Are Cat Hairballs Something to Worry About?

If you have a cat, you’ve probably cleaned up hairballs on more than one occasion. Hairballs are usually a perfectly normal part of a cat’s life, but are there some situations in which hairballs might be more concerning?

The short answer is yes, but these situations are few and far between. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common situations in which a cat’s hairballs might be more of an issue. We’ll also talk about times when hairballs are completely normal and should be no cause for alarm as well. Read on to find out more. If you have any questions, call Pewaukee Veterinary Service at (262) 347-0787.

cat hairballs in pewaukee, wi

When Hairballs are Normal

If your cat coughs up a hairball every now and then

This is completely normal and is actually healthy for your cat. While they groom themself, they inadvertently swallow strands of fur now and then. Over time, some of that fur remains in their stomach instead of being digested fully, and that is what causes hairballs to form. When hairballs get too large or troubling for cats, they will stop what they’re doing to cough up the offending hairball. Most cats who have healthy, normal hairballs will go right back to their normal behavior following the process of coughing up the hairball.

If your cat’s hairballs are not too difficult to cough up

Some cats struggle to cough up their hairballs. They may go into coughing or retching fits that may be so severe they can’t even stand up fully during them. However, if your cat’s hairballs come up with minimal retching or gagging, this likely means everything is okay. The smoother a cat’s hairballs can be coughed up, the less likely it is that they are suffering from those hairballs. Check the hairball when you clean it up to be sure you don’t see anything else in it that could be contributing to a blockage, such as pieces of a cat toy.

If your cat’s bathroom habits are normal

Bathroom habits can tell you a lot about whether or not your cat is doing well. If they aren’t having diarrhea or straining a lot when they try to poop, they are probably not suffering from a blockage. Watch your cat when they go to the litter box over the course of a day or two so you can tell if anything is out of the ordinary.

If your cat is still eating well

Eating well usually means your cat’s digestive system is working the way it should. Your cat may lose their appetite or be unable to eat at all if they have a blockage, so a cat who is eating normally is likely a healthy cat.

If your cat is behaving totally normally other than her hairballs

In this situation, your cat is probably okay. However, some cats are experts at hiding pain and illness, so it’s important to watch them very closely to determine whether or not they might be keeping something from you. If you have determined they aren’t hiding anything, then they are probably fine.

When Hairballs are Concerning

If your cat is badly constipated

Constipation along with hairballs, or constipation with retching but a lack of hairballs, can mean your cat is suffering from a serious intestinal blockage. This can be a fatal condition if left untreated for very long. If this situation occurs please call us immediately and in the event that we are not available please take your cat to the emergency vet.

If your cat is vomiting or having severe diarrhea

Vomiting is different from hairballs, as it will not contain any hair. Diarrhea or vomiting that last for more than one or two rounds can be very dangerous for cats and may quickly lead to dehydration. Hairballs that cause blockages in your cat’s digestive tract may cause these symptoms as well.

If your cat is yowling in pain

This may be a sign that something is seriously wrong with your cat, including a severe intestinal blockage.

If your cat is lethargic or weak

Weakness and lethargy can go along with a variety of cat illnesses. Take your pet to the vet right away if they are weak or lethargic along with hairballs, or if they are trying to cough up hairballs and can’t.


As you can see, most of the time, hairballs are not anything you should worry about. Your cat’s hairballs are just a normal part of their life, and unless you have a completely hairless cat, you’re probably going to have to clean up hairballs sometimes.

If you have any further questions or concerns about your cat’s health or wellness, you should talk to your vet for more information. Your vet can examine your cat in person and let you know specific information about your individual pet’s needs. From there, the vet can help you choose how to proceed when it comes to your cat’s hairballs and other health concerns. Call us today at (262) 347-0787.

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Since 1977, Pewaukee Veterinary Services has provided progressive veterinary medicine to pets of Pewaukee and the greater Milwaukee area. We put a strong emphasis on preventive medicine and alternative therapies aimed at keeping companion animals healthy and happy. Yet, if your pet is ill, there’s no better place to entrust their care. Our animal hospital in Pewaukee not only has the most advanced veterinary equipment in the area, but also the skilled veterinarians and staff to use it.