One of the very few negative things about cats is that, barring hairless cats, they cough up hairballs. This is because they lick themselves clean and end up swallowing a lot of fur, thereby needing to hack it up. It is particularly common for long-haired cats as they logically swallow more fur.
However, writers sometimes see one good thing about cats coughing up hairballs: It's an opportunity to make some gross-out jokes. This might be popular because cats are generally quite elegant and composed, so it could be used as a quick way to temporarily bring down the dignity of a cat for comedic effect. There's also the fact that, unlike when a human vomits, coughing up hairballs is actually normal for cats, so they can have the moment of gross-out humor without making anything too bad happen to the cat.
Sometimes, if a character doesn't like cats, is a snob/Neat Freak, is an incompetent cat minder, or is dealing with a mean cat, the hairballs might be one thing they complain about. The writers might also show an anthropomorphic cat coughing up a hairball to remind the audience that they are still a cat. If they want to go into really gross territory, they might have people find things in the cat's hairball.
- In Cats are Weird, one strip has Misty the cat cough up a hairball on the ground, much to the disgust of her owners.
- Garfield: Since the protagonist is a cat, naturally more than a couple of hairball jokes made it into the comic over the years. Some notable examples:
- In a 1982 strip, Garfield gets a hairball stuck in his throat while telling the audience what exactly a cat is, causing him to remark that the hairballs are standard equipment.
- In a 1987 strip, Garfield gives Jon a hairball as a Christmas gift.
- In another one, after a loud hacking sound, Jon is startled by a hairball the size of a basketball bouncing by him. Cut to Garfield rubbing his throat and saying "Wow, talk about your hairballs."
- In a 1998 strip, Garfield watches the Hairball Theatre on TV, in which the (presumably cat) actors have to cough up hairballs in the middle of their dialogue.
- In a 2000 comic, Jon's neighbor Mrs. Feeny complains to him that Garfield left a hairball on her doormat. Garfield himself is quite proud of it, considering it a gift.
- In a 2001 comic, Jon is Instantly Proven Wrong when he calls cats refined, as Garfield loudly hacks up a hairball in front of him.
- A 2004 strip has Garfield turn his hacking up hairballs into an act, which he performs in front of Jon, who is naturally not amused.
- In a 2005 strip, Garfield is revealed to own a hairball scrapbook. Jon finds it disgusting.
- In a 2010 strip, Garfield loudly hacks up a hairball off screen, which he considers his work. The sound startles Jon.
- In a 2017 strip, Garfield hacks up a hairball after Liz asks him his opinion about the clothes Jon wants to wear to their date. She knows enough and orders him to change into something else.
- In a 2020 strip, after Jon informs Garfield that he left him a salad in the fridge, the unamused Garfield retaliates with the reveal that he left a hairball in Jon's slipper.
- In a 2022 strip, Garfield intentionally hacks up a hairball just as Jon is done cleaning the floors.
- In The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Unikitty spits a glittery hairball at one of Rex's raptors, but not without choking on it first.
- In Puss in Boots, Humpty Dumpty declares that "Humpty and Puss" completed their mission. Kitty is offended that he excluded her and goes to bed early, saying that she has a hairball as an excuse.
- In The Secret Life of Pets 2, Chloe hacks up a hairball on top of her owner while she's still in bed.
- In Shrek 2, Puss in Boots tries to assassinate Shrek but then pauses to cough up a hairball, which grosses even Shrek out.
- Parodied in The Stinger for Captain Marvel. Goose the Flerken (a dangerous alien animal that looks superficially identical to a house cat) gobbles up the Tesseract when no one else in the party is willing to handle it with their bare hands to hold in a Stomach of Holding. In the stinger, the Tesseract, with all its awesome Infinity Stone power... gets hacked back up like a hairball onto Nick Fury's desk.
- In The Cat in the Hat, the title character coughs up a hairball into his hands, then throws it onto a statue, grossing Conrad and Sally out.
- In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Hermione is still recovering from having been accidentally turned into a Cat Girl:
Ron: Have you spoken to Hermione?
Harry: She should be out of hospital in a few days, when she stops coughing up fur balls.
- In The Smurfs, Azrael coughs up some of Smurfette's hair that he swallowed during a fight with her, which leads to Gargamel using it to make Smurf Essence.
- In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of the gross things mentioned in the song about Veruca Salt is "a thing the cat left on the stair".
- In one of the Skippyjon Jones books, Skippyjon is asked to solve a riddle, but he can't think of an answer and coughs up a hairball instead. The dogs think he has a virus and make up a limerick about it.
- Stick Cat: In A Tale Of Two Kitties, while Edith is warming up her voice to sing by doing breathing exercises, she coughs up a hairball.
- In the Warrior Cats book Into the Wild, Sandpaw is being rude to the newly-apprenticed Firepaw, so Graypaw says, "She must have a hairball somewhere".
- In 1994, Saturday Night Live featured a fake commercial for Eych!, "the only hairball remover that cats ask for by name". It was a parody of Meow Mix commercials, with cats coughing up hairballs to the tune of a Suspiciously Similar Song version of that cat food brand's jingle.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Geordi, who is inexperienced with cats, tries to look after Data's cat Spot, but then gets angry at Spot because the cat broke Geordi's lamp and then coughed up a hairball under his bed.
- In Yzma's sidequest "Cat Got Your Tongue?" in Disney Magic Kingdoms, her re-humanization potion is diluted by Kronk using it in his Junior Chipmunks' Troop Leader Mixology exam, causing her to cough up a hairball while announcing her plans to plot Kuzco's doom.
- The Elder Scrolls Online has skill lines where various NPCs send you crafting materials attached to humorous letters. One such letter asks, "Do you know anything of Khajiit etiquette? What is the proper way to respond when your host coughs up a hairball at dinner?"
- In Socks in Space, an online game based on Martha Speaks, some aliens that look exactly like cats throw weaponized hairballs.
- In a Boy and Dog strip, Milo the cat can be seen coughing up a hairball in the background.
- Furry Experience: Cat is running late for class, and has to hurry through her morning routine in strip #56. During the process, she notes that she has developed body odor. "Istink Notimeforshower Mamacatbath," she mutters, then begins licking herself clean. Dawn is aghast, while Ronnie snarks, "You think that's gross, [wait'll] you see the hairball she coughs up in class." The actual hairball, thankfully, isn't depicted.
- In Wapsi Square, Amanda's (admittedly small) cat Selenium horks up a hairball as big as he is.
- Crappy Pictures: In one post talking about the annoying parts of having pets and children at the same time, it's mentioned that sometimes, her toddler son is curious about their cats' hairballs.
- In the Arthur episode "Pets and Pests", Nemo is hired to kill a mouse that's loose in the Reads' house. Pal is not impressed with Nemo staying over, especially when Nemo says, "I cough up fur balls at night."
- The opening to CatDog features a portion of Cat licking his fur. However, rather than him coughing up the hairballs, the hairballs come out of Dog.
- In one episode of Jungle Cubs, Bagheera the panther is so embarrassed after horking up a hairball in front of half the jungle that he runs away.
- In The Loud House episode "Along Came a Sister", Lincoln is looking after his teacher's pet tarantula Frank. The kids see a hairball that their cat Cliff coughed up and mistake it for Frank's corpse, only realizing that Frank is alive when Cliff coughs up another hairball that looks just like it.
- Martha Speaks: In "Martha Takes the Cake", the kids have a phony trial to determine if it was Martha the dog or Nelson the cat who ate a bite of Alice's birthday cake along with a candle. It's revealed to be Nelson, via a candle being in his hairball.
- In the first episode of The Oblongs, as befits the show's style, the Oblong family's cat Lucky literally coughs up a lung, which is at first mistaken for a hairball.
- Being the original Grossout Show (and because one protagonist is a cat), The Ren & Stimpy Show has a lot of hairball jokes.
- In the pilot episode "Big House Blues", Stimpy coughs up hairballs all over Ren. He's at first angry until a little girl comes to adopt him because the hairballs make him look like a poodle.
- "The Boy Who Cried Rat" has Stimpy cough up what at first looks like a hairball, but turns out to be Ren, who was in Stimpy's mouth after passing himself off as a mouse.
- "The Cat That Laid The Golden Hairball" revolves around hairballs somehow becoming more valuable than gold. Ren sets up a production line for Stimpy to cough up hairballs continuously. Eventually, poor Stimpy is left not only hairless but also unable to cough up any more hairballs from being overworked.
- The song "Cat Hairballs", which came as a bonus feature for the VHS version of the episode "Son of Stimpy", has a premise fairly similar to "The Cat That Laid The Golden Hairball", with Ren setting up a conveyor belt for Stimpy to "Hwarf" up hairballs onto while the former stamps them with approval. Though in this case they also sing about what they'll make out of the hairballs, like high heel shoes, a hat, and matching underwear. Much like the episode that inspired it, by the halfway point Stimpy is starting to run out, licking at spots that have been farmed dry and gasping for breath. At the end, an overworked and completely licked clean Stimpy tries to hwarf one last time and passes out on the conveyor belt. Ren then says "That's disgusting" and stamps Stimpy's butt with a painful hluarf sound, indenting it with a brand which the video iris out on.
- Robot Chicken: In a Hello Kitty-themed sketch, Badtz-Maru and Keroppi talk to Hello Kitty on what they should do about having lost Pandapple's ball when they played with it. When Hello Kitty tries to explain what they should do, she coughs up a hairball.
- In the Rugrats episode "Babysitting Fluffy", Chuckie and his father are babysitting Angelica's cat Fluffy, who coughs up a hairball on Chuckie's shirt. Phil, who previously thought he didn't like cats, says, "I guess I do like cats!".
- Sabrina: The Animated Series: In the subplot to "Wag the Witch", one of Salem's talents for the Witches' Council is coughing up flaming hairballs.
- The Simpsons has Snowball II (named after the first one they had, who was already white), a black cat who's been a part of the family for a long time, and is also known for throwing hairballs up, as seen in most of her artworks. This is even lampshaded in the Trading Card Game by Skybox where a mini-collection of scratch-and-sniff cards has one that smells like Snowball's hairball.
- SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron: During a battle against a sea monster at the beginning of "Bride of the Pastmaster", after the Turbokat is hit with the creature's spines, Razor begins making gagging noises, leading T-Bone to worry that he's been hit. However, it turns out that it's just a hairball, which he promptly coughs up onto the cockpit window behind T-Bone's head.