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Home > Cats > Do All Cats Get Hairballs? Vet-Reviewed Signs, Treatment & Prevention

Do All Cats Get Hairballs? Vet-Reviewed Signs, Treatment & Prevention

cat hairball

Vet approved

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Most cat owners have been there—you wake up at 3:00 a.m. to the dreaded sound of your cat retching. You know that you have to quickly get them onto a safe surface for them to yack onto, primarily because your cat is likely on your bed, a piece of upholstered furniture, or a freshly steam-cleaned carpet.

Once you get your cat to a safe surface, they throw up a big clump of hair. Is this normal, though? Should you call the vet if your cat is throwing up hairballs? Hairballs can be normal for the majority of cats when they happen occasionally. Here’s everything you need to know about hairballs and how to prevent them.

divider-catAre Hairballs Normal for Cats?

Hairballs are normal for many cats when they only happen every once in a while. However, frequent hairballs—such as one every 1 or 2 weeks—are a cause for concern and require veterinary input. Long-haired breeds are more prone to hairballs than short-haired breeds, but most cats are more likely to develop hairballs if they have an itchy skin condition that causes them to over-groom. If your cat is throwing up hairballs regularly, know that this is not considered normal, and you should consult with your veterinarian.

Cats consume a lot of hair through their grooming habit of licking themselves and other cats. In many instances, this hair will pass through your cat’s digestive tract along with the food and water they consume. Sometimes, though, this hair begins to collect in the stomach. A hairball, also known as a trichobezoar, is a clump of undigested hair that collects in your cat’s stomach, only to get thrown back up.

cat lying near hairball
Image by: RJ22, Shutterstock

What Are Hairballs?

The primary component of your cat’s hair, keratin, is not a digestible material. This means that even hair that makes it out of your cat’s stomach still will not be digested. When things are running smoothly, this hair will come out in your cat’s poop.

When cats ingest excessive hair or their gastrointestinal motility is altered, hairballs can form in the stomach. In this case, the hair collects in the stomach, and the more hair that collects, the larger the hairball will become, making it easier for it to collect even more hair. This ball of hair can’t be digested by your cat’s stomach, though. This means that any ball of hair that becomes too large to exit the stomach via digestion will be expelled the way it came in, causing your cat to throw it up.

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Are Hairballs Dangerous for Cats?

In most cases, hairballs are not dangerous. However, there are instances in which they can become extremely dangerous.

If a hairball stays in your cat’s stomach for an extended period, it can get mineralized, becoming bigger and harder. This means it is less likely to vomit or exit the stomach toward the intestines. This situation is not common but is associated with severe problems. In this case, the hairball must be surgically removed. Some vets may be able to remove large hairballs via your cat’s throat through an endoscope. When this is not possible, surgery on the stomach is required.

On rare occasions, a hairball may be small enough to exit the stomach properly but then become lodged in the intestines. This causes an intestinal obstruction, which is a medical emergency. An intestinal obstruction blocks your cat’s normal digestive function and if left untreated, can cause a perforation of the intestine, peritonitis, and death.

Intestinal blockages are often resolved with surgery. The sooner your cat gets treated, the better chance they have of a successful outcome.

Veterinary doctor measuring heart rate of cute cat
Image by: Denys Kurbatov, Shutterstock

How Are Hairballs Treated?

If your cat is frequently throwing up hairballs or has begun vomiting as well as passing hairballs, then you should take them to the vet. This situation can indicate a multitude of conditions, from an itchy skin condition to a digestive issue. Your vet must rule out serious medical problems before you begin doing anything for the hairballs at home.

Hairballs are treated by identifying the underlying cause and addressing it. Gastric lubricants can be used to help move fur from the stomach to the intestine to be defecated. These are usually in a flavored paste to make them easy to administer, and they are often available over the counter and through a vet. However, you should always discuss your concerns about your cat’s hairballs with your vet before you begin administering any product at home.

How Are Hairballs Prevented?

The first step in hairball prevention is to consult with your vet about whether your cat has an underlying medical problem that needs addressing. A change in diet can sometimes be helpful in this regard. Gastric lubricants can help eliminate hair from the stomach into the duodenum. Laxatone and similar products are often used for this purpose. Never give a human laxative to your cat without discussing it with your vet first. Some human medications are toxic to cats, and products like liquid paraffin can cause aspiration pneumonia in cats when given orally using a syringe.

There are a variety of products on the market that are formulated to help prevent hairballs. There are even hairball-preventing treats that your cat may enjoy eating. That said, it’s always important to follow your vet’s recommendations for your cat. Probiotics and prebiotics, which can be given as a supplement or may be built right into your cat’s food, can help the health of your cat’s digestive tract. Hairball-reducing cat food often has probiotics and laxatives in the food to allow you to avoid having to give multiple products.

Hairballs are more common in long-haired cats. You can also help prevent or reduce your cat’s risk of hairballs by providing routine brushing. Keeping your cat brushed, especially during shedding seasons, can greatly reduce the amount of fur your cat accidentally consumes.

While it’s generally not recommended to bathe or shave cats, some cats may require one or both of these things for hygiene and health reasons. If you’re concerned about hairballs, talk to your vet about whether either of these options would be appropriate for your cat.


Hairballs should not be overlooked. If you notice your cat vomiting hairballs frequently, you should contact your vet right away. Hairballs are caused by excessive fur ingestion during grooming or by digestive problems affecting gastrointestinal motility. Your vet will investigate the reasons behind your cat’s hairballs and create a treatment plan to address the situation. In extreme cases, hairballs can be deadly for your cat if left untreated. Make sure to talk to your cat’s vet before beginning medications or supplements to prevent hairballs. They will be able to help you determine which products may be best for your cat.

Featured Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

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