What Causes Hairballs in Cats?

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what causes hairballs in cats
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Hairballs or trichobezoars, as veterinarians call them, can be gross. But they aren’t something to ignore as they can lead to blockage of the intestines in your cat. Do you ever wonder what causes this mass that your kitty vomits up? Here’s the lowdown on what causes hairballs in cats.

Cat Grooming and Hairballs

Typically, cat hairballs are the result of their regular grooming activities. Grooming is simply a part of the cat lifestyle, and their digestive system can usually accommodate the hair they swallow while they’re doing this routine. It’s the dead hair that becomes loose that their rough tongue licks up and then sends down their throat.

In most cases, the hair flows through the intestinal tract, which is designed to process fur through it and comes out in their poop. Some of the fur from their coats stays in their stomach and forms a mass, which they vomit up when it becomes a wet clump. This clump is the hairball. Shortly after you hear your kitty gagging or retching, they will then vomit out the hairball.

Variations on Hairballs: Types of Cats and Aging

what causes hairballs in cats
Licking of the fur can lead to hairballs in cats. Photo by Trish Hamme, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

Given this explanation of what causes hairballs in cats, it follows that short-haired cats are less likely to get hairballs then long-haired breeds, such as Persians. You can also expect your aging cat to have more hairballs. Over the years felines get better at their grooming habits and so they are more efficient at removing fur using their tongues. This means you’ll have more hairballs to get rid of as they age.

How Often Do Cats Get Hairballs?

Now that you know what causes hairballs in cats, the next question is how often do these balls of fur typically accumulate? Knowing the answer can help you sort out if it is happening too frequently so you can see a vet for answers.

Typically a cat will vomit a hairball once a week. This occurrence is normally not something to fret about.

If you find your cat is getting hairballs more often than once a week, though, you may want to step up your grooming routine. By brushing or combing the fur regularly – even daily, depending on the cat – you can get rid of any loose hair before the animal ingests it and it becomes a hairball. Attention to grooming is also important as it will help the fur to stay glossy and your cat will like the attention too.

Alternatively, frequent vomiting of hairballs may be a sign that the diet of your cat needs adjustment. If you notice frequent vomit, whether with or without hair in it, please take your fur kid to the veterinarian to identify the source of the problem. The vet can then recommend treatments based on their related experience and education.