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3 Myths about Cat Hairballs — and How to Manage Them

If you own a cat, you know they spend a lot of time grooming. However, you may not know that cats’ tongues are covered with papillae, which help cats remove hair from their bodies. But where, exactly, does all that hair go? Sometimes, it can form hairballs, or trichobezoars if you want to get technical. Let’s debunk some common myths about cat hairballs and find out what you can do to manage them.

Myth 1: Hairballs Cause Coughing

Hairballs live in your cat’s digestive tract, usually in their stomach and intestines. Coughing involves the respiratory system. Therefore, hairballs don’t cause coughing. Rather, they cause vomiting. While your cat may assume a similar crouching position and make similar sounds, vomiting a hairball and coughing are two distinct issues. Be sure to recognize the difference between the two.

Myth 2: Short-haired Cats Can’t Get Hairballs

Shorter hair means less hair, which means fewer hairballs, right? Wrong. Hairballs have less to do with the length of the hair and more to do with how it moves through the digestive system. In other words, both short-haired and long-haired cats can get hairballs.

Myth 3: Hairballs Are Shaped Like Balls

Because it’s in the name, most people assume that a hairball is, in fact, shaped like a ball. However, hairballs are actually long, dense and cylindrical — not round — in shape, and they’re typically as wide as your thumb. So, does this mean we’re going to start calling them hair cylinders? Probably not. But now you know the truth.

cat looking at fur brush full of cat hair


Managing Your Cat’s Hairballs

Now that you’re a hairball expert (congratulations?), let’s talk about how to manage your cat’s hairballs. One way to help prevent hairballs from forming is to properly and regularly groom your cat so their loose hair goes into a brush and not in their digestive tract.

Another way to manage hairballs is to ensure your cat is getting enough water. You can accomplish this by always providing fresh water in easy-to-access places, and by feeding wet cat food, which contains more moisture than dry food. Proper hydration will help keep the hair moving through your cat’s system and lessen the likelihood of the contents in the stomach and intestines drying out and getting stuck.

You could also try switching to a specially formulated food, like NUTRO™ WHOLESOME ESSENTIALS™ Hairball Control Cat Food, which is designed to help with hairball maintenance and promote digestive health in adult cats.

If your cat is getting hairballs a few times a week or more, take them to the vet to rule out any underlying issues.

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