Those Pesky Feline Hairballs

On the national pet calendar, April 28th was National Hairball Awareness Day. Hopefully your kitty didn’t celebrate by gacking up a big hairball on your living room rug! I think the reason this “holiday” falls in the spring is that excessive grooming to remove the shedding winter coat definitely increases the number of “vomiting cat” phone calls at PSVC.

This ingested hair is often passed into the intestines in many cats all year long. But sometimes when mixed with proteins in food and squeezed by stomach contractions, a mat of felted fur builds up to the point where it can temporarily clog the stomach outflow valve, causing the cat to start retching and bring up food, a hairball, or both. Not seeing a furball in the vomit does not rule that out as the cause of the vomiting. Sometimes, a strong stomach retch can just move the fur mat back into the open stomach area and the process can happen again.

Not all spring vomiting by cats is caused by hairballs, as many illnesses in cats, (like gastroenteritis, foreign object ingestion, liver, kidney, and pancreas disease) can cause vomiting. However, if your cat is happy, active, eating very well, well muscled, playful, and passing stool, and the vomiting is occasional, there is a possibility that a hairball may be at fault.

How can you prevent or treat hairballs in the stomach? The tried and true treatment for a hairball (or trichobezoar as they are officially known) is to give one of the many lubricating gels available at pet stores and our Clinic. They usually contain flavored Vaseline with other non-digestible oils that lubricated the hair mass so that it can be easily squeezed into the intestines. Usually a one inch ribbon of gel once or twice daily for 1-2 days will get a hairball passed and then continue twice weekly in the spring and once weekly the rest of the year as prevention. Digestible oils like butter, olive oil, etc, won’t work because they are broken down right away. There are high fiber cat foods marketed as “hairball preventing” which can help prevent hairball buildup by “pushing” the hair through the system. These are variably effective.

Our Doctors are always available to help you determine the cause of your cat’s vomiting. But in the spring especially, some hairball lubrication for a short time in a cat who truly seems to be completely normal, and is only vomiting occasionally, can often resolve the issue. If still vomiting on day two or if kitty is not acting completely normal, give us a call.

To better assess the health of your pets’ teeth we now have DIGITAL DENTAL X-RAY EQUIPMENT. This allows us to see hidden periodontal disease surrounding the tooth roots so that action can be taken to judiciously suggest treatment or extraction since our pets can’t tell us where it hurts them.


Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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