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Can Cats Choke on Hairballs?

Last Updated on May 29, 2023 by admin

Yes, cats can choke on hairballs. A large hairball, known as a trichobezoar, can cause a blockage in a cat’s intestinal tract and can be potentially life-threatening. Cats may make hacking and choking sounds when trying to expel the hairball from their stomach, but sometimes the cat isn’t able to expel it and the hairball can cause them to choke. Fortunately, cats are able to vomit up most of the hairballs that they produce. Bug the cat was one example of a feline who had frequent hairball issues. With proper care and monitoring, cats can be protected from the dangers posed by hairballs.

What Are Hairballs?

Hairballs, also known as trichobezoar, are clumps of swallowed fur that cats can form over time. They are usually made up of fur that cats have ingested while grooming themselves, as well as hair they have collected from other sources such as blankets or furniture. They are usually round and cylindrical in shape and can range in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters in diameter. In most cases, the hairball will eventually be expelled on its own through the cat’s digestive track, usually within a few days. However, if the hairballs become too large or get stuck in the stomach or intestine, they can cause serious health problems for your cat.

Signs and Symptoms of Hairballs in Cats

One of the main signs that a cat is suffering from hairballs is when they vomit up a wad of fur. This isn’t a choking emergency, as cats are able to bring up or pass hairballs on their own, although it can be uncomfortable for them and unpleasant for you to witness. Other signs that cats have hairballs include constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and lethargy. If the hairball has moved from the stomach to the intestine, it could be a sign of a serious condition which should be addressed by a vet. In some cases, large hairballs can get stuck in your cat’s intestines and cause a blockage, which can be life-threatening if not treated quickly. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to take measures to reduce the amount of fur your cat swallows in the first place.

What Causes Hairballs in Cats?

When it comes to hairballs, prevention is key. Hairballs are caused when cats groom themselves and the tiny hook-like structures on their tongue catch loose and dead hair, which is then swallowed. Usually, the hair passes through their digestive system without issue. However, in some cases, the hair can build up and form a mass in the stomach known as a trichobezoar, or a large hairball. When this occurs, cats may experience difficulty passing the hairball and can become blocked. Symptoms of a hairball include retching, gagging or dry heaving as they try to vomit it up. If your cat is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out by a vet who can diagnose and treat the issue.

Are Hairballs Dangerous or Life-Threatening?

Yes, hairballs can be dangerous or even life-threatening for cats. If a large clump of hair is ingested, it can block a cat’s intestinal tract and cause them to choke. In some cases, this can lead to death. Even small hairballs can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, if left untreated, hairballs can cause blockages in the gastrointestinal tract which can be very dangerous and require medical intervention. Therefore, monitor your cat for signs of hairballs and to take preventative measures to reduce their likelihood.

How to Prevent Hairballs

One way to prevent hairballs in cats is to regularly groom them. Brushing your cat’s coat on a regular basis can help remove excess fur and reduce the amount of hair your cat swallows. Additionally, adding fiber to your cat’s diet can help move the fur through their digestive system and lessen the chance of a hairball forming. You can also give your cat special food and treats that are designed for hairball prevention. Lastly, it can be helpful to provide your cat with toys, scratching posts, and other activities that encourage exercise and stimulate their natural grooming habits. By taking these steps you can help reduce the risk of hairballs and keep your cat healthy.

Diagnosing and Treating Hairballs

If your cat is showing signs of hairballs, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible so the underlying cause can be identified and treated. Your vet may recommend an x-ray or ultrasound to diagnose the issue. In some cases, the vet may be able to manually remove the hairball. If the hairball is too large and causing an obstruction, surgery may be required to remove it. In mild cases, medications such as laxatives or mineral oil may be prescribed to help digest and pass the hairball. Additionally, dietary changes such as adding more fiber or a special hairball-reducing diet may help reduce the frequency of hairballs in cats.

What If a Cat Has a Large Hairball?

When a cat has a large hairball, it can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening if not addressed quickly. If the hairball is too large to pass through the intestinal tract or past the esophagus, it could get stuck and cause your cat to choke. If you suspect your cat is choking on a hairball, look for signs such as coughing or gagging, or strange noises coming from their throat. If the hairball isn’t able to be coughed up, then it’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Your vet can diagnose the issue and provide treatment options such as medications or dietary changes that can help reduce the risk of large hairballs forming in your cat’s stomach.

What to Do If Your Cat Is Choking on a Hairball

If your cat is actively choking on a hairball, the first step is to give your cat the equivalent of a Heimlich maneuver. Press gently, but firmly and quickly, just below the ribs in the ribcage area. This will help dislodge the hairball and allow your cat to breathe again. If this doesn’t work, you may need to take your cat to the vet. It could be a sign that the hairball has moved from their stomach to their intestine, which is a serious condition that should be addressed by a vet. Additionally, large hairballs could cause your cat to choke – this is a possibility when they become too large to easily pass back from the stomach. If your cat is coughing and you are unsure if it’s due to a hairball or something else, it’s best to err on the side of caution and get them checked out by a vet. A large hairball (known as a trichobezoar) can cause a blockage in a cat’s intestinal tract and cause your cat to choke to death, so it’s important to take swift action if you suspect that your cat is choking on a hairball.

When to See the Vet for Hairballs

Be aware when to take your cat to the vet for a hairball. If you notice that your cat is exhibiting any of the signs and symptoms of a hairball, such as hacking, gagging, retching, or vomiting, take them to the vet immediately as they may be in danger of choking. Additionally, if your cat has a large hairball, known as a trichobezoar, this can block their intestinal tract and cause them to choke. If this occurs, it is essential to take your cat to the vet right away as this can be life-threatening. Furthermore, if you are concerned about your cat’s hairball issue and have tried all other preventative measures but have not seen any improvement in your cat’s condition, it is recommended that you speak with your vet about it as soon as possible.


In conclusion, hairballs can be a common and even normal occurrence in cats. Most of the time, they are nothing to worry about and will pass through the digestive system without issue. However, if your cat is having more than one hairball per week, or you notice them coughing up large hairballs, it’s best to consult your vet. A large hairball can cause a blockage in a cat’s intestinal tract and can be life-threatening if not treated. With proper prevention and treatment, you can keep your cat safe from the dangers of hairballs and keep them healthy and happy!