Cat Hairballs – Facts, Symptoms & Treatment

Chances are you've been on the receiving end of the unwanted present your adorable cat has left you - that’s right, the hairball. Putting aside the unpleasantness of cleaning it up, hairballs are not to be taken lightly and can cause harm for our kitties. From intestinal blockages to sore, swollen and inflamed throats – makes you wonder why on earth your floof ball bothers grooming at all!

If you're here because you’re tired of these conspicuous hairballs impacting your felines way of life, fear not. There are ways to prevent and remedy cat hairballs. What if I told you that by the end of this article, you would never be cleaning up another hairball again? Fur-real. And this doesn’t mean trading in your fluffy Maine Coon for an almost hairless Sphynx…

So what are cat hairballs?

Get ready for a little lesson of what we call Cat-natomy... 

Cats have a shorter digestive tract than most other four-legged species and it is also very narrow.

Cats take pride in their appearance and pleasure in regular grooming sessions. As your kitties groom themselves, licking their fur, they inevitably swallow loose or dead hairs. Due to the narrowness of the digestive tract, the hair accumulates there and causes a problematic build-up. All those loose strands can’t stay there fur-ever! So your cat will do its upmost to cough, heave and retch it up. The end result? A cat hairball.

Contrary to the name, cat hairballs are more tube like than round balls of fur and you'd be forgiven for thinking it looks like a furry, wet poo.

Whilst it's true that certain cats are hairball-ier than others, most cats will pass at least one hairball at one point in their life with healthy long-haired cats expected to pass around one to two each year. Any more than this, we recommend a trip to the vet to rule out anything more sinister. It's common for hairballs to become a problem as your cat gets older. Older kitties become somewhat fussier than their younger selves and make take to grooming more than before, increasing the chances of hairballs.

Symptoms of cat hairballs

There is no second-guessing when your furiend is about to present you with a hairball. Whether it’s the a-paw-ling noise your cat grudgingly makes or the visible end result, hairballs are easy to spot if you know what to expect.

Below is a list of common symptoms

Prolonged retching but no cat hairball

If your kitty is experiencing dif-fur-culty trying to expel a cat hairball, then this could make them uncomfortable very quickly. When your cat continuously heaves without successfully producing anything this may mean that the hair is lodged or that a hair is tickling a nerve.

A lack of appetite

A lack of appetite is a common symptom. If your cat seems reluctant to eat, hairballs may be the cause.


Cats love to snooze during the day but if your pawrent instincts sense your kitty is more tired than usual, it's worth consulting with your vet. 

Poop variations

At Scrumbles we love talking about the 50 shades of poop you can expect to see and how the right diet can deliver the perfect poo. If your cat starts to have constipation or diarrhoea, before you rush to change their diet, first explore whether they may be struggling with hairballs. If you have an outside cat, it's more difficult to spot but not impossible. Check over your kitty's bottom for signs of diarrhoea and if you know their poo routine, watch over them in the garden to see if they're constipated.

Other causes of cat hairballs

Excessive grooming

cat grooming

Your furiend spends approximately 25% of their hours awake grooming. The majority of the fur gets passed all the way through the digestive system and comes out the other end with no negative side-effects. But if your cat is excessively grooming, they increase both the chances and amount of swallowed fur. If you notice your cat is excessively grooming, try to discourage them and deflect their attention to something else like a catnip toy.


You may not realise but seasonal allergies and fragrances can irritate your cat as well as increase the chance of hairballs.

  • The three P’s: Pollen, purrfume & prescription drugs. These can make your pawbaby’s throat constrict more than usual making it harder to digest anything. 
  • The two F’s: Flea & flea control products. Skin diseases may also contribute to an increase in your furiend eating more fur. It is because of the constant licking or chewing of the affected area, as in the case of flea and flea control dermatitis.  
  • The one D: Diet. Although dietary allergens are not easy to distinguish, and less common than seasonal allergies, these can cause digestive problems.

Predisposition to cat hairballs

Some breeds of cat have a higher chance of getting hairballs, naturally the longer haired kitties. Persian cats and Maine Coons are more likely to face hairballs because they litter-ally have more fur. Hairballs are more common as cats shed their winter coat, so keep an eye out during this time and introduce preventative steps to minimise the risks.

How can you help tackle hairballs?

Unfortunately hairballs will always occur where there's hair and grooming. But there are natural preventative measures you can take to help your cat.

Regularly grooming your cat

To avoid loose floof from being consumed, help your cat out by regularly brushing their fur. Doing this on a daily basis will not only strengthen your bond and help keep their fur healthy and matt free but more importantly it minimises the amount of loose fur they can swallow. If your cat doesn’t like this, you can take them to a professional cat groomer.

Add Slippery Elm to their diet


Slippery Elm is a natural ingredient originating from the bark of an Elm tree. As well as it's awesome anti-inflammatory properties, this superfood ingredient is a natural lubricator. Proven to help tackle hair balls, slippery elm lubricates your cats digestive tract allowing any ingested hair to pass easily to the stomach. Slippery Elm is also a natural stomach soother purr-fect for kitties with sensitive stomachs. That's why it features in all our wet food recipes and cat treats.

Feeding a balanced diet with enough fibre

Cats are obligate carnivores and need animal protein to thrive. As well as looking for a high meat content cat food, you want to ensure there's an adequate level of fibre. Fibre clumps together with other indigestible matter helping prevent hairball formation.

Keep informed

For more cat tips and nutritional advice, sign up to our newsletter and if you have any questions drop us a line.

Whilst you're here, why not read: 

  1. Dreamies Cat Treats; are they good or bad for my cat?
  2. The truth about grain free cat food
  3. Cat ewight chart: helping your cat lose weight

Explore more

Popular posts

Turkish van cat outside