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Is It a Hairball or Puke?

Hairball vs. Vomit: What is the difference?

Tabby-tortoiseshell cat, Pansy, coughingFirst things first, hairballs or puke, they are both gross. Nothing will get you out of bed or off the couch faster than hearing that sound. Thankfully they always make sure to do it on a rug instead of a floor. Ah cats!  Understanding the difference between a hairball and vomit is very important. This information can help you understand if there is a health issue or if it is a part of normal healthy behavior,

A hairball is a blockage at the pyloris, which is the exit to the stomach. Things can get stuck there during the digestion process and a lot of times it is hair that is causing the blockage.  When cats licks themselves, hair gets ingested.  Sometimes this hair get stuck during the digestion process and causes a blockage. When this happens, you cat will hack up a hairball.  Interestingly enough, this causes your cat very little discomfort. No really, your cat doesn’t care. They do not feel sick, they just hack it up and move on. You may get the heeby jeebies but they are fine.

A hairball usually occurs 10-15 minutes after your cat eats and will generally be vomit that is primarily composed of undigested food matter.  The process of vomiting due to a hairball actually helps the real hairball. The muscles involved in vomiting helps dislodge the blockage and gets it turning and moving in your cats stomach. That can help break up the blockage to make it easier for it to pass through your cats entire digestive track.  This is why the traditional hairball treatment is not much more than flavored petroleum jelly. The hairball treatment is ingested and the oil helps prevent the hairball from forming.  Hairball treatment doesn’t get rid of a hairball once it is formed, it just helps prevent them. This is also why hairball remedy should be given as a dietary supplement not as a treatment. Regular usage of hairball remedy will help, but giving them a bit after they have hacked won’t help.

Warning Signs

Sometimes a hairball is just a hairball and sometimes it is something more.  Here are a few things to watch out for to know if it is more than a hairball:

  • Persistent and frequent vomiting (multiple times a week)
  • Vomiting after every meal
  • Vomit without food content
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Foreign object in throw-up

If your cat is throwing up a lot of volume or frequently you may want to bring them to the vet.  Sometimes vomit may just be a hairball, but it can also be a sign of something else.  Vomiting can be a symptom of everything from ingesting a foreign object, like string, to an infection, all the way up to cancer. If you are concerned, call your vet for an evaluation immediately.