Do wild cats have the same problem with hairballs that domestic cats do?

Do wild cats have hairballs? There are two initial points to make about this question. Firstly, it is not the sort of topic covered in the best technical books on the wild cat species. Secondly, all cats, domestic and wild, behave in essentially the same way and therefore wild cat species groom themselves just like domestic cats.

Male lion grooming
Male lion grooming. Picture: Flickr under CC license.
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As a result you would expect them to create hairballs from time to time and to perhaps vomit them up in the same way that domestic cats do. The stock answer, therefore, to the question in the title is, Yes.

However, let’s take one large wild cat species, the lion. They have short coats relative to their size compared to most domestic cats and therefore shedding of hair, I would argue, might be less than what you would typically find for a domestic cat (the male’s mane excepted).

But not only is their hair tighter and shorter, they live in an environment which is bright the year-round which affects the shedding of fur. Shedding is governed by the amount of light. The point that I’m getting at is that I suspect that lions do not shed fur to the same extent that domestic cats do.

Another factor would be that the lion’s gut is much larger than that of domestic cats which I would argue might facilitate the passage of any hairballs that develop. Again, what I’m getting to is that it is more likely that in the case of the big cats that hairballs might be more likely to pass with faeces. And I would stress that their hairballs are likely to be smaller relative to the cat’s size.

Therefore I do not think that lions have the same sort of problem that domestic cats have with respect to hairballs. There are no videos on YouTube to the best of my knowledge of lions vomiting hairballs. Although, as you can see on this page captive lions often groom themselves just like domestic cats.

Some small wild cat species have quite long coats such as the Pallas’s cat. I would expect this small wild cat species to produce the occasional hairball. However, the cat may not have problems with hairballs because they may simply pass when defecating.

There may be other issues regarding domestic cats and hairballs. One factor might be a lack of activity. This may, and I am speculating, make it less likely for hairballs to pass with faeces which may in turn be one reason why domestic cats sometimes vomit hairballs.

Overall, with respect to wild cat species, I would expect hairballs to be less of a problem but it depends on the species concerned. These are personal views without reference to reference books.

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