How To Get Rid of Hairballs in Cats

As any cat owner knows, cats occasionally eliminate hairballs. It’s certainly unpleasant for them, and cleaning them up is unpleasant for the owner, but can hairballs pose any serious danger? Let’s look into why hairballs are formed and, most importantly, how to get rid of hairballs in my cat.

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What Are Hairballs?

Close up of a cat hair call with vomit
Photo credit: Deposit Photos.

Hairballs are clumps of partially decomposed hair that cats vomit out periodically. How often this happens depends on the cat’s fur length, grooming habits, and digestive patterns. Cats use their tongues, which have small keratin spines on the surface called papillae, to groom themselves. These untangle the fur and remove the dirt between them.

However, cats also ingest fur while grooming. The fur mainly comprises keratin, which they can’t digest because they don’t have the enzymes required to break it down entirely. Since the hairs swallowed by the cat cannot be decomposed entirely, they will maintain their shape throughout the digestive tract. Cats eliminate most of the fur they swallow when they defecate, but they will vomit out hairballs if there is too much hair.

In most cases, cats can easily eliminate hairballs and do not require extra assistance. They become agitated before they vomit, fret, and might have to put in some effort. Still, they feel better immediately after they vomit. Here’s what our readers on Facebook had to say about getting rid of hairballs.

How Often Do Cats Eliminate Hairballs?

close up of cat vomit/hair ball
Photo credit: Deposit Photos.

Cats can eliminate hairballs as often as once a week or once a couple of weeks. But for some cats, it can happen as rarely as a few times a year. If it does not happen, you have nothing to worry about. But if it happens more often than once a week, you should take your cat to see the vet.

When Are Hairballs Dangerous? Or When To See a Vet

While eliminating hairballs is a natural process in cats, sometimes things might not go well. So, in the vast majority of times, cats eliminate hairballs on their own. However, in some situations, they are unable to eliminate them. This is when hairballs can become dangerous and when it’s time for you to take the cat to see the vet. There are three types of situations you should watch out for.

1. The cat is struggling to vomit out the hairballs

In most cases, eliminating the hairballs takes a short time. Still, if the hairball is too large and won’t fit through the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus or if the cat has any lesion or deformity of the upper digestive tract (esophagus, pharynx, mouth, tongue), it will struggle to vomit it out. When cats struggle to vomit, the contractions in the stomach continue for a long time, which puts immense strain on it.

This should be avoided because prolonged gastric contractions could cause gastric ruptures, which could be fatal. If you notice that your cat is struggling to vomit a hairball, you should take it to the vet. Call the vet’s office and try to talk to the doctor if that is not possible. If that is not possible either, give your cat a lubricant, which can ease the passage of the hairball.

You can use salmon oil, olive oil, or paraffin oil. You need 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Especially with salmon oil, cats might lick it right off your finger. But if the cat has been struggling to vomit for a while, it might not have an appetite and may not be interested in the salmon oil.

You can administer the oil using a medicine dropper or a plastic syringe (without the needle). Keep the cat’s head steady, and don’t lift it too high to ensure a natural position. Then, place the dropper on the side of the cat’s mouth and gently put it in. Then, simply squeeze it to get the oil in the cat’s mouth.

You can use a laxative paste instead of oil, which usually has an attractive smell for the cat. Keep in mind that butter is not a good lubricant for cats. Butter contains a tremendous amount of fat, which can be dangerous for cats, especially for those suffering from digestive or liver disease.

The lubricant should help the cat vomit out the hairball. However, if the cat still can’t get the hairball out even after you’ve administered lubricant, then you need to take your cat to the emergency room because it needs professional help.

Trigg, a ragdoll cat sitting spread eagled in a brown upholstered chair.
Trigg

2. Your hairball-prone cat is not defecating

If you notice that your cat has not defecated in the last 48 hours, you must take it to the vet. If your cat is prone to developing hairballs, the hair it has ingested may have formed a large lump in its intestine, leading to an obstruction. You will notice that the cat is lethargic and that not eating.

Please note that this is a medical emergency, and you shouldn’t wait to call the veterinarian. Obstructions are life-threatening conditions.

Tell or remind the vet about the cat’s predisposition to developing hairballs. The vet will palpate the cat to locate the obstruction and assess the level of inflammation in its intestines.

The doctor will then perform an ultrasound to learn more about the obstruction’s nature. In some cases, an X-ray might also be necessary. While some laxative treatment can be tried if the obstruction is situated closer to the rectum, most bowel obstruction cases are resolved surgically to avoid ruptures and peritonitis.

3. Your Cat Is Eliminating Hairballs Very Often 

The natural process of eliminating hairballs happens only so often. The specific periodicity depends on the length of the cats’ fur (naturally, long-haired cats like Ragdolls, Persians, or Maine Coons eliminate hairballs more often because they simply swallow a larger quantity of fur), on their temperament, the quality of their fur, and many other aspects.

It is normal for a cat to vomit out hairballs even as often as every week or every other week. The key is to learn what your cat’s periodicity is. Then, if you notice that your cat is eliminating hairballs more often than usual, you should be aware that something is happening with your cat

Try to examine the cat to see what its fur looks like. Think about its grooming schedule and whether or not you’ve made some changes. Have you missed the latest grooming sessions? Pet your cat to see if the fur pulls out easily.

Another thing you can examine on your own is your cat’s skin. Ensure you have access to a good light source and push the fur aside with your fingers to get a proper look at your cat’s skin. Look for redness, irritation, signs of scratching, dandruff, cuts, or anything else that’s unusual. If you notice anything, make a note and then call your doctor.

Another aspect to consider is whether your cat is going through a stressful time that might make it shed more than usual. Also, make sure to take the cat’s temperature. If it’s either too high or too low, it might be associated with excessive shedding as well as a systemic issue. If this happens, it’s time to see the vet.

With these aspects in mind, when you take your cat to the vet, tell the doctor what you’ve noticed because it might be beneficial information for the diagnostic process.

Charlie Seal Mitted Ragdoll Cat with an hourglass blaze cleaning taking a bath

✔️ Best Way To Get Rid of Hairballs in Cats

Hairball Prevention – Groom, Groom, Groom

The best way to get rid of hairballs is to prevent them from developing. The most efficient hairball prevention strategy is periodic grooming. If you groom your cat regularly, then when it grooms itself, it will not ingest a lot of hair.

Most of the hair that cats swallow when they groom themselves is dead hair that comes out as the papillae go through its fur. If you remove that dead hair yourself, there will be minimal left for it to swallow. This is particularly challenging for cats with long hair, requiring special grooming attention.

Caring for Hairball-Prone Cats

If your cat eliminates hairballs regularly, you can introduce some key ingredients into its diet to help it deal with them more easily.

Anti-Hairball Paste

These types of pastes are malt-based, and they stimulate digestion, which, in turn, prevents the formation of hairballs. Plenty of products are available on the market, but it is best to talk to your vet before giving them to your cat. If your cat has food allergies or other digestive issues, introducing malt paste into its diet might lead to episodes of diarrhea or other complications. Your vet can recommend the best malt paste type and explain how to use it.

Ragdoll cats Charlie and Trigg lying on a brown carpeted floor

Anti-Hairball Food

This type of cat food diet also stimulates digestion and prevents the formation of hairballs. It has malt in its composition, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent for the cat’s skin and coat, and plenty of fiber to promote digestion. If regular grooming is not enough as a preventative method, your vet will recommend this diet.

As for the paste, plenty of products are available on the market, and your vet will indicate the best one for your cat. If your cat is already on a diet to treat an illness (such as kidney or liver disease) or to keep an allergy at bay, changing its food may not be an option.

Oil

Oil is a natural lubricant, and it can be beneficial for cats prone to developing hairballs because it eases their passage through the digestive tract. You can give your cat salmon oil regularly, which will do wonders for its fur and lubricate the passage of hairballs. You can give your cat the oil orally using a medical dripper or put it on its food.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is very rich in fiber. This is yet another natural remedy for healthy digestion and an excellent way to prevent the development of hairballs. You can add baked pumpkin to your cat’s food if it will have it. Mix it with wet food for better chances of your cat eating it. There are also some wet food recipes that you could try, including pumpkin.

Ragdoll cat Charlie eating wet food out of a blue glass dish

Fish

Fish is a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. Introducing fish into the cat’s diet will also help remove hairballs. You can try fish-based wet food cans, pouches, and regular tuna cans. Ensure the tuna cans are in water, or its own brine. Tuna in oil is not a good choice for cats because the oil in the can is too much for them, even after draining it out. Raw fish is also not a good choice, but you can boil or bake it without salt or condiments.

Dealing With Excessive Grooming

Cats are particular about their grooming patterns. They groom themselves at least once a day to keep their coats clean and neat. However, some cats groom themselves so much that it becomes a problem. These cats frequently develop hairballs because they swallow a lot of hair. In this case, the solution is to treat the cause of the excessive grooming.

The vet will assess the cat and determine if the cause is a dermatological issue, a metabolic imbalance, or something else. In many cases, though, the cause is stress or emotional trauma, such as a family member leaving the household or the passing of a companion animal in the house. As you can see, plenty of ways exist to eliminate hairballs in cats. Groom your cat regularly to ensure it does not ingest a large amount of hair when grooming itself. Make sure that its diet promotes digestion and that it is getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids.

Grooming The Fluff Book, Tips and Tricks for Grooming Ragdolls

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FAQs

Are cat hairballs normal?

Yes, eliminating hairballs is an entirely natural process, so you don’t have to worry. Your cat is not sick when it vomits them out. It’s also normal for the hair to be intact because cats don’t have the enzymes required to digest the keratin in the hair.

How often do cats have hairballs?

How often cats eliminate hairballs depends on the length of their fur (long-haired breeds eliminate more hairballs than short-haired cats do because they ingest a larger quantity of fur), their personality (cats that have a more stressful nature tend to eliminate hairballs more often than floppy cats because they lick themselves more often), and the health of their fur.

It is normal for cats to pass hairballs even as often as once a week or every other week, but for some cats, it can happen once a month or every other month. Keep an eye out when it happens to learn about your cat’s specific periodicity. Talk to your vet if you notice changes in this periodicity, especially if the cat passes hairballs more often than usual.

How long does it take for a cat to pass a hairball?

Passing a hairball is uncomfortable, but it only takes a few minutes to eliminate. Your cat will look as if it is vomiting, so it will suddenly become agitated; it will look for a safe place; it might even meow to let you know that something is going on, and then it will pass the hairball. Don’t be alarmed if there’s food along with the hairball, saliva, or even a tiny amount of yellow discharge. If your cat is struggling to vomit, then call your vet.

How can I help my cat pass a hairball?

Seeing your cat passing a hairball can be unpleasant because you will see it agitated, but rest assured that it will feel much better right after it comes out. What you can do to help your cat is be by its side and supportive, meaning that you can talk to it gently to let it know that you are there. Even though your cat may be about to eliminate a slimy hairball on your rug or floor, don’t yell. Shooing your cat away from the spot it has chosen to vomit will make the process more difficult, so be gentle.

Another way to help your cat is to groom it thoroughly and regularly to ensure that it ingests a smaller quantity of fur, which will make passing hairballs less often. Additionally, if your cat is prone to developing hairballs, you can consider giving it anti-hairball food, oil, or some of the other elements we’ve mentioned above.

Are cats in pain when they have hairballs?

No, they are not. While passing a hairball is unpleasant, it is not painful. Your cat is not in distress; it will immediately feel better after it passes it.

How do you know if your cat has a hairball stuck?

If you notice your cat is trying to vomit, but nothing comes out except saliva and gastric juice or even bile (clear yellow-green discharge), then it might be struggling to eliminate a hairball. Pay attention to see if your cat defecates. If it is also struggling to defecate, it might have an intestinal obstruction caused by a hairball it cannot pass.

You may also notice other symptoms like lethargy and lack of appetite. If you also notice constipation, call your vet immediately because a blockage is a medical emergency.

What is the best thing to give a cat for hairballs?

The best thing to do for your cat is to keep a tight grooming schedule. This is by far the most efficient way to prevent hairball formation. Additionally, you can give the cat supplements to help it keep a healthy coat. A teaspoon of olive oil will help it pass the hairball easier because it acts as a natural lubricant. Pumpkin helps the cat by supporting healthy digestion. At the same time, sardines are a natural source of omega fatty acids that support fur health.

How often does your cat eliminate hairballs? Has it ever had trouble eliminating them? What did you do? Tell us all about it in the comments section below. Read more about cat health: 

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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

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4 Comments

  1. I haven’t had a problem with hairballs since switching to a raw diet about 10 years ago.

  2. SUPER PAWESOME & FABULOUS & OH SO VERY RELEVANT POST, Jenny honey! We give Miss PSB a dose of malt paste daily, feed her anti-hairball dry kibble with her wet food & groom her. Doesn’t prevent her vomiting up those hairballs, though. But, perhaps it would be much worse if none of those actions were taken…yikes! Thank good for Fizzion to do the cleaning up! 🙂 <3

    TYSVM for such great info! 🙂

    Big hugs & lots of love & purrs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3 <3 <3

    P.S. Did not know about the pumpkin for hairball control. I might try the pumpkin mixed in with her food as the last time she had diarrhea a few years ago she ate that watered down pumpkin right up. <3

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