Hairballs—also known as trichobezoars (pronounced trike-oh-bee-zohrs)—are considered a normal quirk of being a cat, but hairballs say more about your cat’s digestive health than you might expect.
Chronic hairballs that occur more than once or twice a month can be associated with poor diet, digestive problems, and allergies or skin condition that cause your cat to ingest more hair than is normal during grooming. In this article, we’ll learn about how hairballs relate to diet and which foods can help to lessen your cat’s hairball issues.
At a Glance: Our Top Picks for Best Cat Food for Hairball Control To Buy
- Simple, highly digestible recipe
- Limited ingredient list
- Contains egg
- Hydrating canned food
- Popular among cats with digestive issues
- Contains pumpkin, which might help reduce hairballs
- Made from turkey, which is a good alternative to chicken
- Free from commonly irritating ingredients
- Limited ingredient list
- Rabbit is a novel protein—ideal for cats with food allergies
- Added probiotics
- Pumpkin seed might help minimize hairballs
- Limited ingredient food
- Highly digestible
Does Your Cat Have Hairballs? Watch This Video!
Are Hairballs Normal, and What Do They Have To Do With Diet?
Ingrid King, a veterinary journalist and creator of ConsciousCat.net, thought that regular hairballs were a normal occurrence until she saw the differences between her cats that were fed raw food and those that ate vet-recommended kibble.
Her first cat, Feebee, ate a vet-recommended dry cat food and hacked up hairballs a few times a week, despite regular doses of a petroleum-based hairball treatment. After learning more about feline nutrition, King switched her two cats Amber and Buckley to a grain-free canned diet. After the transition, yakking up a hairball became a rare event.
And Ingrid’s current cats, Allegra and Ruby? The two torties were raised on raw food and, when Ingrid wrote on the topic in 2012, had never vomited a hairball.
This story might be a string of coincidences, but it might also tell us something about the connection between hairballs and digestive health.
Hairballs normally pass through the intestines and leave your cat’s body through their poop. If this movement is interrupted or delayed, the hairs may fuse together with fat in the stomach, forming a trichobezoar. Typically, this triggers retching, which forces the mass through the esophagus and up out of your cat’s mouth.
Every time that a hairball “comes up” in this manner it indicates an anomaly in the digestive process. In a piece published in Veterinary Practice News, Gary D. Norsworthy, DVM, makes this surprising assertion:
“I am convinced that the vomiting of hairballs is a sign of chronic small bowel disease if it occurs twice a month or more in any cat; or if it occurs once every two months or more in shorthaired cats; or if it occurs in cats that are not fastidious groomers, i.e., presented with many mats in their hair coats or with heavy dandruff.”
In short, a hairball once a month or less is no reason for concern. Any more frequently suggests that something isn’t right.
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In addition to performing our own qualitative analysis of the brands reviewed here, we submitted samples for analysis at an ISO 17025 certified food testing and analysis lab.
We bought the products at full retail price, and the entire testing process was funded by Cats.com without direct input or influence from the companies involved.
Analytical testing in a food chemistry lab gives us the exact macronutrient and micronutrient content of each recipe. The tests also look at microbial content, yeast, mold, and heavy metals, helping you ensure that you’re only putting the best in your cat’s bowl.
Top 6 Best Cat Foods For Hairballs Reviewed
What To Consider When Buying Cat Food for Hairballs
Knowing that hairballs can be a symptom of digestive problems, feeding a cat with chronic hairballs is similar to feeding a cat with other symptoms of GI inflammation. Your goal is to give your cat food that aligns with their physiology. This means feeding your carnivorous cat a diet consisting primarily of meat and as few plant ingredients as possible, unless you’re trying a higher-fiber diet to help move hairballs through the intestinal tract.
Hypoallergenic Foods Might Help
Excessive hairballs are sometimes a symptom that a cat has food allergies. Food allergies that cause itchy skin can contribute to hairballs because itchy cats groom themselves excessively, which leads to cats swallowing more hair as they over-groom. Talk to your veterinarian about switching to a limited-ingredient or hypoallergenic food that’s free from the potentially allergenic ingredients.
Added Fiber Might Help
Most foods sold for hairball control are high-fiber products. Fiber additives help food and hair move through the GI tract.
If your cat has been eating a typical commercial cat food with ingredients like brewer’s yeast, wheat middlings, and dried beet pulp, they’re probably already getting more indigestible plant matter than any cat needs. Start by giving your cat an optimally digestible diet. If the hairballs persist, then you might try a diet with additional fiber.
Take your cat to your veterinarian before giving your cat a hairball treatment or changing their diet. Your vet will assess your cat’s overall health and determine the severity of the hairball problem. They will provide guidance on the best hairball treatment plan for your cat.
Helpful Tips for Minimizing Hairballs
1. Groom Your Cat Regularly
Cats ingest hair during self-grooming, so one of the best ways to prevent hairballs is by brushing the hair off your cat. Instead of entering your cat’s GI tract where it will turn into a hairball, the hair will instead go straight into the trash.
2. Maintain a Healthy Coat To Prevent Excessive Shedding
A vibrantly healthy cat sheds less than their less-healthy counterpart. Here are a few ways to keep your cat’s coat strong and healthy:
- Identify and eliminate any food ingredients that are causing allergies or sensitivities
- Introduce an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Species-appropriate sources of omega-3s include krill, salmon, and other fish. Avoid flaxseed oil and other plant-based sources of these fatty acids.
- Feed a nourishing diet rich in animal-sourced protein.
- Rule out any health conditions that could contribute to excessive shedding.
3. Consider Hairball Home Remedies and Supplements
Speak with your veterinarian first before trying any of these hairball treatments. Your vet can advise you on the most appropriate treatment for your cat and how to administer it.
Hairball treatments operate on one of two premises.
- The first is the fiber theory, which dictates that fiber supplementation helps to bind single strands of hair to food particles, hastening them on their journey toward the colon and into the litter box. Remember that more time spent in your cat’s body translates to more opportunities for the hair to fuse into a hairball.
- The second beliefis that oils, waxes, or petroleum jelly lubricate the hairs and prevent them from fusing into a trichobezoar.
Here are some commonly used treatments for hairballs:
As a fiber source, pumpkin helps to carry hairs through the body. Canned pureed pumpkin is the most popular fiber supplement for hairball-prone cats, but some use other fiber sources like psyllium husk powder or coconut fiber.
These lubricants coat the hair in the digestive tract, helping it to pass through the system. They’re usually made from pharmaceutical-grade petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or a combination of the two.
This supplement lubricates the inner surfaces of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, helping to encourage hairballs to slide in the right direction.
Egg Yolks or Egg Yolk Lecithin Supplements
Egg yolks contain two micronutrients that can help to minimize hairball problems: choline and lecithin. The choline component—acetylcholine—helps to increase peristalsis, the muscular contractions in the GI tract that propel food and hair down and out. Lecithin emulsifies the fat that binds hairballs together.
You can provide these nutrients by adding egg yolks to your cat’s food or by providing an egg yolk lecithin supplement. Remember to choose egg yolk lecithin rather than lecithin from other sources like sunflower or soy.
Butter and Oil
Some suggest that butter or oil lubricate hairballs, but butter and oil are digested and absorbed by the body before they can have any effect. Too much fat supplementation could bring your cat a whole new set of digestive problems. Butter and oil are not recommended to treat hairballs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which cat food is best for hairballs?
The best cat food for hairballs is one that promotes overall digestive health. Added fiber can also help hair move through the digestive tract so it can be passed with the cat’s feces. Cats with food allergies or intolerances might get fewer hairballs if they eat a hypoallergenic diet, as skin inflammation can trigger excessive grooming, causing the cat to ingest too much hair.
Is wet or dry cat food better for hairballs?
High-quality wet cat foods contain a lot of protein and are low in carbohydrates, so they are highly digestible, which could help reduce hairballs in cats. It’s also possible that the extra moisture found in a wet cat food might help hair move through a cat’s system more easily. However, dry foods might contain extra fiber, which is thought to help hairballs pass through a cat’s digestive system.
What ingredient in cat food helps with hairballs?
Hairball formula cat foods generally contain added fiber and lubricant ingredients such as petroleum jelly to help hairballs pass through a cat’s digestive system.
What helps dissolve hairballs in cats?
Hairball foods and supplements help remove hairballs by helping them move through a cat’s stomach and intestines so they can be passed out of the body in the feces. Ingredients that help cats pass hairballs include fiber and lubricant ingredients such as petroleum jelly.