Hanford Veterinary Hospital Blog
Are Hairballs Just a Normal Part of Cat Behavior, or Something to Worry About?
There isn’t a cat owner out there that doesn’t know the shocking sound of their cat hacking up a hairball. This usually normal cat behavior happens at the most inconvenient times, and is often deposited in the most unfortunate locations.
With barb-covered tongues and fastidious self-grooming tactics, cats inevitably swallow loads of dead hair on a daily basis. And while feline anatomy is specifically designed to digest certain amounts of hair, there comes a moment when it’s too much to handle.
True and Gross
By their very nature, cat hairballs are pretty disgusting. They are cylindrical, elongated tubes of hair and stomach contents that have been pushed up the esophagus and out of the mouth.
Long-haired cats are prone to produce more hairballs than short-haired breeds, but all cats experience them from time to time. Kittens and young adult cats haven’t quite mastered the art of self-grooming, so they do not typically throw up hairballs.
Normal, Until It’s Not
It’s not uncommon for cats to produce a regular hairball, especially in shedding seasons. However, if you see more hairballs than usual, this common cat behavior could signal a more serious health concern, such as:
- Upper respiratory tract infection
Intestinal blockage or foreign body obstruction can trigger uncharacteristic vomiting. Please do not delay in seeking immediate veterinary intervention for your cat.
Being able to see your cat’s insides with digital radiographs or an ultrasound can help determine whether your cat needs surgical removal. Accumulated hair that cannot normally pass through the GI tract isn’t unheard of, but foreign body obstruction may be a more likely cause of vomiting.
Suspicious Cat Behavior
As a general rule, vomiting is never a sign of good health. However, because normal cat behavior leads to swallowing an inordinate amount of loose or dead hairs each day, they will naturally vomit up what cannot be digested.
That being said, normal cat digestion does allow for processing some amounts of hair. You will likely see hair wrapped up in stool samples in the litter box.
If you notice even the most subtle shifts in cat behavior, please take note of it, track it for further changes, and let us know you think your cat needs help.
- Uncharacteristic clinginess
- Increased vocalization
- Changes to their regular appetite levels
- Increased or decreased thirst
- Bloody stool
A Positive Impact
You can make a difference to how much hair your cat consumes every day by brushing them. This is especially helpful in long-haired cats to minimize the volume of dead hair.