Dr. Sydney Routley: Vomiting and hairballs in cats


Is there any worse feeling than waking up and stepping on a cold hairball your cat has kindly left for you? Although hairballs can be common in cats, they aren’t necessarily normal. What about the retching noise just before your cat brings up a hairball or vomit – isn’t that lovely to wake up to? Once again, though vomiting may be something some cats do on a semi-regular basis, it is not normal. So, let’s learn a little more.

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Traditionally, hairballs used to be considered normal for cats, as they seemed not to have the ability to pass hair through their digestive system and would periodically bring one up. Now, however, it has been found that hairballs can be due to an underlying issue. Though longhaired cats are more likely than shorthaired cats to have hairballs simply due to the length of their coats, regular hairballs are still not normal. Sometimes over-the-counter hairball laxative pastes can be a helpful treatment, but there may be underlying issues related to excessive grooming or inability to pass things normally through the stomach. Excessive grooming can be a behavioral issue possibly related to stress, or skin disease like parasites or allergies. Having problems with normal stomach passage can be from an inflammatory disease, abnormal structure or even cancer. 

Vomiting in cats can happen for a wide variety of reasons. Regurgitated or undigested food vomiting can occur from simply gorging on food too quickly. Partially-digested food vomiting or bile vomiting can indicate a number of different abnormalities – including digestive upset/imbalance, organ diseases such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, a foreign body, irritable bowel disease or cancer. Any sudden onset of frequent vomiting or blood in the cat’s vomit warrants a visit to your veterinarian ASAP.

Regular vomiting in cats is never normal, and should be investigated as soon as possible by taking your cat into see their veterinarian. Cats are extremely skilled at hiding all of their illnesses, so any negative signs that they show you should be looked into right away to prevent further damage. Be sure to let your veterinarian know how frequently your cat has been vomiting, what kind of vomit is coming up (hairballs, undigested food, digested food, or bile), when the vomiting typically happens, and whether you have noted any changes in their appetite, drinking, or litterbox habits. Your veterinarian will likely perform a full physical exam, and may then recommend bloodwork. Bloodwork will help your veterinarian to diagnose any organ abnormalities in your cat, some of which can be easily treated with regular medications or diet changes.

Overall, vomiting in cats is always considered abnormal, and should be looked into, especially if happening on a regular basis. You shouldn’t have to deal with waking up to the horrible sound of your cat vomiting, or getting your socks wet stepping into a surprise hairball. Taking your cat into their veterinarian is the first step toward getting them feeling better, and preventing further disgusting findings around the house!

Dr. Sydney Routley is a 2012 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. She was raised in Fort St. John and first started working at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic as a student back in 2004.

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