Berks County cat with hairball

Despite many years of living together, cats rarely lack the ability to surprise their owners.

Sure, we know when they’d enjoy a meal or a bathroom break, and we can sort of anticipate when they’re looking for a warm lap, but even seasoned cat owners may be hard-pressed to know exactly when hairballs might come up.

Instead, we’re shocked to hear the retching sounds in the middle of the night and stunned to step into cat hairballs left on the floor. 

What is this madness all abound for?

Cat Habits

When they’re not sleeping, hunting, or eating cats are typically grooming themselves or others they’re close to. They have special tongues designed to lift dead hair or debris off their coats. However, the barbs on their tongue that give them a scratchy, sand paper-like feel only face backwards.

So, anything caught on the tongue ends up getting swallowed.

Until Hairballs Come Up

Cats can generally process ingested hair and pass it through the digestive system. Sometimes, however, there is too much to safely digest. Instead of the hair winding up in the litter box, it forms into a mass that must be pushed back up through the esophagus. As a result, cat hairballs are sort of stretched out and elongated like little tubes of partially digested food and hair. 

I’m Fine Now

Cat hairballs usually come up after some terrible sounds of retching, gagging and hunching over. Then, as if it never happened, Kitty just moves on! 

Cat hairballs may occur with greater frequency for felines with longer hair, and are a normal result of self-grooming. Haiballs may also be aligned with the seasons, occurring with increased frequency when cats shed their thicker winter coat, such as in spring.

So, Cat Hairballs Are Normal?

Cat hairballs are considered a normal process – up to a point. It is important to keep track of frequency and intensity and seek help when you suspect it’s more than cat hairballs.

Abnormal Vomiting

Vomiting is never a sign of wellness, so it’s essential to keep an eye on what your cat is hacking up. Vomiting (which includes hairballs) up to twice a month can be normal; however, if you clean up more than 2 hairballs a month, this is considered abnormal and likely a sign of disease.  Vomiting more than twice a month may be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease, food intolerance, or even intestinal cancer.

Because feline health can be quite delicate, do not wait to seek veterinary intervention when you count 3 or more vomiting episodes in a month.

Living With Cat Hairballs

Once larger concerns are ruled out, there are things cat owners can do to reduce the prevalence of cat hairballs. Adding certain supplements to their diet, like fiber, can bulk up their bowel movements and help pass hair through. 

Likewise, brushing your cat’s fur coat 1-3 times a week can drastically reduce how much loose hair they swallow when they groom themselves. Plus, this activity deepens the powerful bond between you.

Cat Hairballs Are Part of Life

Basically, cat hairballs simply come with the territory of cat ownership. If they start to happen with more intensity or frequency, please let us know. Our veterinarians and staff members are always happy to help!