hairballs. While the efficacy of these options may vary, they could be worth a try if your cat seems to be getting a lot of hairballs. Many of these treats work by increasing the amount of fiber in your cat’s diet, therefore making it easier to digest cat hair. 

Try a Lubricant

In addition to hairball control treats and cat food, there are also lubricants specially designed to limit hairball production. These pastes work by lubricating the hairball to make it easier to pass through the digestive tract, instead of having to be thrown up. These lubricants aren’t digested but instead coat the hairball. 

If you don’t want to try a hairball-specific lubricant, you may be able to use some things you have at home already! Fish oil is a great lubricant hairball remedy and can actually help reduce hairballs in an additional way. Omega-3 fish oil helps promote a healthy coat, which means less shedding in the first place. This means that your cat may have fewer hairballs. 

Other oils you can use include safflower and flax oil. You can add these oils to your kitty’s food, or see if they will eat them directly. Always talk to your vet before incorporating something new into your kitty’s diet, though. You may even be able to use petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, that you find at the health store. 

Increase Fiber Intake

As we mentioned, when talking about your kitty’s diet, fiber is important for overall digestive health. Most high-quality cat foods will have a lot of fiber already, but there are ways to increase fiber in your cat’s diet, as well. Pumpkin is a great (and tasty) addition you can add to their food to increase fiber. More fiber means a happy digestive tract, which means fewer hairballs and less cleaning up the carpet. 

Conclusion

Hairballs are a normal part of owning a cat, and luckily, they usually don’t cause any major health concerns. They are made up of excess hair from grooming that wasn’t digested properly. Some cats get a hairball every week or two, with them being more frequent in the warmer months when the cat is shedding their winter coat. Long-haired breeds may also have more hairballs than other breeds. 

There are many things you can do to reduce the number of hairballs your kitty throws up. These changes include making sure they eat a healthy diet full of protein, fiber, and moisture and providing plenty of fresh water. You can also try commercial hairball control products, including hairball treats, food, and lubricants. These products are designed to make it easier to digest all that loose fur. 

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