Why Do Cats Have Hairballs?

Hairballs are a normal part of cat ownership (unless you have a hairless cat), and you’ve probably cleaned up more than one in your cat’s lifetime. But have you ever stopped to wonder what causes this condition? Is there anything you can do to help your cat have fewer hairballs?

In the article below, you’ll find information about what causes hairballs as well as what you can do to help your cat combat them. If you have any further questions or concerns, be sure to talk to your cat’s veterinarian about their specific health needs.

cat hairballs

What is a Hairball?

Hairball is the common word for a scientific term known as trichobezoar. This term describes a large clump of hair that becomes lodged in the digestive system. Although hairballs can happen in any animal with hair (including humans), they are by far the most common in cats.

Hairballs form in your cat’s digestive system and may stay there for a while until they become too large. At that point, your cat will cough them up.

What Causes Cats to Have Hairballs?

There are many different causes for a cat’s hairballs, here’s some of the common ones.


Hairballs are caused by grooming. Cats groom themselves very frequently by licking, which causes them to loosen hair on their bodies. This hair is then swallowed and ingested, leading to a buildup of hair over time.

The Length of Hair

Long-haired cats have more frequent and more severe hairballs than short-haired cats. Of course, hairless cats do not have this problem at all (although they have skin issues to deal with instead).

Hairballs are Normal

Hairballs are completely normal and are part of life for cats who have hair. They are not caused by any illness or problem with your pet.

What are the Symptoms of Hairballs?

If your cat is showing any of these symptoms it could mean they have a hairball.


Most of the time, pet owners will not know their cat has a hairball until the hairball is coughed up. Your cat typically won’t show any signs of a problem but will just cough up the hairball and then go about their business as usual.

Loss of Appetite or Constipation 

Some cats may lose their appetites or become slightly constipated a day or so before a hairball is coughed up. This is uncommon, but not concerning as long as they return to normal after the hairball.

If your cat has a significant blockage from a hairball, they will stop eating and likely also stop defecating. This is a life-threatening, rare, condition that needs to be treated immediately.

Treatment Options for Cats with Hairballs

Once talking with your cat’s veterinarian about their hairballs, the vet may recommend the following treatment options:

Hairball Medication

Over-the-counter hairball medication can be purchased at any pet store. This medication is a gentle, cat-safe laxative that helps hairballs pass more easily.


Canned pumpkin—pure pumpkin, not pie filling—can be mixed into a cat’s food to provide some relief for hairballs.

Olive Oil

You may add just a very small amount of olive oil to your cat’s food once per week to help combat hairballs. Do not overdo it, as olive oil may lead to vomiting in higher quantities.

Brushing Your Cat

One of the best ways to help your cat cut down on hairballs is to brush your cat often.

Can You Prevent Your Cat from Having Hairballs?

No, you cannot prevent a cat from having hairballs. They are normal for cats, and they are nothing to worry about.

With that said, however, frequent brushing is recommended to cut down on hairballs. The more you brush your cat, the less likely they will be to ingest loose hairs when they groom themselves. Long-haired cats may need to be brushed every day to cut down on hairball frequency.

Some cats who have a lot of hairballs may need to be given a little bit of hairball medication every day. Ask your vet if this solution may work for your cat.

When is a Hairball an Emergency?

Hairballs are very rarely emergencies. However, it is possible for your cat’s hairballs to reach an emergency state if they cause a blockage in their digestive system. If your cat is unable to pass a hairball or cough it up, take them to the emergency vet. Your cat will likely need surgery to remove the hairball and correct the problem. It is extremely unlikely for a cat’s hairballs to ever reach this point, but it is important to remember the possibility just in case.

In Conclusion

Based on the information above, you should have a better understanding of hairballs in your cat. You can use this information to help your cat deal with their hairballs as well as cut down on the frequency with which your pet has this problem.

Your vet can give you more specific information about your cat and their hairballs, too. With the help of your Heart + Paw veterinarian, you can put together the right management solutions to help your cat, and you can ensure fewer hairballs for you and your pet both to deal with, as well. Use the online form to book an appointment at any of our Heart + Paw locations today!

Recent Posts

How Dog Skin Infections Can Cause Your Pet to Be Itchy

We all know that look of discomfort on our furry friend’s face when they can’t stop scratching….

Read More

10 Signs That Your Dog Has Food Allergies

You know your fur baby better than anyone else. You notice when they’re wagging their tail more…

Read More

Is it Normal for My Dog to Have a Dry Nose?

So, you’ve noticed that your dog’s nose is a bit on the dry side, and now you’re…

Read More

Cat Wheezing: Causes and Treatment Options

We know that when your feline friend starts wheezing, it’s easy to get concerned. After all, our…

Read More
cat drooling

When Cat Drooling is Normal and When it is Not

If you’re here, chances are you’ve noticed your feline friend drooling a bit more than usual. Maybe…

Read More

About Us

Heart + Paw was founded in 2018 by Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. George Melillo, who currently serves the Mid-Atlantic area. Heart + Paw offers a combination of veterinary care, pet grooming, and dog daycare to help be a resource in your pet parenthood journey.

We'd Love to Meet Your Four-Legged Friends

Find out how the friendly veterinary team at your local Heart + Paw can help your pets live longer, healthier lives by searching for a location near you.