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What are Hairballs?

Hairballs are usually harmless unless your cat is coughing them up frequently. The hair may have hardened and caused a blockage of the intestinal tract, and this condition can be fatal for your furry friend.

It is common for your cat to swallow hair during the grooming process. The hair is usually passed through the body and eliminated, but there are times when the hair cannot make it through the intestinal tract. Your cat will vomit up what is known as a hairball, or trichobezoar.

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Hairballs Average Cost

From 320 quotes ranging from $75 - $800

Average Cost

$150

Symptoms of Hairballs in Cats

You may notice your cat vomiting a particle that is the same color as their fur, and it usually contains hair, along with other materials from the stomach. The common symptoms of hairballs are as follow:

  • Vomiting with food or fluid
  • Hairball in a cylindrical shape
  • Dry cough, wheezing, or gagging
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Weakness or lethargy

It is important to take your cat to the veterinarian if they are frequently vomiting or displaying other symptoms. This could be a sign of an intestinal blockage.

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Causes of Hairballs in Cats

The main cause of a hairball is loose hair that has been ingested but not passed through the intestinal tract.

It is no secret that cats spend hours licking and grooming their fur. Your cat swallows the loose or dead fur that sticks to their tongue, and the hair is digested and eliminated through the feces. However, there are times when the hair accumulates in the stomach. This creates a hairball that is vomited up with food or fluid.

Excessive grooming, long coats, and shedding also play a factor in swallowing loose fur. The loose fur can become a hairball at any time, but the condition usually harmless unless it is happening often or leads to intestinal blockage.

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Diagnosis of Hairballs in Cats

You may notice your cat is coughing up hairballs when you find vomit with pieces of hair, food, and fluid in it. Loss of appetite, lethargy, and frequent vomiting are signs of an intestinal blockage and must be treated immediately.

The symptoms could be signs of another condition, so your veterinarian will perform a physical exam to confirm the hairball. Expect to answer questions about the cat’s medical history and how often they cough up hairballs. It may be helpful to keep a log of their hairball regurgitation and the other symptoms they are displaying. Your veterinarian may also order blood tests and radiographs to check for an intestinal blockage in your cat.

It is vital to take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as you notice the symptoms. Your veterinarian needs to check for a blockage or an obstruction of the intestinal tract. The intestinal blockage needs to be treated immediately, or this condition could be fatal for your cat.

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Treatment of Hairballs in Cats

There are several forms of treatment for hairballs in cats, and the treatment your veterinarian recommends will depend on the severity of the condition.

Administering a Hairball Preventative

Your veterinarian may recommend a hairball preventative to keep hairballs at bay. The products act as a lubricant so your cat can pass the hairball through the intestinal tract. One example of a product is Laxatone, which can be applied and licked off their paws. 

Change of Diet

A change of diet may help your cat pass and eliminate the swallowed hair. Your veterinarian may suggest a diet that consists of more fiber. Fiber is known to keep the intestinal tract functioning properly, and this is just what your cat needs to pass the swallowed hair through their body. You can also talk to your veterinarian about giving your cat food and treats that are designed to prevent hairballs.

Regularly Grooming Your Cat

The excessive grooming causes your cat to lick and swallow the loose pieces of hair. You can reduce the amount of hair your cat ingests by brushing the fur several times a week. Brushing the fur removes the loose or dead hair before your cat can swallow it.

Surgical Removal

There is a possibility that your cat may need to undergo surgery to remove the hairball from the intestinal tract. Surgery is only an option if the case is severe and life-threatening.

You should always talk to your veterinarian before administering a preventative or changing their diet. A vet can help you be sure you are choosing the best treatment for your cat.

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Recovery of Hairballs in Cats

A follow-up appointment is necessary for making sure your cat is responding well to treatment. It is vital to schedule a follow-up appointment if the hairball had to be surgically removed. Your veterinarian will check the cat’s healing and progress and provide instructions for preventing hairballs in the future.

Treating the hairball or intestinal blockage early can lead to a full recovery for your four-legged friend.

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Hairballs Average Cost

From 320 quotes ranging from $75 - $800

Average Cost

$150

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Hairballs Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Maincoon

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Thirteen Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea Loss Of Appetite Lethargy

My cat was eating minimal for two days and drinking very little. Then he was not eating at all. I took him to the emergency vet and they did complete bloodwork and everything was absolutely normal. They gave him sub Q fluids and sent him home on Flagyl. history of hairballs, they offered me an abdominal x-ray to rule out obstruction. continues to have diarrhea but no vomiting. history of retching without producing hairballs as he is an older cat. after receiving anti-nausea medicine and the fluids he ate a quarter of a can of food. His belly is not distended or painful. Return to vet for xray?

July 24, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Hello Thank you for your question. Since he is continuing to have GI symptoms I do think it would be a good idea to have your veterinarian recheck him to perform the x-ray or abdominal imaging such as an ultrasound. They will also be able to recheck his hydration status and can give him additional fluids if needed. I hope he feels better soon!

July 24, 2020

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lily

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Domestic short hair cat

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7 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting
Vomiting Lethargic

my cat was acting a little different not quite eating that well and now not eating at all She vomited and when i looked at it it had a huge hairball in it could that be making her feel awful i have an app tomorrow with my vet and how serious is this Joy

Aug. 7, 2018

lily's Owner

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0 Recommendations

It may be that Lily had some difficulty bringing up the hairball which made her a little lethargic and may do well now that it is up; however if she isn’t in distress you may wait until tomorrow to check in with your Veterinarian to ensure that there isn’t anything more serious to be concerned about. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 8, 2018

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Hairballs Average Cost

From 320 quotes ranging from $75 - $800

Average Cost

$150

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

Plan ahead. Get the pawfect insurance plan for your pup.

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