Hairballs in Cats

The most common cause of vomiting in cats is due to hairballs. Hairballs are created when a cat grooms him or herself and ingests a large quantity of hair. This hair does not pass easily through the gastrointestinal tract, and stomach and pancreatic enzymes cannot digest it.  As hair builds up, it can create a partial blockage of the stomach or intestines and, in an effort to expel the obstruction, a reflex causes the cat to vomit the hairball.

Hairballs are a normal phenomenon in cats and there are many ways to manage them. The three most common remedies to help decrease the frequency or size of hairballs are hairball lubricants, fibre supplements, and improved grooming. The most important thing to remember about any hairball remedy is that it is not a cure. Any steps that you take merely help to control a normal process.





Numerous lubricants are available, also called laxatives, which essentially are flavoured petroleum pastes. Some cats love these products and readily lick them from your finger. Others refuse them or try to shake the lubricant off of their paws. These products can be used two to three times a week to effect.

Mineral oil is not recommended as a treatment because of the associated risk of aspiration pneumonia.


There are several new diets are on the market that claim to be effective in reducing hairballs. These diets contain fibre, which helps promote normal bowel contractions thus assists the passage of food and swallowed hair through the gastrointestinal tract. Fibre helps with water reabsorption during digestion and helps by means of a mildly abrasive action to cleanse the lining of the intestines.GroomingIncreasing the frequency of brushing, combing, and bathing reduces the amount of hair that your cat will shed daily, thus decreasing the amount he or she will ingest during self grooming. Some owners of long-haired cats have their cat’s hair shaved in an attempt to reduce hairballs. Large hairballs can even become impacted and require surgical removal. They can also be associated with other gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease.


A cat that vomits frequently is likely to have other problems and a veterinarian should assess the situation. Vomiting is a non-specific clinical sign that can be linked to many conditions, including food intolerance, the ingestion of foreign substances, viral infection, inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and cancer. To obtain a diagnosis, your veterinarian may do blood tests and take X-rays. If an answer is not found, more advanced diagnostic testing such as a barium X-ray series, endoscopy, and surgical exploratory and biopsy may be needed.

Monitor your cat. Occasional hairballs are normal; frequent vomiting or gagging is not.