Are Cat Hairballs Something to Worry About?

If you have a cat, you probably notice their hairballs now and then. It’s hard to miss them; cats gag and cough until they are able to cough up a hairball, which usually looks unpleasant and can smell strongly in some cases, too. These hairballs are a normal part of cat behavior, but are they ever something to worry about?

The short answer is “sometimes.” However, there’s more to learn about hairballs in cats, and it’s important to fully understand the times when they’re dangerous and the times when they aren’t. Read on to find out more. If you have any questions, call Carey Animal Hospital in Cincinnati at (513) 531-7117.

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Normal grooming

Normal grooming is the most common cause of hairballs in cats. Cats lick their fur to groom, and because of the sharpness of their tongues, they often end up with a mouthful of loose hair strands. They then swallow these strands, which collect in the stomach over time and form hairballs.

Having long hair

Cats with long hair shed more than those with short hair, so they are also more likely to have hairballs. If you have a longhaired cat, you’ll likely find that they cough up hairballs frequently, and this is perfectly normal. On the other hand, hairless cats don’t have hairballs at all!

Warmer months

In the warmer months of the year, cats shed more often. This leads to looser hair while grooming, which in turn leads to more frequent development of hairballs. If your cat’s hairballs seem to get worse during the summer, this is a good indication that they are shedding more at this time of the year.

Prior digestive health problems

Some cats who have had previous digestive health problems or digestive illnesses may be more prone to hairballs than other cats. This is not very common, however, but it is still a possibility and might factor into your cat’s hairball frequency as well.

When to Worry

Frequent vomiting without hairballs

If your cat gags, retches, or vomits often but doesn’t have a hairball that comes up with the vomit, this may be a sign they’re dealing with a blockage. Blockages from hairballs are extremely dangerous and can be deadly if they are left untreated for too long.

Constipation with hairballs

If your cat is vomiting hairballs often or is trying to unsuccessfully, keep an eye on their litter box. Constipation along with hairballs is another sign of a dangerous blockage that may need to be taken care of by a veterinarian or an emergency vet. Constipation on its own can also be life-threatening to cats, so this problem needs to be resolved quickly in order to keep your cat healthy.

Loss of appetite

A loss of appetite may indicate that your cat has an intestinal blockage as a result of their hairballs. However, it can also be a symptom of a variety of other problems. Regardless of the underlying cause, a loss of appetite is an issue that needs to be taken care of as soon as possible.

Weakness or lethargy

Weakness and lethargy are also common symptoms of a variety of cat health issues. However, they can occur along with intestinal blockages too. If you notice your cat seeming lethargic or weak along with any of the other symptoms listed here, they may have a blockage from their hairballs and might need vet care.

Frequent diarrhea

Diarrhea may be another sign of a partial blockage. It can also mean that there’s something seriously wrong with your cat’s digestive system, especially if this occurs almost all the time. Frequent diarrhea can also quickly lead to dehydration in cats, so make sure your cat is getting enough to drink and consider supplementing their liquid intake with wet food until you can take them to the vet.


Although this symptom is not nearly as common as the others listed here, some cats may have a fever when they are dealing with a serious blockage as a result of hairballs. If your cat is vomiting hairballs and has a fever at the same time, you need to take them to the vet or emergency vet right away.


As you can see, most of the time, cat hairballs are not anything to be concerned with. They are a normal part of life with a cat, and you shouldn’t worry if your cat coughs them up every now and then. If your cat’s hairballs are very frequent, however, or if they seem very sick along with them, these are times when you might need to be a little more concerned.

As always, if you have any further questions or concerns about your cat’s health, talk to your vet. Your vet can give you more accurate and specific information about your individual cat’s needs. Call us today at (513) 531-7117.