The sound of your cat coughing up a hairball, although rather icky and weird, may make you laugh a little. After all, once he hacks up the little thing, he's usually back to normal within mere minutes. However, in rare situations, hairballs can actually be extremely dangerous to cats.
Cats cough up hairballs as a result of swallowing too much hair during the natural licking and grooming process. Because of this, hairballs -- especially ones that are big in size -- are particularly common in the most meticulous of cleanliness-oriented felines. When clumps of cat hair build up within your pet's belly or intestine, they typically come out once he throws them up. The stomach simply cannot digest the fur. Hairballs are especially prevalent in cats with longer hair, such as Maine coons, although they are common in all felines with hair.
"Normal-sized" hairballs typically do not make a cat sick. When a kitty feels the need to emit a pesky hairball, she usually hacks, coughs and retches for a couple of loud minutes until the wet, furry and tubular substance finally emerges -- often smack dab in the middle of your living room carpet! A cat will usually revert to normal behavior after the hairball makes its memorable exit of her mouth.
Can a Hairball Make a Cat Sick?
Unfortunately, hairballs that are especially large and immobile can indeed make a cat sick, although these situations are extremely uncommon. If a fluffy mass of hair obstructs a cat's digestive tract, it can even bring upon life-threatening consequences, notes the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. This danger usually arises when a hairball becomes too massive to successfully travel within the cat's tight sphincter quarters. Surgery is absolutely necessary to relieve this blockage. It can quite often even save a cat's life, in fact.
If you have any reason to fear hairball blockage in your precious pet, get emergency veterinary intervention for her immediately. Some signs to look out for include constant fruitless vomiting attempts, loss of appetite and unusual exhaustion. When oversized hairballs are involved, time is of the essence.