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Hairballs in Cats

hairballs in cats

Cats have backward-facing barbs on their tongues. That’s the scratchy feeling you experience whenever your cat licks your skin. The barbs serve a very important purpose in a cat’s life. In an outdoor environment where a cat may hunt, the barbs help rasp the meat from the bones of the prey. The barbs also help kitty remove external parasites, clean off traces of prey on his coat after eating,  as well as remove barbs and other items from the coat. And, finally, those backward-facing barbs help remove dead hair from the cat’s coat. Unfortunately though, because the barbs do face backward, once the hair is on the tongue there’s only one thing that can happen – it gets swallowed

Most Hairballs are Vomited Back Up

Some of the swallowed hair passes through the cat’s digestive system without any issue. If the cat swallows too much hair he may end up vomiting it back up. These tubular-shaped, saliva-covered globs of unpleasantness are known as hairballs. If you live with a cat long enough, there’s a good chance you will, at some point, end up stepping on a hairball in your bare feet. As unpleasant as this experience may be, it’s far better for the hairball to be vomited up than to potentially cause a blockage in the cat’s digestive system.

Hairballs Can Cause Intestinal Blockage

The hairballs that don’t pass nicely out of the cat’s system during fecal evacuation or get vomited up on your nice, clean carpet, can become trapped in the intestines. With the hairball trapped in there, it creates a blockage so no feces can be pass through and it creates an impaction.



If you notice your cat passing rock-hard feces in the litter box or if he isn’t having any bowel movements at all, it could be due to a partial or complete hairball blockage. There are also other underlying medical reasons for difficulty in passing bowel movements. Contact your veterinarian so the cat can be examined for a diagnosis as to the cause of the problem.

Brush Your Cat

hairballs in cats

Photo: istock

For cats who have a problem with hairballs, regular brushing is a big help. If you thought you didn’t have to groom your cat because he has short hair, you may be putting him at risk for hairballs. The more dead, loose hair you remove with a brush means that much less hair will get swallowed by your cat.

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