Why Do Cats Get Hairballs? | Alpine Shire Vet

Hairballs are unpleasant both for your cat and the poor unfortunate person who has to clean them up! Appropriate diet and grooming can help to decrease the amount of hairballs your cat gets.

What causes hairballs?

When your cat grooms themselves, tiny hook-like structures on their tongue catch loose and dead hair, which is then swallowed. The majority of this hair passes all the way through the digestive tract with no problems. But if some hair stays in the stomach it can form a hairball. Ultimately, your cat will vomit the hairball to get rid of it.

Hairballs in cats are more likely to appear in long-haired breeds. Cats that shed a lot or who groom themselves compulsively are also more likely to have hairballs, because they tend to swallow a lot of fur. As cats get older they become better groomers and remove more hair from their coats, leading to more hairballs.

Symptoms of hairballs

Common hairball symptoms include hacking, gagging, and retching. Usually, your cat will then vomit the hairball relatively quickly.

If you notice the following symptoms, be sure to contact us or your local your vet, as they could indicate a potentially life-threatening blockage:

  • Ongoing vomiting, gagging, retching, or hacking without producing a hairball
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea

Hairball treatment and prevention

Nothing can be done to totally prevent hairballs in cats, but there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood that your cat will get hairballs.

Groom your cat regularly

The more fur you remove from your cat, the less fur that will end up in the stomach. Brushing your cat on a daily basis can be an effective way to minimise hairballs, and it can also provide a way for you to bond with your cat.

If you can’t get your cat used to grooming or brushing, think about bringing them in to the clinic for a haircut under sedation every 6 months or so.

Hairball diets

Many premium cat foods contain hairball reduction additives. These high-fibre formulas are designed to improve the health of your cat’s coat, minimise the amount of shedding and encourage hairballs in cats to pass through the digestive system.

Use a hairball product or laxative

Hairball products such as CatLax act as mild laxatives to help hairballs pass through the gut.


Please contact us at Ovens & Kiewa Veterinary Hospital if you'd like any more information.

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