If you’re a cat parent, you’ve probably dealt with the dramatic wrenching, hacking, and eventual vomiting of those unsavoury mounds of yuck. Yes, we’re talking about hairballs in cats.

Many cats get hardballs, maybe once a year, maybe a few times a year, maybe way more often. But is this normal, or is it a sign that something is not right with your cat?

And, how can you prevent them in the first place?

What are Hairballs in Cats?

Have you seen you cat wake up from a nap, rise up on her paws, retch convulsively for a moment or two, and spit up what appears to be a wet wad of something less than pleasant? You’re not alone.

So what exactly is that damp clump? It’s a trichobezoar, also known as a hairball.

Hairballs are exactly that – balls of hair, or fur rather, that have gather up in your cat’s stomach. Well, despite the name, they’re not technically even round. They’re usually more tubular in shape, kind of like a little furry sausage. Ummmm, that’s not a nice mental picture, is it?

Hairballs in cats are more common in long-haired breeds, like Persians and Maine Coons. Cats who shed a lot or who groom themselves compulsively are also more likely to have hairballs, because they tend to swallow a lot of fur. That said, all cats groom themselves. They’re just a very hygienic animal. And, when cats groom themselves, they inevitably eat some of that fur. These wads of fur then need to travel through the narrow esophagus to leave the body – hence their tube-like shape.

That said, if a hardball gets trapped in the stomach, it will start to form a ball-like shape. And then things start to get, well, hairy…

When Hairballs Become a Concern

As we mentioned, when your cat is grooming herself, she inevitably swallows some of that fur. Most of this fur will work its way through the digestive tract and come out in her poop. And that’s a good thing.

However, if some of the hair stays in the stomach, undigested, it can form a hairball. Usually, your cat will vomit the hairball to get rid of it. But, if they can’t get it out, this can cause an intestinal blockage, which can be a serious health problem for your cat. This may require surgery and needs to be dealt with immediately.

Now, just because your cat gets hairballs every so often, that doesn’t mean you need to panic. That’s not what this is about. Hairball blockages are fairly uncommon, but it’s still a good idea to be able to spot the signs, just in case. If you notice the following symptoms, a call or trip to your holistic vet is never a bad idea:

  • Frequent vomiting, gagging, retching, or hacking without producing a hairball
  • Lack of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation or difficulty pooping
  • Diarrhea

5 Tips to Help Prevent Hairballs in Cats

If you’re a little worried about the frequency of your cat’s hairy late night wretching, there are a few things you can do to reduce or prevent it.

  1. Consider raw for your cat. Raw food is easier for your cat to digest, and live food contains healthy bacteria and digestive enzymes that nourish the digestive system. Also, the amino acid profile in raw meat is very similar to your cat’s cell receptors, allowing them to produce healthy skin and fur cells which lead to less shedding – and that means fewer fur balls!

  2. Grooming. Once a week, or more if your cat is shedding, sit down and give your furry feline a good once-over with a brush. Now, we get that some cats may not love this, so try to make it as stress-free as possible. It’s a good way to reduce the amount of fur that gets swallowed.

  3. Keep anxiety in check. Over-grooming may be a sign of anxiety, and if that’s the case, reducing those feelings can help reduce or prevent hairballs from forming.

  4. Keep your cat active. Regular exercise helps keep your cat’s digestive system in tip top shape, and it can help the hair move through the system instead of collecting in her tummy.

  5. Water, water, water. Make sure your cat has access to fresh water all the time. Dehydration can mess up digestion, and that can make it hard for her to digest those balls of fur.