What Do Your Cat’s Hairballs Mean?

by | Mar 23, 2022

What Do Your Cat’s Hairballs Mean?

We’ve all heard it: the gagging sound that wakes you up in the middle of the night, rushing to find something to clean up the mess with. Cat parents are used to the unfortunate but natural phenomenon of hairballs.

While some hairballs are inevitable with your feline friends, they may also be a sign of underlying health problems.

What Causes Hairballs?

Every cat’s tongue is lined with tiny, hook-like formations, made from the same material as your cat’s claws. As your cat grooms themselves, the hooks pick up dirt, dander, and parasites, as well as any loose fur. While this is an effective way to keep their coats clean, it does mean they are frequently swallowing fur.

Typically, the fur will pass right through their digestive tract, but when it decides to stick around, it’s expelled as a hairball, or trichobezoar, instead.

Because cats can spend 30-50% of their day grooming themselves, a few hairballs are bound to happen. If you have a long-haired cat or one that grooms more frequently, the chances of a hairball are even higher.

, What Do Your Cat’s Hairballs Mean?, The Comforted Kitty

When Should You Be Worried About Your Cat’s Hairballs?

In a normal, healthy cat, you can expect hairballs roughly every 1-2 weeks. This number can increase slightly if you have a larger, long-haired breed.

Typical signs of a hairball include:

  • Gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Hacking

The hairballs will appear, not as balls like you would assume, but as long, tube-shaped clumps. Once the cat has expelled the hairball, they should return to their typical behavior. If they do, chances are everything is normal.

If your cat is experiencing different symptoms or behaviors, here’s when you should potentially be worried.

, What Do Your Cat’s Hairballs Mean?, The Comforted Kitty

Additional Symptoms

You should see vet if your cat develops any of these symptoms, in addition to the gagging and vomiting:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting without producing a hairball

These can be symptoms of a dangerous blockage that will require an x-ray and vet attention immediately. Hacking without any sign of a hairball and lethargy could also be a sign of asthma, which will require a vet visit as well.

Frequent Hairballs

If your cat is experiencing hairballs more than once every 1-2 weeks, this could be a sign that their digestive system isn’t properly moving things through it.

If their digestive system isn’t properly working, your cat won’t be able to process their food correctly, which could lead to issues down the line.

Overgrooming

Self-grooming is a natural behavior for cats, but overgrooming leads to increased hair loss and more frequent hairballs.

In addition to more hairballs, if your cat is overgrooming, you may notice an uptick in shedding and patchy areas on their fur.

Overgrooming can be caused by many things, but it’s frequently a sign of stress. If you’ve recently moved or made a change to your cat’s environment, they may be using the overgrooming as a way to cope and calm down.

Consider providing your cat with a safe, cat-only environment where they can decompress, even if that means adding more vertical space to a small room. In many cases, a trip to the vet may also be in order to prescribe anxiety medication.

, What Do Your Cat’s Hairballs Mean?, The Comforted Kitty

If there have been no recent changes and you don’t think your cat is stressed, they could be having an allergic reaction.

This could be the air quality, a scent in the room, or something that they’ve eaten. Pay attention to their skin condition, as you’ll typically see signs of irritation.

A trip to the vet or a pet nutritionist could help determine what is causing the allergic reaction.

4 Tips to Manage Your Cat’s Hairballs

While a hairball every few weeks is normal for your cat, there are ways you can help minimize their hairballs (and the amount of times you have to clean them!).

1.  Stay Calm and Give Space

First and foremost, it’s important to provide your cat with plenty of space if you hear them gagging. You want them to be as calm as possible so that they can expel the hairball quickly and painlessly.

You’ll definitely still want to keep an eye on them (from a distance) to make sure they finish expelling the hairball and that they aren’t experiencing any additional symptoms.

2. Brush Your Cat Frequently

The more you brush your cat, the more loose hair you’ll pick up and prevent from being digested during their self-grooming time. This is also a great way to encourage a clean, healthy coat in your cat, as well as minimize shedding.

If you have a long-haired cat breed, you may also consider regular haircuts to minimize their hairballs as well.

, What Do Your Cat’s Hairballs Mean?, The Comforted Kitty

3. Explore the Root Cause of the Hairballs

As previously mentioned, before you explore alternative remedies, it’s best to figure out what the cause of your cat’s hairballs are.

If there are elements of your cat’s environment that are causing them stress, eliminate them. Consider adding additional play time to your daily schedule to keep your cat active and engaged.

If something in your cat’s diet is causing an allergic reaction, work with your vet to find the perfect diet for their age, weight, and breed. Make sure they are getting the right amount of vitamins and nutrients they need, especially those that support a healthy coat like omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Consider Medical Remedies for Hairballs

If you’ve done all you can to address the root cause of your cat’s hairballs but you’re still concerned, there are a number of hairball remedies that you could consider.

Hairball-specific cat foods could be a good alternative, especially for long-haired cats that are prone to hairball issues. These cat food formulas are packed full of fiber and nutrients to minimize shedding and encourage better digestive health.

You can also consider a hairball laxative. These help to lubricate the hair in your cat’s stomach, so that it’s easier for them to pass.

, What Do Your Cat’s Hairballs Mean?, The Comforted Kitty

Looking for an Experienced Cat Sitter?

Your cats deserve the best care possible! If you need a sitter who loves cats as much as you do (and doesn’t mind cleaning up a hairball every now and then!), reach out to us today.

We’d love to connect you with the perfect sitter to match your cat’s needs.

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