Help with Hairballs

Most domestic cats vomit up hairballs from time to time.  As cats age, this problem becomes even more common.  Eva D. writes:

My 11 year old Sammy has been throwing up hairballs lately. What causes that and what is the solution? He gets groomed and is not long haired.

First, let's discuss what exactly hairballs are.  They're wads of cat hair (usually tubular in shape) that get vomited up because they can't be digested.  They usually come up with some undigested food and stomach acid.  The acid is an additional problem in that it can damage teeth if it happens often enough.  These wads of hair are even more trouble if they don't get vomited up.  Some cats have to have them surgically removed because they're blocking their digestive tract.

This is a big issue, Eva, and one that comes with some controversy when it comes to treatment options.  There are many hairball preventatives on the market, most of which do little or nothing.  Most so-called hairball remedies are sold at a huge profit because unknowing consumers will buy them.  The gels and foods and treats are all barking up the wrong tree, in our opinion.  Daily brushing can help a little but the problem will inevitably return, especially during the warmer months when more hair is shed.

The big question is whether or not cats in the wild have hairballs.  It seems that they do not.  So the question changes.  Instead of asking, "How do we prevent hairballs?" we must ask, "What is it about living with us humans that causes our cat friends to have hairballs?"  The answer appears to be very simple:  food.  Processed, store bought cat foods aren't close enough to what cats eat in the wild and they're very likely to be the root cause of this problem.

Our best recommendation is to feed Sammy a high-moisture, low-fiber, grain-free diet that consists almost entirely of meat.  We know that most people have a hard time feeding their feline friends raw diets.  We get it.  But there are some good options out there.  One of the best is Rad Cat frozen food.  This food is easy to manage at home and it fulfills all the requirements of a raw food diet. 

Freeze-dried raw food is another great option because of its convenience.  Most cats love the food when it's been re-hydrated and it nourishes them in ways most other foods don't.  If Sammy will eat it, this is one way to go.  We prefer Primal Nuggets.

 
 

A good canned food option is Ziwi Peak, but we sometimes don't recommend it due to the cost.  If you can afford it, however, Ziwi Peak canned food is one of the best canned diets out there.

 
 

Eva, please be aware that our suggested remedy is not the most conventional.  The bulk of the advice out there says to increase fiber or add a digestive enzyme supplement.  But our own experience tells us otherwise.  We've tried every remedy in the book and didn't solve our cats' problems until we changed their diets.  And we're not the only ones to have had this experience.  Dr. Fern Crist, DVM, posted an informative article on the subject over at consciouscat.net:

http://consciouscat.net/2010/04/28/some-startling-new-thoughts-on-cats-and-hairballs/

She writes:

Every day, there’s more scientific evidence that these “mere” hairballs we see so often may respond, not to grease and not to fiber, not to brushing and not to shaving, but to feeding a diet that looks like what a cat was evolved to eat.

There is one other product that we've found to be effective in conjunction with a dietary change and that's krill oil. The brand we'd recommend is Mercola.

 
 

Even though it's expensive, it only takes one "pump" of the product per day to make all the difference. That means that this little bottle will last the better part of a year. We have first hand experience with the combination of a rehydrated freeze dried raw diet and Mercola krill oil and we can honestly say that it just works. Our hairball-inclined cat hasn't had a problem since. However, you might want to avoid it if your feline friend is allergic to fish.

We feel certain that with a little bit of patience and the right choice of food, Sammy's hairball problem can be eliminated, Eva.  We wish you and Sammy all the best!