Hairballs in cats

Many of our feline friends will bring up a hairball at some stage in their lives. The odd hairball is to be expected, especially during moulting season in long-furred felines. However, hairballs can sometimes indicate an underlying issue and are something we should be paying attention to.

Hairballs are lumps formed from dead fur and digestive secretions as well as saliva and food. As a cat grooms itself, it licks the dead fur off using the spines on their tongue. A small amount of fur is usually passed unseen in the stool. However, the more dead fur there is, the more the chance of the fur clumping together and forming a ball.

When should I be worried?

If your cat is bringing up hairballs more than once every few weeks, or if they have other signs (such as weight loss, vomiting or a change in appetite), it is best to have them checked over. While hairballs can be normal, they are sometimes a symptom of an underlying disease.

What causes excessive hairballs?

We may find that our cat starts to bring up hairballs regularly if suffering from an underlying issue that causes over-grooming such as:

  • A parasite infestation. Whether fleas, mites or lice if your cat is sharing their fur with tiny critters, they are sure to be itchy.
  • A bacterial or fungal skin infection. Infections may also cause pink and scabby skin that oozes.
  • An under-diagnosed problem, many cats will lick themselves bald when over-grooming due to anxiety or boredom. This is not always an easy problem to fix and treatment may include calming supplements, anxiolytic medicine, environmental enrichment and consultation with a veterinary behaviourist.

How can I help reduce hairballs?

The first thing to do would be to address any underlying medical issues. We must also ensure our cats are kept up to date with their parasite prevention.

Getting your kitty used to being groomed from a young age is recommended. In the ideal world, we would give them a quick brush each day. This is especially necessary in the warmer months. The more that we remove their loose fur for them, the less chance that hairballs will form. As cats tend to dislike being brushed, reward their cooperation with a kind word and treat after each grooming session.

Diet can help keep the coat in good order and some prescription diets are even formulated to reduce hairballs through enzyme action. Sometimes supplements are suggested to improve fur quality and reduce grooming.

Should I see a vet?

If you are concerned, this is always a good idea. It can be useful to check for any medical causes for your kitty’s hairballs.

Your vet may advise some treatment if your cat requires some help passing their hairballs.