Are Hairballs to Blame for My Cat's Vomiting and Constipation?

See how a cat's regular vomiting and constipation indicate a serious problem.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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Cat Hairball Constipation
When a cat has trouble going, see if hairballs are to blame.

Q: We adopted a 7-year-old rescued cat about six months ago. She has problems with vomiting. She has been throwing up regularly after eating for about two weeks, and she seems to be constipated. It’s my daughter's cat, and she just informed me of the vomiting problem, and the constipation started two days ago.

Can hairballs cause this much of a problem?

She eats and drinks and then tries to use her litterbox, but then won't go at all. We mixed some vegetable oil with her food and gave her a bit of pumpkin to see if she has an obstruction. What are your thoughts?

A: Vomiting right after eating often is a sign that your cat is eating too quickly or that perhaps the form of the food (dry vs. canned) is irritating to your cat’s gastrointestinal tract. Hairballs are a common cause of vomiting and also can contribute to constipation.  When hairballs are the cause of vomiting, however, it happens at times that are usually unrelated to eating. Hairballs would be unlikely to cause vomiting after eating for two weeks continuously.

Find out other causes of cat vomiting >>

When cats are vomiting, it is either a metabolic problem (like renal failure or hyperthyroidism, for example) or it can be a gastrointestinal problem. Your cat should be examined, and blood and urine tests should be performed to rule out common metabolic causes of vomiting.

If a gastrointestinal cause is suspected, a diet change to a bland, non-irritating diet, or perhaps to a hypoallergenic diet, can be attempted. If the cat continues to vomit, further diagnostics, such as an ultrasound or endoscopy may be warranted. 

See other signs of cat sickness and what steps to take for cures >>

Constipation can be associated with vomiting, too. When cats strain to defecate and their colon is irritated, cats will sometimes vomit at the same time or soon afterward. Hairball medication — the brown ointment that comes in a tube — is effective at preventing hairballs when given two or three times a week. When given every day, it may serve as a laxative as well.

Learn how to deal with cat constipation >>

Your cat needs to be examined by your vet to make sure that the lack of stool in the past few days isn’t due to something serious, like fecal impaction. If the colon is impacted, general anesthesia and manual extraction of the feces may be necessary. Once this bout of constipation is dealt with, giving hairball remedy every day may help serve to prevent both hairballs and constipation. But again, first you need to make sure that the vomiting isn’t due to some other cause, and that your cat is not impacted with stool.

Check out other cat hairball causes and cures >>

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Reader Comments

Krysia    International

5/26/2013 4:45:07 AM

Flea drops were the cause of my cats constipation. The active ingredient is a paralytic agent and although the company insists the drops only act on the surface of the skin, my hypothesis is that over time the drops begin to affect the animals internally. At 8 years old my cat needed regular enemas from the vet until I finally realised the flea drops were the cause after a year. The constipation stopped when I stopped the drops. My other cat had weakened back legs which returned to full function when I stopped the drops.

judith    monroe mich., MI

4/20/2013 7:41:18 AM

tink this article was one that alot of us can relate to, why do so many cats have this promble with consipation? my 8 year old mix maine coon has it daily,my vet said it was his weight? he is 17 pounds, after speaking to one of the girls who work there i know give him a teaspoon of benifiber in his wet food at night along with hairball medication on his paw. it has helped but it still makes me wonder why the food we feed our cats daily dont have enough fiber in them? also lack of exercise does not help we all know as they age like us humans, we all get lazy try atleast once a day best before bedtime to play with them!

Tigris    Ft Lauderdale, FL

9/17/2012 9:19:56 AM

Hello,
One of our cats has an issue with chronic constipation (no vomiting). His anal area was enlarged to the size of a golf ball and very inflamed. He was almost dead when we finally found the way to help him. 2 vets had "treated" him - 1 of these vets caused the cat a considerable amount of pain, the other told us the cat needed surgery and prescribed parasite meds which did nothing to alleviate the problem. We just could not afford surgery (nor would I have made that choice anyways), or any more costly vet visits. I bought pyrantel pamoate on line(a generic parasite med, Aerobic Life Mag 07, and fish oil. He is an outdoor cat, so we give him the pyrantel pamoate every 2 months to eliminate any parasites. Mag 07 is oxygenated magnesium, a very potent intestinal cleanser, and it is NON-HABIT forming. 2x-3x per week, we give our cat the following intestinal treatment: We mix 1/4 of a Mag07 capsule with 1 capsule of fish oil and enough water to fill a syringe. He hates the taste, even mixed with food, so we shoot the mixture into his mouth. This is what saved our little one's life, and it is what keeps him alive and happy. We always need to be alert, however, b/c if we see that his anus becomes enlarged/inflamed again, we need to increase the frequency of the treatment. I am still searching for the cause of our cat's inability to eliminate hairballs, since none of the other 7 cats have this issue, even with the same food, being outdoors, etc. But for now, it is what keeps him alive and happy, and it is a safe, INEXPENSIVE treatment. I hope this info helps other fellow cat lovers out there. If anyone has any questions, my email is blupatriot@yahoo.com

Shirley    Tucson, AZ

7/26/2012 7:14:52 PM

Excellent.

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