A cat hacking up a hairball is viewed by cat owners as a normal occurrence but it is actually not normal for a cat to have a frequent hairball. The comic strip, Bloom County, has a cat named “Bill the Cat” that produces hairballs frequently, sometimes more than once in a daily strip. Bill is not normal. A normal cat produces maybe one or two, if any hairballs in a year. In some cats, a hairball once a month is normal. These cats are usually long-haired. But what about those cats that have hairballs more frequently? It is most likely a sign of a problem. The problem may be with the skin or the gastrointestinal tract.
Normal cats generally only produce hairballs in the spring and fall when the haircoat is changing to adapt to the season. If a cat is producing hairballs more frequently, there are basically two reasons. The first is ingesting too much fur. The second is a slow-down of the gastrointestinal movements.
Fleas are still the most common cause of ingesting too much hair, whether you see the fleas or not; or whether the cat has flea allergies or not. Itchy skin for any reason is a frequent cause, as is over-grooming due to pain and/or anxiety.
A slow-down of gastrointestinal movements in shorthaired cats leading to hairballs is often due to dietary intolerance or inflammatory bowel disease. It may also be due to a tumor, depending on the cat’s age.
So why worry if your cat is passing hairballs? They cause physical problems for the cat. The stomach acid that comes up with the hairball can cause ulcers and scarring of the esophagus that may prevent the cat from being able to swallow solid food. The hairball can get stuck places it should not be and lead to nasal infections or intestinal blockages.
Signs of these conditions would be moist, but still solid food coming back up; really bad breath or sneezing; and vomiting repeatedly in a day.
Longhaired cats tend to have more hairballs than do shorthaired, but that is also often due to how often the longhaired cat is groomed. Every cat should have a few minutes of brushing or combing. This results in less hair swallowed by the cat and makes a stronger bond between the cat and the human whether the cat is short or long-haired. There are also diets or gels that can help with the milder cases of hairballs. If they still appear more often than once a month, your cat should be examined by a veterinarian.
As you can see from this short discussion, hairballs on a monthly or more frequent basis could just be a indicator of something else that is wrong. It is worth seeing your veterinarian to prevent it getting worse or causing more problems.