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What Causes Hairballs and How to Avoid Them

As a cat parent, you're probably pretty in tune with your pet’s digestive system. You notice when their stomach is upset after a food change or they’re gassy after getting into a treat bag.

While these are all signs of trouble with your feline family member’s digestive system, this article covers another symptom of digestive distress: hairballs. For cat parents, hairballs can sometimes feel commonplace, but the reality is that they can be a big deal for your cat.

Let’s take a look at what hairballs are, how you can help prevent them and what to do when they occur.

What is a Hairball?

It's estimated that cats spend a third of their awake time self-grooming, and their tongues are built for the task. As they groom themselves, their tongue acts like Velcro, collecting loose and shedding hair that your cat then swallows.

The hair travels through the digestive system and comes out in your cat’s stool. But over time, some of these hairs can get lodged in the intestines or stomach. And then it's only a matter of time before your cat starts to gag and reject these bundles of hair.

When hairballs aren’t rejected they can affect your cat’s appetite and cause constipation and even severe intestinal blockage.

How Do I Know if My Cat Has a Hairball?

More often than not, you'll hear that a hairball is on it’s way up before you see it. Your cat will hack, gag and then vomit up a slimy bundle of fur.

How Can I Prevent Hairballs?

While hairballs are a common digestive issue for cats, there are ways you can help prevent them.

1. Try Specially Formulated Food

A good starting point for hairball prevention is evaluating your cat’s diet. Your veterinarian might recommend changing to one of these hairball control formulas:


Higher in fiber, they’re formulated to help small amounts of hair pass naturally. Some formulas even include specific enzymes designed to prevent hairballs from forming in the stomach.

Not sure which food to try first? Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

2. Implement a Daily Grooming Routine

Regular grooming can help remove loose hair from your cat’s coat before it gets consumed. As a bonus, grooming your cat is a great opportunity for the two of you to bond.

New to grooming your cat? Try out these helpful grooming products:

3. Use Fiber Remedies

Feeding your cat more fiber can help intestinal hair buildup pass in the stool. Here are a few options to try:

4. Add Supplement to Your Cat's Routine

Giving your cat these treats can help break down the hair buildup inside your pet's digestive system.

Test out a few of the following and see what your cat likes best:

When Should I Be Concerned About Hairballs?

Cats usually reject a hairball over the course of one day. If  your cat has been gagging or is constipated for more than 24 hours, they will need to see the veterinarian as soon as possible.

In rare cases, hairballs can become so large that they block the intestines completely, and if this happens, the hairball might have to be removed surgically. That’s why a visit to your vet is so important.

Continue Learning About Your Cat’s Digestion

Your cat’s digestive system is integral to their overall wellbeing. Check out the following guides to better understand the ins and outs of your feline family member’s digestion: