Feline Hairballs 101


What are hairballs and how do they form?

As cats groom themselves they will swallow a lot of the fur that has come loose.  This indigestible fur will generally make its way through your cats digestive tract and will be passed in their feces.  It is not uncommon to find some fur in your cats stool when cleaning the litter box.  Sometimes they are not able to pass all of the fur and it can remain in the stomach creating a moist hairball.  Being that cats are such diligent groomers it is not uncommon for some cats to pass hairballs as often as weekly.  Generally they are quite small (under 1” in length) but can become a large cylinder of fur (up to 4” in length).

What are the signs that my cat is having trouble with hairballs?

The most common sign of hairballs is a distinctive retching and gagging followed by expelling a cylindrical mass of hair.  If your cat is vomiting frequently and you are unsure if it is due to a hairball please phone the Cumberland Veterinary Clinic. 

Is my cat at risk of hairballs?

Long haired cats are more prone to having hairballs but they can also be an issue for short haired cats.  Cats who are suffering from skin problems or who are excessive groomers may have more problems with hairball formation because they are ingesting a larger amount of fur.

How can I prevent and manage hairballs?

The best way to prevent hairballs is to regularly brush or comb your cat.  It is best to get your cat used to being groomed when they are young.  If your cat is older and has never been brushed be patient and try to brush smaller areas on a regular basis.  This will allow them to become used to being brushed and eventually they may even look forward to it!  There are several styles of brushes and combs available.  The best brush that I have found is called the Furminator and can be purchased online or at most pet stores.  I have found that this brush removes incredible amounts of hair in a short amount of time and is well tolerated by most cats.

You can also provide your cat with a gentle laxative to help them pass the hairball.  You can use plain petroleum jelly or there are commercial hairball laxatives available for purchase at veterinary clinics or pet stores.  Some cats will lick these products off of your finger or out of the tube.  You can also mix it into some wet food or spread it on the top of their paw to be licked off.


Written by Janet Hofos, Office Manager