If you’re a cat owner, you’ve probably experienced the “thrill” of hairballs. Most likely, your cat produced one at night and you found it by stepping in it with bare feet, or at least that’s the way it always seems to happen in my house.
Hairballs are fairly easy to recognize. They are generally long and cylindrical (like a tube) and consist primarily of hair.
Though an occasional hairball is normal for most cats, your cat should not be vomiting hairballs on a regular basis. The intestinal tract of a cat is actually adapted to be able to handle hair effectively, at least when ingested in a normal amount. This is true even of long-haired cats. Frequent hairballs are not the normality, despite the popular perception to the contrary. How often is too often? If your cat is vomiting more than a few times a year, it’s worth a consultation with your veterinarian.
Your cat should not be coughing, vomiting, or gagging frequently regardless of whether there is hair in the vomit or not. If your cat is vomiting, coughing, or gagging more than occasionally, it may mean there is a health issue. Inflammatory bowel disease and other GI problems have been related to persistent vomiting. Coughing or gagging may be due to respiratory issues or other diseases that have little, if anything, to do with hairballs. In some cases, excessive ingestion of hair may be a result of skin issues that are causing excessive hair loss and/or itchiness.
Is there are good way to try to prevent hairballs for your cat? The best method of prevention is frequent grooming. Removing loose hair before it can be swallowed can significantly decrease the potential for hairballs. Deshedding tools such as the Furminator work quite well for this purpose.
Other remedies, such as petroleum-based products (Laxatone, CatLax, etc.) and diets marketed for hairball control, work to varying degrees. However, I would consider regular grooming to be the “gold standard”.