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Top 5 cat hairball questions answered

By Anastasia Thrift

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Your cat is throwing up. She might have hairballs.

Your cat is hacking and heaving. He might have hairballs.

You just stepped in something damp and squishy that, upon closer inspection, is full of fur and spit and something intangible. Your cat has hairballs.

Still unsure? Check out this FAQ list to see whether your coughing cat is suffering from this condition.

Are hairballs common?

Yes, within reason. Cats always groom themselves by licking their fur and this constant preening causes them to swallow loose hair. The hair usually goes right through the cat's gastrointestinal tract and comes out in the stool. But occasionally hair collects in the cat's stomach and forms into hairballs. That’s when the hacking and heaving occurs, resulting in a regurgitated fur mass on the floor. Cats do feel better after they get rid of a hairball so it is nothing to be worried about. Repeated coughing usually brings up cat hairballs and it’s not uncommon for cats to pass a hairball after eating their food or kitty grass.

My cat coughs and hacks. Does my cat have airballs?

A cat who hacks for more than a month likely has more than a hairball. Of course, Persians or longhaired cats do get hairballs more frequently than shorthaired cat breeds, but cats do not "hack” or "cough” up hairballs continuously. Cats vomit up hairballs; cat experts even urge people to stop using the phrase "cough up a hairball” as it is misleading – coughing suggests a lung problem; hairballs live in the stomach, not the lungs.

If hairball diets and hairball gels/ointments do not curb the problem, another issue could be causing coughing and hacking.

Does hairball medicine work?

Hairball formula food contains higher amounts of fiber that help push the intestinal contents through the system smoothly. This food also contains specific enzymes that help prevent hairballs from forming in the stomach in the first place.

Hairball gel or paste contains mineral oil or petroleum jelly because that is not absorbed in the system and therefore helps lubricate so the hairball will pass easily. It should not be given with food therefore, so it won't interfere with normal nutrition.

Are hairballs to blame for my cat's vomiting and constipation?

Vomiting right after eating often is a sign that your cat eats too quickly or maybe the form of the food (dry vs. canned) irritates your cat’s gastrointestinal tract.

Hairballs are a common cause of vomiting and also can contribute to constipation. When hairballs cause vomiting, however, it happens at times usually unrelated to eating. Hairballs would be unlikely to cause vomiting after eating.

Cats vomit from either a metabolic problem (like renal failure or hyperthyroidism) or a gastrointestinal problem. Blood and urine tests can rule out common metabolic causes of vomiting.

If you suspect gastrointestinal causes, change your cat’s food to a bland, non-irritating diet, or a hypoallergenic diet. If your cat continues to vomit, ask your vet for an ultrasound or endoscopy.

Constipation can be linked to vomiting, too. When cats strain to defecate and their colon is irritated, cats will sometimes vomit at the same time or soon afterward. Hairball medication — the brown ointment that comes in a tube — helps prevent hairballs when given two or three times a week, and when given every day, it could act as a laxative as well.

What if my cat's hairball medication isn't working?

Controlling hairballs can be challenging. Ointment-type hairball remedies, such as Laxatone or Petromalt, often help. These are gooey ointments that you give a cat two or three times a week. Many cats enjoy the taste and consider them treats; however, some cats don't like them. Some diets are designed for cats with severe hairball problems. Most cats like the taste of the food and these diets usually help cats.

The best bet is to try to prevent the problem in the first place. Do this by brushing your cat frequently. Brushing removes loose hair before your cat has a chance to swallow it. It sounds like you're doing everything that can really be done. The ultimate trifecta is brushing, hairball ointments and hairball diets.

"Top 5 Cat Hairball Questions Answered” is provided by with permission from I-5 Publishing, LLC, publishers of Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy publications. For the latest cat news, photos, entertainment and tips, check out

All statements and opinions in "Top 5 Cat Hairball Questions Answered" are the sole opinions of the I-5 Publishing, publishers of Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy publications and not those of CareCredit. The content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual medical provider with respect to any professional advice presented. Your participation in the presentation constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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