An orange cat laying on a stair step

Most cat owners know the signal of impending doom. Your cat suddenly starts backing up while making an unearthly noise, as if to vomit. Then…they do. Amid the mess is that telltale wad of fur called a hairball. Not only are hairballs gross, they may be an issue of concern if they are a response to an underlying illness or condition. 

The Pet Experts at Naperville Animal Hospital are here to tell you more about hairballs and why they happen.

Hairballs Explained

A hairball is something most cat owners deal with at least one time in their pet’s life. They are not necessarily a normal occurrence, though. The technical term for these elongated or round clumps of fur and digestive fluids are known as trichobezoar. They are essentially an accumulation of undigested fur that is swallowed when your pet self-grooms. 

Hairballs are formed when your cat has a gastrointestinal issue that causes the fur to remain in the GI tract, or when your pet is self-grooming more than usual.

The digestive condition is referred to as faulty gastrointestinal mobility. This means that your cat cannot properly digest food or pass fur through the intestinal tract. If your pet cannot move the fur through the GI tract, there can be a few problems occuring, including a bowel or GI tract obstruction (considered an emergency), irritable bowel syndrome, or hernia (among other conditions).

If your pet is self-grooming more often, this may be an indicator of an illness, such as kidney disease. It can also mean your pet has parasites, such as fleas, has had a dietary change, suffers from skin conditions like allergies, or is anxious. 

What You Can Do to Minimize Hairball Occurrences

This is no cure for hairballs, but you can help your feline avoid developing them. Here are a few simple changes you can make.

  1. Change your pet’s diet to a hairball reducing formula.
  2. Offer them treats that can minimize hairball formation.
  3. Brush your pet daily.
  4. Consider giving them a bath once a week, or having your professional groomer do it.
  5. Give your cat more fiber, like a dollop of mashed pumpkin in the regular meal.
  6. Alert your veterinarian to any changes in your pet’s grooming habits (more or less self-grooming), sudden dull or drying fur, etc.).

While these methods don’t provide a cure-all to the gross hairball, they have helped many felines avoid the dreaded hacking session.

More Information on Hairballs in Cats

We hope we answered your questions about hairballs in pets, their causes, what you should be concerned about, and how to prevent them. Our team is always here to help you with any issues you have with your furry feline. Please feel free to call us to ask questions or schedule an appointment.