Are My Cat's Hairballs Normal?

Here's when to worry.

cat spitting out hairball

It might sound scary when your cat hacks up a hairball. It might look even scarier, watching her cough it up.

But as uncomfortable as the whole process might seem, spitting up hairballs is actually super normal for cats.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in California, to find out if you should ever be worried about this common (and slightly nasty) phenomenon.

Where do hairballs come from?

According to Dr. Cruz, cats typically spend anywhere from 15 percent to 50 percent of their time grooming, getting all that dirt and old fur out of their coat.

And thanks to the spines on your cat’s tongue, a hairball is formed.

“The hundreds of tough backward facing spines, [or] papillaes, trap the fur and debris as [cats] groom themselves, and force the material to be swallowed,” Dr. Cruz told The Dodo.

So, naturally, longer-haired cats are more susceptible to hairballs.

When to worry about hairballs

“It is not unusual for a cat to periodically hack up a hairball,” Dr. Cruz said.

The hairballs themselves aren’t unusual, but keep an eye out in case your cat starts showing signs like:

  • Hairballs happening more than a few times a week
  • Vomiting doesn’t produce a hairball
  • Losing weight
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing

If your cat is experiencing any of those symptoms, you should definitely take her to the vet because these things can be symptoms of a number of more serious underlying conditions.

Hairball treatment

If you want to help your cat handle her hairballs, there are a few things you can do at home.

“There are commercially available hairball treatments that are basically flavored petroleum jelly,” Dr. Cruz explained. “Be sure to give an adequate amount. Usually 1 to 2 inches in length is needed.”

Dr. Cruz recommended Laxatone-based products for this type of treatment.

Try this hairball lubricant from Petco for $7.78

And if that’s not your speed, a little daily brushing goes a long way.