Why Do Cats Vomit Hairballs and How to Prevent?

Most cat parents have heard that awful retching sound their cat makes right before they vomit up a hairball, which is frightening. It probably makes the cat feel scared as well.

Cats vomit up hairballs because they are constantly grooming themselves, and the hair can get stuck in their stomach and not pass through their stool. However, hairballs can be prevented. You should groom or brush your cat regularly, or you can try a specially formulated cat food for hairballs.  

You can even add fiber to their diet to help with their gastrointestinal health, which will help remove hairballs. If you want to know why cats vomit hairballs and how to prevent them, check out this article.

Cat About To Spit Hairball

Why Do Cats Vomit Hairballs?

Cats get hairballs due to their excessive and thorough grooming habits. When they clean themselves, the hair gets stuck on their tongue, which is specially designed to untangle matted fur, as it acts like a comb. Most hair typically passes through the digestive tract without too much trouble.

However, hairballs occur when some of the hair gets trapped in the stomach. When this happens, your cat may get a blockage in their gut, which causes them to feel sick. It is because of the blockage that cats will throw up hairballs.  

When the hairball comes up through the esophagus, it resembles a round tube, which appears to be about a quarter to a half-inch in diameter, and about one to two inches long. For visual reference, it looks smaller than or about the size of a mini tootsie roll. Hairballs are more commonplace in long-haired breeds, like Ragdolls and Maine Coons.

Cats who groom themselves tend to swallow a lot of fur. When your cat was a kitten, they may not have consumed as much fur. This abundance of fur is typical because as cats get older, they tend to become more efficient at grooming themselves.


Why Do Cats Get Hairballs?

Cats are very committed to grooming themselves and making sure they look pristine. However, there is more than one reason why cats get hairballs:


They Constantly Groom Themselves

The most obvious reason why cats get hairballs is that they are grooming. Long-haired cats may be gorgeous, but they have it rough when it comes to grooming and getting hairballs. The hair tends to stay in the stomach. In comparison, short-haired cats may have an easier time passing it through their stool.

They Are on the Hunt

Most of the time, cats stick to easy prey like mice or rats. However, they are also known to chase more challenging game like rabbits or squirrels. This type of prey has thicker or more fur to bite and consume. Your cat may inadvertently swallow their hair as they are feasting upon their helpless victim.

When cats catch larger prey, they like to lick the fur away from the skin, making them swallow a lot of hair. Often, they cannot digest the overabundance of fur, and it comes up when they vomit up a hairball.

They Lick The Ground They Walk On

Cats will sometimes lick the carpet to mark their territory. It is an unusual habit, but they are often doing this to warn any other cats that may be in the home that this is their domain, and they are the King “Simba.” The fibers on the carpet may become loose, and there is typically hair on the carpet. If your cat swallows the fibers combined with the loose hair, they usually vomit.

They Eat Their Toys

If your cat plays with toys that have string or fibers, they can form a blockage in the stomach if your cat chews or bites them. Strings can be very dangerous to mischievous cats who are engrossed in play, especially when they like to mark their toys with their saliva. The toy parts can cause a blockage in your cat’s stomach. If this occurs, you will need to take your cat to the emergency vet.


How Can I Prevent Hairballs in My Cat?

There are some ways you can successfully limit or prevent hairballs in your cat. You should be diligent about this if your goal is to reduce the number of hairballs your cat must vomit up.


Brush Them A lot

Brushing your cat will help to reduce the excess fur and decrease the likelihood of hairballs occurring. You should aim to brush your cat at least twice a week. However, if your cat has long hair, you should brush them more often. You can get some nice cat brushes that your cat will be sure to love, and it will also help the two of you bond.

Baby Wipes

You can use unscented and hypoallergenic baby wipes to wipe down your cat’s coat, and your cat will love this because the baby wipe is cool and soft. You can use baby wipes after you brush, which will take care of the loose fur left behind. You can apply a damp paper towel if you want to save money.


Adding fiber to your cat’s diet will help make their digestive tract run more smoothly. It will help your cat pass the collected hair in their stomach. There are some excellent ways to get some fiber into your cat:

  • Wheat bran
  • Oatmeal
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Cooked carrots
  • Green beans
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkin
  • Metamucil


Cats need a different amount of fiber than humans. Talk to your vet before adding any fiber or foods into your cat’s diet.

Food To Fight Hairballs

You can get cat food specifically formulated to get rid of hairballs. Most cat food brands have products that can help combat hairballs. This type of cat food typically contains increased oil, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is like an all-in-one solution in which all these combined components may make the hairballs come out through the digestive tract easier.

Lubricate Their Digestive Tract

You can give your cat a small quantity of fish oil to help them eliminate hairballs. It will also have the added advantage of maintaining your cat’s fur and skin health. You can also try adding a teaspoon of olive oil or melted butter to your feline’s food. Another option that your cats will love is canned tuna. They not only love to eat it, but it also has omega 3’s, which can help oil up and loosen their digestive tract.

Increase Water Intake   

Make sure your feline always has access to clean, fresh water. It will help them pass stubborn stool, including the extra hair they have in their bellies. Many cats prefer running spring water over still tap water. You could get a fantastic water fountain to keep them happy and hydrated. Canned food also offers some hydration for your cat, and it is a healthier option for your furry feline.


What Should I Know About Hairballs?

Cats who throw up hairballs a lot may have gastrointestinal issues. There are rare instances in which a hairball can get stuck in your cat’s digestive tract, becoming a blockage. If this is the instance, your cat may require surgery to remove it. The symptoms of a blockage include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Excessive coughing
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea


Blockages are life-threatening, and your cat may require surgery to save their life. If you should witness any of these warning signs in your cat, do not hesitate to get them to the emergency vet.

Caring For A Domestic Cat. Combing The Animal's Fur. British Shorthair Cat Gets Groomed



Hairballs can be frustrating for cats and cat parents and can even put the cat in danger. However, for the most part, hairballs are nothing to worry about unless there are also specific symptoms present or if they consistently hinder your cat.



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