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Can Cats Choke On Hairballs – What You Need To Know

Can Cats Choke On Hairballs – What You Need To Know

Hairballs are an unpleasant reality when it comes to owning cats. Every once in a while, your feline friends are going to need to get their own excess fur out of their system, and the end result is a hairball on the carpet. Or the stairs. Or your pillow. Most of the time, hairballs are no big deal, you clean up, and you and your cat move on, but is that always true? Can cats choke on hairballs?

Unfortunately, cats can choke on large hairballs, although it’s relatively uncommon. Hairballs can get stuck in your cat’s intestines, in their throat, and almost anywhere in-between. These larger hairballs can be more dangerous and often require medical treatment, but there are some options to help your cat deal with big hairballs.

If you know that your cat is prone to large hairballs, there are a few options to help prevent the problem from getting severe. While stuck hairballs can be a life-threatening issue, hairballs aren’t anything you need to worry about most of the time. Here’s what you need to know. 

How Do You Know If Your Cat Has A Hairball Or Is Choking

Cat owners know that a cat hacking up a hairball is not a pleasant sight or sound. Your cat will probably look like they’re throwing up when they’re hacking up a hairball since the two are very similar. Your cat will also probably gag a few times before they get the hairball out and may try a few times before it comes up. 

That can make it harder to tell when your cat is having a hard time with a hairball, but it’s not impossible. 

For one thing, look and see if your cat seems calm or if they’re distressed. For most hairballs, your cat is uncomfortable but not necessarily upset. But if your cat starts choking, they will show signs of extreme distress, especially pawing at their face, crying, laying down or running around, or making wheezing noises. 

Any of those behaviors, combined with gagging or trying to throw up a hairball, can be a sign that your cat is starting to choke on a hairball. 

What Happens If A Cat Can’t Cough Up A Hairball

When your cat can’t cough up a hairball, choking isn’t the only reaction. Your cat might start to choke, but it’s a little more likely that their hairball will get stuck in their digestive system, not their throat. 

That means that there are two main risks when your cat can’t cough up a hairball, choking and intestinal blockages. 

Both situations can be treated, and we’ll talk a little more about both options later on. However, you need to know that you should always take any signs of distress seriously, especially when your cat is trying to get a hairball or has had a lot of small hairballs recently. 

In some cases, your cat may also be able to clear their hairball on their own, even if it’s given them problems before. But, you should monitor your cat closely for a few days if it seems like they’re having trouble, or schedule a vet visit to help make sure your cat has everything they need to be careful. 

What Do You 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, on your cat’s stomach in an upward direction to help move the hairball up and out of their system. 

Try this about five times to see if your cat can clear the obstruction. 

If your cat is still having trouble, the next step is to pick up your cat from its hips. Hold them a few inches off the ground and try to clear the obstruction from their mouth with your finger by swiping through their mouth. 

One of those two options should help your cat clear the obstruction, but if it doesn’t, you need to get your cat to an emergency vet hospital as quickly as possible. AS long as your cat can breathe a little around the obstruction, they might be okay, so it’s essential to try and clear the obstruction first so they can start breathing more normally. 

How Do You Know If A Hairball Is Stuck

Unfortunately, the best way to know if a hairball is stuck is to pay attention to your cat’s behavior. 

Not all cats will show the same signs, but here are a few common signs and symptoms of a problem so you can identify it sooner. 

Lethargy, especially combined with trying to vomit and failing several times, can be a sign of possible intestinal obstruction. Choking usually leads to gagging noises along with your cat frantically pawing at their face or otherwise trying to clear the obstruction. 

Does Wet Food Help Your Cat With Hairballs

Yes! Wet food helps keep your cat hydrated and provides lubrication to help the fur move through your cat’s digestive tract on the way out of its body. That’s critical for preventing the buildup of hairballs and helping your cat stay comfortable and healthy. 

High-quality wet food does a great job of keeping your cat’s hairballs more manageable, but it doesn’t eliminate the risk. 

What Does A Vet Do For A Stuck Hairball

Most of the time, when your vet is dealing with a stuck hairball, they’re dealing with an intestinal blockage. That means they have two options. In severe cases, they might need to perform surgery to remove the obstruction and help your cat recover. 

Most of the time, though, your vet will offer hydration and laxative support to help your cat pass the hairball safely on its own. They’ll also closely monitor the whole process to make sure the hairball isn’t getting stuck worse so they can prep for surgery as soon as possible if things get worse. 

Things To Consider

Giving your cat a healthy diet is one of the most important ways you can help prevent hairballs. Giving at least some wet food is a good preventative for a high-quality protein and fiber-rich diet. 

Hairball medications can be somewhat helpful for your cat, but usually, they are the last preventative measure you should use. Instead, support your cat’s hydration, diet, and encourage them to get plenty of exercise to make passing hairballs easier. 

Brushing and other grooming can also be necessary to prevent hairballs, especially for long-haired cats with a lot of fur to deal with. 

Using a combination of those techniques will help prevent hairballs and make them less severe when they happen.