Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs

Guest post by Fern Crist, DVM

It is always the case that we vets deal with the same problems at home that we counsel our clients about.  And not always terribly well.  I’m certainly no exception.  Years ago, I had a long-haired cat who threw up hairballs frequently, but unlike most hairball-barfing cats, she did not just hack up the offending wad and then go about her business as though nothing had happened.  Nope, she would obviously feel ill for minutes to hours afterward.  And probably beforehand, too, had I had the vision to see it. 

I tried all the time-honored remedies that I prescribed every day for my patients.  I dosed her with various brands of flavored petroleum jelly.  I fed her diets purporting to help with hairballs by the inclusion of extra fiber.  I brushed her constantly, which fortunately she loved.  None of these things helped.  Eventually I shaved her, leaving the adorable puffs on her legs and tail that made her look like a fat little old lady in tight leotard and legwarmers.  As long as I did this three or four times a year, there were no more hairballs.  Oddly enough, however, she continued to have vomiting episodes, albeit less frequently, and minus the hair.  Diagnostics revealed inflammatory bowel disease, and eventually my poor sweet girl succumbed to intestinal lymphoma. 

While rooming with a brilliant feline practitioner at a medical conference shortly after, still grieving, I confessed my frustration with the seemingly insignificant problem of hairballs.  Her answer blew me away.  There is no such thing as “just a hairball,” she says to me.  Think about it.  Cats developed stringent grooming behaviors in the course of evolution because grooming is a positive survival factor, probably through  controlling parasitism  and other diseases.  So they are going to ingest a lot of hair.  Does vomiting as a daily method for expelling this hair seem evolutionarily sound?  Stomach acid hurts the esophagus and teeth, and frequent vomiting upsets the electrolyte balance.    While vomiting as an emergency mechanism to rid oneself of the occasional nastiness seems reasonable, it seems unlikely that the daily vomiting of hairballs is the “normal” thing that the medical community has assumed it to be.

I’m hooked.  Go on, I say.  She continues.

Why would we think that “lubrication” of the gut with petroleum products would help?  A cat is not a car.  And in no way could a cat have naturally evolved to require the dosing with “lubricants” to survive or to thrive.  Likewise, cats in the wild would never eat a “high-fiber” diet, and so would seem unlikely to benefit from one.  On the contrary, it would appear logical that a cat would thrive better on what a cat has been evolved to eat – namely a mouse or a reasonable facsimile thereof – and that feeding a cat something wildly different from the diet it has evolved on is more likely to result in harm than in good.

No, she says, I think it likely that a “hairball,” far from normal, is probably a common early symptom of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Impaired motility of the gut would account for the balling up of hair that should pass right through, if stomach-emptying time is the 0.2 – 2 hours it is reported to be in a normal cat.  A cat shouldn’t be able to swallow enough hair fast enough to outrace normal stomach emptying time. 

This is making sense to me.  Particularly as I just lost my own cat to this.  And as I think back, I realize that “hairballs” have been in the histories of a disproportionate number of the patients I’ve treated with IBD and lymphoma.

She tells me that she’s been changing her patients over to low-fiber diets (grain-free and low carbohydrate) for a while now, and she’s seeing a precipitous drop in the whole “hairball” thing.  I can see the long-term implications of this line of reasoning:  if cat food containing an unnaturally high level of fiber and carbohydrates is associated with an increased incidence of  impaired GI motility and vomiting, and if cats fed this way are at higher risk to develop IBD and lymphoma, then a drop in hairball vomiting might mean that a cat has a lower risk of these two nasty diseases.  Sounds as though a grain-free diet might be a better way to go.

This all made sense to me.  No science to it back then, but neither was there any to support the idea that hairballs are normal.  No one had at that time asked if a carbohydrate-based diet could possibly have long-term negative consequences for cats. 

Well, they have now.   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.

In the intervening years, I’ve changed my own cats over to grain-free, low-carb canned foods, and I’ve seen nary a hairball from anyone for a very long time.   In my esteemed colleague’s footsteps, I’ve been changing my patients over to these same diets.   I hear about fewer hairballs, and my patients  are slimmer, fitter, and healthier in many ways.  Is this a panacea?  Of course not.  There’s no one cure for everything.  But I now have serious trouble believing that a feline diet in which the calories are derived primarily from carbohydrates, which are much cheaper than proteins, is beneficial to anything other than the manufacturer’s bottom line.

So next time someone tells you that malt-flavored grease, fiber additives, brushing or shaving are the only ways to help with those annoying hairballs, think again.  Hairballs may be more than just a stinky mess for you to clean up.  They might well be a sign that your cat has a real health problem, and should see the veterinarian.  And your cat might be telling you that her gut would be happier with “mouse” than with breakfast cereal.

153 Comments on Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs

  1. Cindy
    August 8, 2016 at 6:24 pm (3 weeks ago)

    My cat has been on a grain free diet for over a year now and he does not throw up hairballs ever, BUT, instead, his poop hangs from hair that gets stuck in his rear end until either I pull it out or it gets stuck in his fur, or dries up, or gets carried and left all over my apartment!! YUCK! I have started brushing him every day and giving him a hairball relief treat every day. We will see if this works or not. Something’s gotta give!!

    Reply
  2. Alyssa
    August 1, 2016 at 8:59 pm (4 weeks ago)

    My cat always coughs up hairballs. She eats fine, plays, poops, drinks etc. It got to the point it was once a day, coughing up just fur, no food. Took Coco to the vet and all bloods, x-rays, and stool samples came back normal, even my vet is at a loss. Anyone had this situation?

    Reply
  3. Baba
    May 16, 2016 at 2:13 am (4 months ago)

    My cat started to throw up hairball like a ” mad man ” took him to the Vet because he didn’t stop vomiting .
    He made barium contrast and saw a hairball stuck in his stomach which kept him from eating 🙁
    Following day they operated on him ,,,hairball went down to the guts and they removed it ( was hard as a stone )….
    Gave my cat few days chicken with rice and now he is eating raw beef meat ( double minced ) which he loves and his stomach is recovering fine.
    Question : what dry food should i give him since beef is not cheap at all and he its a lot

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 16, 2016 at 5:39 am (4 months ago)

      You shouldn’t feed any dry food, Baba, and raw beef alone is not a complete meal unless you add a vitamin and mineral mix to it. A raw diet can be a good choice for cats with intestinal issues, but it needs to be properly formulated. You can find my recommendations for raw and grain-free canned foods here (along with an explanation why cats should never eat dry food): http://consciouscat.net/2012/03/22/the-best-food-for-your-cat/

      If you’d like more personalized recommendations, I’d be happy to schedule a consultation.

      Reply
      • Baba
        May 16, 2016 at 8:10 am (4 months ago)

        Thank you Ingrid good to know, will read the link you posted….xxx

        Reply
      • Baba
        May 16, 2016 at 8:19 am (4 months ago)

        Ingrid i am in Europe and we dont have the brands of cat food you wrote about
        we have Royal Canine, Proplan, Friskies, now they bring Canagan food as well …. so i guess i have to keep on searching :(….

        Reply
    • Karen
      May 17, 2016 at 1:32 am (4 months ago)

      That raw food is so important. Cats need the wate in their food. . I give mine ground turkey with organ meat and ground chicken backs.

      Reply
      • Baba
        May 17, 2016 at 6:33 am (4 months ago)

        Hi Karen
        yes , my Vet told me to give raw meat ( not pork !! )
        just got some grass from the neighborhood garden, washed it well and both my cats enjoy it and hairballs are sliding easier xx

        Reply
        • Karen
          May 17, 2016 at 10:53 am (3 months ago)

          Yes, that is what I found in my research pork or beef not the best. But poultry like chicken or turkey and rabbit. Do you think it was the grass that helped? Im still wondering what is causing my cat to start vomiting when he was 10. I can not seem to get help on this. Otherwise his diet saved his life from a bladder issue. I can not

          Reply
          • Baba
            May 17, 2016 at 11:00 am (3 months ago)

            Karen, can only say what my Vet told me to do ( including giving him grass )
            not every cat who is vomiting has an issue with hairballs, right now my ” Bongo ” has hairball problems maybe tomorrow he is vomiting from something else.
            Cats are ” complicated ” but we all do the very BEST for them xx

          • Karen
            May 17, 2016 at 11:36 am (3 months ago)

            How frustrating. But sounds like you have a great vet.

            My vet retired, her replacement is useless.Said vomoti g is normal. So still searching for an answer.

          • Ingrid
            May 17, 2016 at 11:43 am (3 months ago)

            Wow. It’s hard to believe there are still vets out there that think vomiting in cats is normal. I hope you can find a great vet soon, Karen.

          • Karen
            May 17, 2016 at 1:01 pm (3 months ago)

            Thanks. Meanwhile, trying to find info on sudden l onset vomiting in raw fed older cats.
            What did your vet say was causing the problem?
            Appreciate your responses.

          • Baba
            May 18, 2016 at 8:19 am (3 months ago)

            Karen, yes my Vet is awesome, its never normal for a cat to vomit, maybe its gastritis, maybe hairball which usually should come out the other way :), not with vomiting, maybe the cat has worms, parasite,
            My vet checks until he finds the reason, I hope you will find a very good Vet for your ” babies “,wish you all the best xxx

          • Baba
            May 18, 2016 at 8:30 am (3 months ago)

            Karen, first your Vet need to check the blood it will tell a lot,
            has your cat fever, aggressive ?
            Behaving different than usually ?
            Maybe the cat needs probotic ,
            did you change the butcher, was the raw meat fresh?
            So many question, i wish I had an answer to your problem.
            2 months ago my Bongo had a simple gastritis and got better with antibiotic, this time he had hairball gastritis , he is ok now, i feed him raw meat, some dry food, some sachet wet food and grass in the morning so the “stool ” can pass easy…

          • ashley
            June 7, 2016 at 10:19 am (3 months ago)

            Karen this may help, i joined this group recently and they seem to be very helpful with answers to questions and sharing their own experiences. https://www.facebook.com/groups/preymodeldiet/

  4. Sara
    February 20, 2016 at 9:47 am (6 months ago)

    I am actually in the same situation. I have a medium haired cat, 6 yrs old, and throws up hairballs with some bile (HARDLY throws up food). It started a few days before the vet visit last year when he threw up everything, and ever since then, he throws up hairballs. He never threw up before. The dry food we were feeding him did have a change in their formula (they took out turkey and added salmon). We bought a dry food for sensitive stomachs, but he started throwing up again. We tried olive oil, but still threw up a couple times a month (I want it to ZERO where he used to be). We stopped the olive oil to see if he could handle this without it. This last week, he threw up hair 5 times. I literally bought the ‘hairball’ dry food, and I still didn’t believe it would work, so I hit the computer again and found this article. I returned it, and found a grain free gluten free hard food (a LOT of grain free brands use potatoes and rice as fillers). He seems to love it, but it’s going to take some time for the transitioning. He still threw up hair this morning, and this is now day two of him trying the new food. It’ll probably take a while for his stomach to calm down, but I’ll let everyone know how this goes. I had transitioned him to soft food last year when he got sick for breakfast and dinner, but they need to munch on something when I’m away. fyi-The sensitive stomach dry food had rice as its first ingredient and corn gluten product.

    Reply
    • Sara
      March 20, 2016 at 9:56 am (5 months ago)

      Update-We had to take our cat to Purdue Lafayette because he wouldn’t stop throwing up over the weekend. They ran all kinds of tests and saw his intestinal walls were thickened and lymph nodes were inflamed around that area. His spleen also had cloudy fluid. They took samples from everything and thought it was going to be lymphoma. The tests were inconclusive, and they think he has a rare condition. He’s on Prednisolone and an antacid and hasn’t thrown up since last Sunday when we took him down there.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        March 20, 2016 at 3:25 pm (5 months ago)

        I’m glad he’s doing better, Sara.

        Reply
    • Mina Kirby
      July 16, 2016 at 12:04 am (2 months ago)

      You need to get your cat off dry food ASAP. Feeding a cat dry food is like feeding a toddler nothing but potato chips.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        July 16, 2016 at 5:32 am (2 months ago)

        I love that analogy, Mina!

        Reply
  5. d
    January 31, 2016 at 8:36 pm (7 months ago)

    I just had to take my baby to the ER n they told me she was full of hairballs in her intestines n both of them. She kept trying to go to the bathroom n she was blocked n that sound u don’t won’t to hear when they r miserable. The gave her an Enma n got some out but they decided to keep her over night with I.V fluids n something to help loosen her n maybe it will flush it all out. If not they r talking about surgery n Im scare of that for she is 14yrs old. Her diet is canned Soulistic Beef n dry chicken Instinct. She may had gotten too much dry food for she always seems to be hungry ever 4 hrs or so. Unless she has Alzheimers. But she gets really loud-simease if u don’t give her something to eat.
    Hopefully, they will be able to get her back to normal n no surgery.
    She was also getting hairball treats too for she won’t eat that jell stuff.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 1, 2016 at 5:56 am (7 months ago)

      All my best to your kitty.

      Reply
      • debbie
        February 1, 2016 at 12:34 pm (7 months ago)

        The Er dr called me this AM to pick Vera up n that she was passing the hair through her stools. They gave her a Barium n fluid. However, when I went to pick her up, I thought I be seeing the Dr about when should I take her to her local vet for a F/U. n some type of capsule to keep the hair ball flowing out the system. It seem all they wanted was the rest of the money. The front desk lady said she leave a message to the DR. Vera still not herself n hiding but she not screaming in pain but does have that sickly meow some. I got her to eat half tsp of the can food. I called my local vet to inform them what happen over Sunday. I wouldn’t had taken her cause their no really good review about this ER but its only only one n our area. Her local vet said if they didn’t hear from them by noon that they would contact them. I didn’t get hardly any rest last night. Ug…

        Reply
  6. Megan
    July 24, 2015 at 8:42 am (1 year ago)

    I’ve had my medium-haired cat on Wellness grain-free canned food for about a year now, and I brush her daily (and furminate at least once a week). Until a couple months ago she basically NEVER got hairballs. In the last couple months she had a few hairballs, but in the past two weeks she’s had four. What am I doing wrong? She seems fine otherwise.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 24, 2015 at 9:00 am (1 year ago)

      It’s possible that Wellness changed their formula, Megan. Maybe try a different brand of grain-free food? If the frequent hairballs continue, I would get her checked out by your vet.

      Reply
    • Lizzie Medina
      October 3, 2015 at 2:47 pm (11 months ago)

      Hi Dr. Ingrid:

      Thanks for your article, it reminds me a lot about my cat’s actual case. I have a 4 year old Persian cat and since May she is having problems with hairballs and vomiting. I groom her once a month with her groomer but she grooms herself a lot. I took her to the vet, and after the regular blood tests and X Rays the vet told me that she had a congestion of hairballs in her stomach, gave her some shots to stop the vomiting, and he change her diet to Prescription Id Digestive management dry food and for the regular treatment he told me to gave her laxatone almost everyday. She seemed to have relief for a month or so, and then comes back the vomiting until it becomes a once a day event and I have to get her again to the vet. Now she is tired of the Laxatone paste and I am trying with her the treats, and she likes it. Even though she vomited, she continues to eat her regular food, her poop is normal, and she acts normally (plays, run etc)

      I am concerned that she could have instead the Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and that the vet have not made an accurate diagnosis. Now I am trying Naturvet Enzymes and Probiotic to her food to see if this improves her vomiting problems.

      I really don’t know what to do anymore for her, rather than go again to visit her vet if the enzymes and probiotics doesn’t work. My main corcerned is that I don’t want to visit the vet every 2 months or so so he can gave her some shots and be there again over and over without a long time remedy. I would appreciate your advice and feedback if there is any other remedy that you think I could try to relieve my cat (Bella).

      thanks,

      Lizzie

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        October 3, 2015 at 5:09 pm (11 months ago)

        I’m not a doctor, Lizzie, this article was written by Dr. Fern Crist. I think you’re getting bad advice from your vet. Your kitty probably needs additional diagnostics to determine what’s really going on, which could include an ultrasound and/or biopsies. The enzymes and probiotics are a good idea, and they may make a difference, but I would also consider a diet change to a grain-free canned diet or raw diet, rather than the dry prescription diet your vet recommended. I also don’t think daily laxatone is good for her.

        I would encourage you to find either a holistic vet or an internal medicine specialist to help you figure out what’s going on with Bella.

        Reply
        • Lizzie
          October 4, 2015 at 8:09 pm (11 months ago)

          I’m so sorry for the confusion, I will take the advise to go with from now on with a grain-free food and if needed I will look for a second opinion. Thanks!

          Reply
      • karen
        October 25, 2015 at 2:46 am (10 months ago)

        My cat has been on a raw diet for two years. Since then throws up hairbalks and poops on carpet about once a month. Finally took to vet. $85 later plus some petroleum hairball crap that he wont even eat. Any ideas?

        Reply
    • Jan Barnett
      November 24, 2015 at 2:45 pm (9 months ago)

      I’m dealing with a small-cell lymphoma cat right now, and this article makes perfect sense to me. Thank you. In researching foods, I quickly learned that “grain-free” is not necessarily “low-carbohydrate.” In fact, the most expensive brands of dry food still contain at best 20% carbohydrates in the form of legumes, such as chick peas and lentils. This is too high. Aim for zero carb, which can only be met with a very high quality canned food.

      Reply
  7. Beth
    July 22, 2015 at 12:01 pm (1 year ago)

    Ingrid,

    Thanks for this post. It is wonderfully informative and one of the best pieces on the topic I’ve read online! I do have a question maybe you can assist me with; My husband and I have 2 cats – a 9yr old domestic medium hair, and a 6yr old domestic short hair. 4-5yrs ago our older cat had a bout of persistent vomiting post meal time and it became pretty concerning. After consulting a few vets, and doing EXTENSIVE research online we made the commitment to switch to a raw food diet. We’ve been following catinfo.org & catnutrition.com’s advice/recipes verbatim and it COMPLETELY resolved the vomiting issues almost immediately. *Of note: The switch in food was followed by MASSIVE hairballs. 3-4 (between two cats) per week for about 2-3 weeks or so. Since then we’ve had a ‘normal’ amount of hairballs, 1 per month approximately (sometimes none at all) between two cats for years… until recently. It’s been HOT here in NYC and the cats have been pretty lazy, and shedding like crazy, but still acting and eating normally. We have cool areas of the apartment they can retreat too but they seem to prefer the hottest rooms possible. However, we’ve seen a huge increase in sizable hairballs – approximately 2-3 every other week or so between 2 cats. There is little to no food present in the hairballs and very little bile. They are tubular and loosely matted. They are also spitting out the hairballs without too much effort – no excessive coughing, hacking etc. They are still passing hair normally too. I do my best to brush them (I Zoom Groom and Furminate followed by a flea comb and sometimes a damp cloth) every other week or so but sometimes I feel as if that increases the likelihood of hairballs. We also normally bathe them (mostly for allergy reduction – we use very little soap, and just give them a quick rinse and a good brushing) every 6 months or so – for which they are currently overdue as I’m a bit worried about causing them undue stress and the excessive grooming that follows a bath. My questions are: how long should I wait this out before a vet visit? Could the heat/summer/shedding be causing the increase in hairballs? Do you have any thoughts about bathing and hairball reduction/promotion? Should I increase brushing? And finally, would there be merit in adding probiotics in now or waiting to see if this bout of hairballs dissipates at all?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 22, 2015 at 3:23 pm (1 year ago)

      I would be concerned about the increase in hairballs to 2-3 every other week, Beth, especially since they’re on a raw diet. The hot weather and excessive shedding could be the reason, but it still seems that they should be able to move the hair through their system. You could try adding a probiotic to their food to see if that helps. If bathing is stressful for them, I’d probably not do that right now. As long as they enjoy brushing, increasing that certainly can’t hurt. If you’re not seeing an improvement after adding a probiotic and/or increased brushing, I’d consult with your vet.

      Reply
      • Beth
        July 22, 2015 at 3:34 pm (1 year ago)

        Thanks so much for the speedy reply Ingrid! Great advice. This is very helpful. I’m going to start by increasing the brushing immediately. Even with regular brushing I still pull a small mountain of fur out of them (mostly our medium hair cat Polaris) so perhaps I just haven’t been diligent enough. They also groom each other, so I’m guessing getting Polaris’ shedding under control will help both of them.

        Reply
        • Sepo
          August 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm (1 year ago)

          I feed a raw diet, add probiotics and groom daily. This summer is also very hot here in Seattle and my cat is throwing up much more hairballs than normal, and like your some is just loose hair, I was wondering if it was the heat also, even though he is indoors and the house is generally cool we do not have AC. I was thinking of taking him off he raw chicken and trying him on a protein he has not had like turkey or duck. he alternates between chicken and rabbit now ( both raw), I feel so bad for him.

          Reply
          • Beth
            August 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm (1 year ago)

            Hey Sepo, just a quick note relative to your post and an update on my current experience… I have taken Ingrid’s advice and upped the brushing of both my cats significantly (especially my medium hair tortico). I basically leave the flea comb out and grab it whenever I see a cat roaming the kitchen and give them a quick brushing. I believe this has helped SIGNIFICANTLY. I also started a ‘hairball’ log where I do my best to try and determine which cat may have been the culprit based on location, time of day, and size/type of hairball. This has eased my mind considerably as what I have catalogued shows few hairballs with more time in-between than I originally perceived. The heat has died down since I first wrote in so perhaps that has helped reduce my cats’ general discomfort but we have seen a BIG reduction in hairballs and the only thing I have changed so far is the brushing. Hope that helps.

          • Ingrid
            August 24, 2015 at 1:42 pm (1 year ago)

            I suspect that the hot weather does have something to do with the increased shedding and resulting increase in hairballs that you’re seeing, Sepo. I would brush your cats more frequently. If the vomiting continues once the weather cools off and with increased brushing, I’d have your vet take a look at your cat.

  8. Karen Moss
    June 17, 2015 at 3:49 pm (1 year ago)

    Can you please recommend a good cat food to switch to that will help with the intestinal problems problems, which are disguised as hairball problems ? I have 3 cats and do not control when they eat but I have an automatic dispenser that does control the portions it kicks out and they free feed. Unfortunately, I don’t know if one gets more than the other. I can’t give probiotics because it is difficult to medicate them, due to some of thier personalities and my health conditions. I currently feed them Science Diet RD because they are all indoor cats, older, and not as active, so a little overweight, but they all throw it up occasionally. I know they all do this because I can see each hair color.I would appreciate any suggestions on what food to switch to that is more grain free, has more protein than carb, etc. as stated in the above article. Thank You. Please send answer to my email.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 17, 2015 at 3:57 pm (1 year ago)

      You can find my recommendations here, Karen: http://consciouscat.net/2012/03/22/the-best-food-for-your-cat/

      To address some of your questions: stop feeding dry food and stop free-choice feeding. Feed two or three small meals a day (you may need to feed your cats in separate locations) so you can monitor when and how much they eat. Probiotics can be easily mixed in with canned food. Once you stop feeding dry food and switch to a premium grain-free canned or raw diet, your cats will lose weight, and your hairball problems will resolve.

      I hope this helps!

      Reply
  9. Christine
    April 25, 2015 at 6:13 am (1 year ago)

    I switch over for all my pets to a grain free diet. I have one cat who still has issues vomiting hair balls, or the food at least once a week, and sometimes more. She is so skinny in my mind, but hasn’t lost weight, nor has she gained.

    I also have two cats who have never had anything but no grain food, and their feces is just liquid.

    So now I am at a loss on what to do. The vet sees nothing wrong, and I would just like for all my pets to feel good.

    Reply
  10. Annie
    January 18, 2015 at 12:23 am (2 years ago)

    I’m wondering why vets don’t mention summertime heat as a cause of hairballs. The only time my girl will cough up a hairball is when the weather is warm. Even in the winter, when someone in my house cranks up the heat past 69, my cat will cough up a hairball within 24 hours every single time without fail. If I catch the thermostat on 69 or more, I know I’ll be cleaning up a hairball that night or the next day.

    Cats automatically start shedding in warm or hot temperatures so the cat can better tolerate the higher heat. Naturally when they start shedding from heat, they’re going to be ingesting a lot of extra hair and voila ! a nice gift left for mommy to clean up the next day.

    Keep your cats in air conditioning or in a room with fans to keep them cool in the summertime. Poor things have to wear a fur coat in the hot heat so please be compassionate. In the winter, keep your thermostat on 68 and no higher and you’ll probably see a significant reduction in hairballs. You’ll be healthier, too, since turning the theromostat any higher will dry out human throats and sinuses which is guaranteed to heighten the risk of colds and fly. Dry heat in the winter is BAD for people and pets.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 18, 2015 at 6:57 am (2 years ago)

      As you’ve seen in this article, intestinal motility is the primary cause for hairballs. I don’t think anyone has ever established a corelation between ambient temperature and frequency of hairballs.

      Reply
  11. Miyoshi
    January 13, 2015 at 1:07 am (2 years ago)

    My cat is about 14 years old and I switched his food to Lotus about 4 years ago. Well about a year he started hating problems. The vet said he had colitis. While there I asked him about his hair all problem. He hacks and never coughs anything up so I asked if that can cause any problems. He just kind of shrugged it off and said no. He seemed to have no concerns about it. I tried the food he gave me. My cat wouldn’t eat it. At all. I tried raw food. He wouldn’t eat it. I tried Wellness and Lotus wet food. He wouldn’t eat it. I finally tried fancy feast and he ate it. His colitis symptoms cleared up and started doing better.

    About six months ago he started getting very thin. Gradually his appetite has gone WAY down. When he had a BM one time on the floor next to litter box, I picked it up and smashed it. It was full of hair. So when I started looking on the Internet I found this is a rare problem and surgery would be required to remove it. He’s so old now and weak I believe from not eating I don’t know if he can survive this type of surgery. I’m really worried about him and he was so healthy until recently. HELP!! What do I do???!! Any help will be appreciated. I don’t want to lose my cat to hairballs!!!!
    :(((

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 13, 2015 at 7:03 am (2 years ago)

      You need to take your kitty to a vet as soon as possible, Miyoshi. Rapid weight loss is always a concern, and could be caused by any number of conditions.

      Reply
  12. Jessica
    January 6, 2015 at 5:52 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi Ingrid,

    Your post finished to convince me that we have to feed our cat a better food. 3 more weeks before moving back to the US, I am becoming very impatient, especially since it will take a few days to complete the transition (from Science Diet Hairball Control, only can besides Whiskas in Chile). I think I will choose Tiki Cat over Weruva as Tiki as more calories in a can, I would also like to try Feline’s Pride. I read many good things about probiotics, should I add it right away with the new food or should I wait and see how things go?

    In regards of hairball, my 6-years old indoor silky long hair cat has been pretty sensitive this summer, our current season, and has been vomiting very dense large hairballs once a week since Christmas. I comb him everyday but it has been very hot since the holidays and AC are rare in Santiago, so I guess he has been shedding more but this is the first time which concerns me a little. At this pace, given the details above, is it kind of safe or should I be really concerned ? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 6, 2015 at 6:31 pm (2 years ago)

      I recommend a daily probiotic for all cats, Jessica. I like the Dr. Goodpet digestive enzyme and probiotic blend: http://amzn.to/YRaNcE

      I would a little concerned about large weekly hairballs. It’s possible that you’ll see this resolve with the diet change and the addition of a good probiotic (probiotics can help increase intestinal motility), but if it continues, I’d get him checked by a vet.

      Reply
      • Jessica
        January 7, 2015 at 3:06 pm (2 years ago)

        Thank you, Ingrid. I was looking into Mercola pet probiotics and digestive enzymes but will read more about Dr. Goodpet. I really hope the high quality food and supplements will help our cat but we will have him checked anyway sometime after we arrive. That trip (planes, + 24 hours door to door) really concerns me. He did well the other way around but duration was shorter and he was younger. He was checked on late November anyways and the vet said the physical exam was great so he thought the blood test was unnecessary but we will do it anyway in the US.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          January 7, 2015 at 3:44 pm (2 years ago)

          The Mercola product is an excellent choice as well, Jessica.

          Reply
          • Jessica
            January 25, 2015 at 2:00 pm (2 years ago)

            Hi Ingrid,
            So we made it through the (very stressful) trip from South America to Los Angeles. Since our cat was doing fine, I already started to give him probiotics. Mercola recommends 1/2 scoop for maintenance/wellbeing and 1 scoop for therapeutic, I have been giving him 1/2 scoop per day over several meals. He has had some burps (or something like that) since then and I found a lot of fur in his stool this morning, most of the stool was normal, part of it was soft, he also threw up a hairball this morning as well. Could it already be the probiotics working after 48 hours? Should I keep giving him 1/2 scoop or reduce and adapt slowly ?

            Also, I have started to slowly introducing him to Tiki Cat cans, the chicken versions. He seems to love it but he doesn’t eat as much since he has to chew on it and is used to licking (he was on Science Diet in SA). Should I be patient and he will end up eating more and more once he is fully on that kind of diet or there is something I can do to help him ?

          • Ingrid
            January 25, 2015 at 2:29 pm (2 years ago)

            I’m glad you made it safely to LA, Jessica! Yes, the probiotics can work that quickly. I would stick with the recommended dose. I’d also be patient on getting him used to the Tiki Cat. Do keep an eye on his weight, though. The Tiki Cat is lower in calories than other brands.

          • jessica
            February 1, 2015 at 2:36 pm (2 years ago)

            I am sorry, I don’t know why the “reply” button doesn’t appear below your last answer.

            I am puzzled and probably impatient… Our cat has now been on Tiki Cat (Koolina and Puka Puka which seem to have more calories per can now) cans only for almost a week. No more kibbles before going to bed (15 g), no more Science Diet Hairball Control. In the same time, I also started to give him probiotics (1/2 scoop for maintenance) and he has had 0.75 ml Omega 3 pet Nordic Naturals per day for a few years (flaky skin). I have found lots of fur in some of his stools so I guess the probiotics are working but he regurgitated hairballs twice over the past week. They are less dense but I am confused because he didn’t do that as often.

            It has been a week (after a very long and stressful airplane trip on the top of it) so maybe I have to be more patient and let the whole new diet and probiotics do their job a little bit more before taking him to the vet ? Maybe give him more probiotics (the container says 1 scoop for therapeutic reasons) for a few days ? He is very playful and has a gorgeous fur.

          • Ingrid
            February 1, 2015 at 3:41 pm (2 years ago)

            I would give it more time, Jessica.

          • Jessica
            February 2, 2015 at 2:28 pm (2 years ago)

            I will, Ingrid, thank you.

            Also, do you happen to know why Tiki Cat Puka Puka and Koolina Luaus now have a higher calorie content ? I have emailed and called them several times with no answer, which is quite disappointing.

          • Ingrid
            February 2, 2015 at 3:57 pm (2 years ago)

            Unfortunately, I don’t know why the calorie count might have increased, Jessica.

          • Jessica
            February 3, 2015 at 1:54 pm (2 years ago)

            I finally got a hold on someone at Petropics (Tiki Cat) but unfortunately, that person wasn’t able to answer my question and said that my email had been forwarded to a colleague who should be able to do so. I will let you know when I hear back from them as some people might be concerned about feeding Tiki because of the cost involved.

  13. Athena
    August 21, 2014 at 7:35 pm (2 years ago)

    I give my crew of 7 a little of the Sentry hairball relief stuff once a week, and have very few hairballs. I feed them all dry Iams for “adult indoor weight and hairball care.” i’ve been hearing that grain-free wet food is better, and even that ANY wet food is better than even the best dry. But I can’t afford to switch right now. I feel like i’m doing them a disservice being unable to give them the best food. If I didn’t have as many, I could afford more expensive food. But they might also have grown up either in a cage in the shelter, or in a rescue with 60 others, instead of just 6 if I hadn’t taken them home. Sigh. I don’t know what to do.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 22, 2014 at 6:52 am (2 years ago)

      Feed the best quality canned food you can afford. You are absolutely right that ANY wet food is better than dry. Eliminating dry food is the best thing you can do for your cats’ health.

      Reply
  14. Jancee
    July 29, 2014 at 1:56 pm (2 years ago)

    Hi, I have a fluffy spayed female dilute calico 5 yrs. old. We had her shaved twice of her 5 yrs. on recommendation by another who had hairball puking cats. We moved from a warm climate where the vet recommended ID intestinal formula sold in their clinic. Kitty did pretty good on this, but still some puking. She has always been indoor! Now we live Pacific Northwest and I still feel I should have her shaved. She will allow me to brush and comb her…for a short time. She eats purina indoor formula. Shall we have her shaved? We tried to do it ourselves but seems impossible. Diet suggestions?

    Reply
  15. Derek
    June 24, 2014 at 11:50 am (2 years ago)

    I should mention to those with sick puking cats…..My cat’s puking problem went from 4 times a day to practically none. The solution was regulating his thyroid via a “radio – iodine” procedure. You may want to check and see if your cat has an underactive or overactive thyroid. If so, do not keep them on medication as this is what my vet had me do and this is what will slowly kill your cat. If they have a thyroid issue, this radio-iodine treatment seems to be the only thing that will actually regulate it and keep your cat from getting more ill.

    Reply
  16. Derek
    June 21, 2014 at 6:48 pm (2 years ago)

    I bought some probiotics made specifically for cats (on Amazon). It seems to be helping my cats. For those with sick furry ones, maybe give it a try. I also try to brush them more…less for them to consume.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 22, 2014 at 6:21 am (2 years ago)

      Probiotics are a good idea for cats in general, and since they promote a healthy gut, they can also help improve motility and prevent hairballs.

      Reply
  17. Sarah
    June 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm (2 years ago)

    So my 7 yo tabby had a few hairballs from Sept – May each each but always has more during the hot summer months. We live in Texas and I’m starting to realize after stepping on two hairballs the past few days (yuck!) that I think I have more time to brush her during the school year (I’m a teacher). I just ordered a bag of Soulistic (thank you amazon prime!). I’m hoping this will really help her. I will definitely be taking her into the vet soon but I think from your posts I’ve been able to get a much better handle on the situation.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience and knowledge!

    Reply
  18. Derek
    April 8, 2014 at 5:37 pm (2 years ago)

    I have my 2 cats on a grain free diet (mix between dry and wet of same brand). My elder cat has been vomiting large hairball on a daily basis. I’ve tried every possible remedy, but with no success. I may try shaving him again to see if that helps though.

    I’m also dealing with my cats being ultra finicky, and as of late, not wanting to eat the food they’ve been on for months. It seems this happens every time I’ve switched brands. They eat it for a while and then play the whining/starving game even when a full fresh dish is put out for them.

    I’ve spent thousands of dollars this year alone on my cat, and am getting pretty upset that he’s still having issues. Any suggestions would be helpful.

    Reply
  19. All For Rusty
    December 9, 2013 at 9:37 pm (3 years ago)

    I cannot thank you enough for posting this information. Thank you, Ingrid! Thank you Dr. Crist! After years of 5-10 “hairballs” per week, and 3 different vets telling us it was “normal”, we switched Rusty to a wet food diet based on your suggestions above. It has been over a week and he has not thrown up. Not even once. We are very excited about this and he seems to be feeling much better. Again- I cannot thank you enough. This has been life changing for all of us.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 10, 2013 at 6:41 am (3 years ago)

      Thank you for sharing this! It always makes me happy to hear of yet another cat who is doing better on grain-free wet food!

      Reply
  20. Datdamwuf
    August 25, 2013 at 1:41 pm (3 years ago)

    I am so sorry about your cat, it is so hard to lose our family.

    I hope you are still willing to answer questions on this post. History: I started out feeding my 2 Maine Coons a raw diet, the second cat just would not adjust and so I switched to canned Wellness with other grain free canned foods occasionally. When they were about 1.5 yrs old, my (now) ex began giving them Canin dry food, the second cat got addicted to it and started fatting up so I switched them to Evo dry food. I allow the dry to run out every other day. At 2 years old I started giving both cats a modified “Lion Cut” year round because I couldn’t keep up combing both of them and they matted up (they love to play in water). I have also always given them living wheat grass and catnip regularly. The wheat grass never caused/causes any vomiting at all. When they eat the sharp edged grasses outside it does cause vomiting. I believe they eat grass because it tastes good to them and the wheat grass has no sharp edges, so no vomiting.

    Presently they are both about 7 years old. My silky haired meticulous cat threw up a small hairball after I’d let the Lion Cut lapse a bit long, and I thought nothing of it because maybe once a year this happens.

    However, a week later he began vomiting minutes after eating or drinking. After 2 days I took him to the emergency vet fearing dehydration. His xray showed a small hairball mass and blood work showed no issues. The vet wanted to hospitalize and do surgery, this seemed precipitous to me so I refused and took him home. They put him on Cerenia and Lactulose, after 2 days he wouldn’t eat even though he was not vomiting. I looked up Lactulose and discontinued it due to the side effects. Next morning I took him to my regular vet who put him on Pepcid AC and Laxatone, she also had me switch him to Fancy Feast to help with appetite. He began eating/drinking again by the next day and vomiting stopped. I could see a lot of hair in his stools, he eventually did vomit again, he choked up a large hairball. After a 10 days I got him back on Wellness with Laxatone every 3 days.

    Then I had to travel, when I returned I found my cat sitter had not given the Laxatone or monitored food intake well, my cat began the exact same symptoms. I had to give the Cerenia one day to bring the vomiting under control, then did Pepcid AC & Vaseline every day for one week. I also got the groomer to do the Lion Cut, hoping to end the cycle, the vomiting resolved. He has not vomited for 2 weeks and is finally “himself” again.

    Now I’m giving him a small amount of Vaseline once or twice a week and he is back on Wellness mostly. This cat is a long silky haired meticulous groomer and he cleans the other cat. The other cat never vomits, his hair is shorter and courser. Both of these cats have always been on a grain free diet for their entire lives.

    The only explanation I can come up with is that I let the Lion Cuts grow out twice in a row and so the cat who grooms alot got hairballs. But even this makes no sense, I have let the Lion Cut lapse before in winter with no issues.

    My question is; should I have a complete blood workup done to be sure there is no underlying issue? Is there any thing else I should test to make sure these episodes are not a symptom of something much worse that might be recognized before it becomes more serious? Any other suggestions? (I am not concerned with cost, only with ensuring my cat is OK)

    thank you for any help or response with this!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm (3 years ago)

      I would pursue further diagnostics, just to rule out anything more serious. Perhaps Dr. Crist will chime in with more information, but to me, the fact that this is a recurring problem would be enough to make me want to look a little deeper.

      Reply
    • Fern Crist, DVM
      August 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm (3 years ago)

      First, I’d like to applaud you for doing such a great job educating yourself on proper feline nutrition. As a cat vet, I’m always delighted with a client who has taken care of that part for me!

      And how frustrating is it, when you’ve done all that homework and STILL your cat has hairballs?!!

      The most important take home for you today is that hairballs are not normal. Neither is a head cold or diarrhea, but having a minor ailment like that once in a while IS normal. So while the occasional hairball (once or twice a year) is not a trouble signal, a pattern of more frequent or more severe hairballs is.

      Hair should go through right through the gut, from mouth to anus, without tangling up. All self-grooming hairy-coated animals MUST be able to pass hair every day. Hairballs only form when the motility of the gut is impaired in some way, slowing down hair passage, which then allows the “tangling” to occur. Again, once in a blue moon is just a quirk. A pattern or a severe incident bears looking into.

      As you no doubt already know, hairballs are the most common symptom of IBD in cats. They are, however, caused by a myriad of other intestinal issues as well – ANY intestinal disorder that affects motility can cause hairballs. And you know how many intestinal disorders affect motility? ALL of them. And you should also keep in mind that IBD, while strongly associated with carb-heavy diets in cats, can appear for other reasons.

      You said, “I let the Lion Cut lapse before with no issues.” To me, that signals a change in pattern and a reason to look further.

      Bloodwork is definitely indicated, but might well turn out to be insufficient. There are a whole host of GI disorders that are not diagnosable without other types of tests, ranging from the less invasive (radiographs, fecal analyses etc) to the more invasive (exploratory surgery with biopsies) and tons of stuff in between.

      What tests are actually indicated can only be determined by you and your feline vet after a good physical exam and an extensive, thorough history-taking. And I encourage you to pursue that as soon as possible!

      Meanwhile, keep up the good work with the low-carb, grain-free diets!

      Reply
      • Datdamwuf
        September 1, 2013 at 2:50 pm (3 years ago)

        Thanks for the response Dr. Crist. I’ll get with my vet again to determine what tests we can perform that are not invasive. At this point he seems fully recovered and normal, I’m back to saying to him “obnoxious cat is obnoxious” while I cater to his demands. I’m very happy he is his old demanding and kingly self.

        The only change since I posted is that I’m letting him outside again and he is eating grass but NOT vomiting other than once and it was just grass (they go out an hour a day in fenced yard). Also, I’ve been giving him the new Greenies for hairballs each day even though I cannot find any info on whether they really help and my vet’s only response was that they work for some of her clients, she had no other opinion.

        Reply
      • Datdamwuf
        June 23, 2014 at 10:14 pm (2 years ago)

        Wanted to follow up with diagnoses. My cat has chronic pancreatitus according to blood tests, the vet thinks that was contributing to the sudden vomiting immediately after eating/drinking, that he was having an acute attack. He was put on prednizone and it currently on .5 ml once a week. I’ve completely done away with dry food except a half cup mid day (who can deal with insane cat demanding his treat? not me). He continues to throw up hairballs on an intermittent basis. Example; he threw up 3 days in a row in the morning before breakfast, but he hadn’t done so in a month prior. This is a pattern now and I have no idea what to do beyond going back to the vaseline twice a week to help the hair pass. Any ideas are welcome!

        Reply
        • Sepo
          June 24, 2014 at 12:56 am (2 years ago)

          I use Sentry Hairball in the food, and it appears to work well, my cat does not like the taste or smell of some of the malt flavored hairball treatments, but this one he is fine with it. I also add feline probiotics to his food. I purchased the one Ingrid recommended in another post. I also add extra water to his wet food, and i give him no dry food at all. As i long as i stay on that regime my cat can pass the hair. I used to have a sitter come by to feed him when i was away, but found having him board at my vets is a better fit for my cat, with the sitter coming for 30 min a day he was alone too long and was bored and groomed too much, at the vets he is more active and is not alone so he does not get into excessive grooming. I am also assured that he is fed on a regular schedule and they add the Sentry to his food. I also have his belly shaved as that is the area he does not like me to groom, but he loves to groom the belly

          Reply
          • Ingrid
            June 24, 2014 at 6:06 am (2 years ago)

            You may want to consider adding a probiotic to your cat’s meals, Sepo. It may help increase gut motility.

        • Ingrid
          June 24, 2014 at 6:12 am (2 years ago)

          You may want to consider replacing the mid-day dry food snack with freeze dried chicken.

          Reply
          • Datdamwuf
            June 25, 2014 at 10:54 pm (2 years ago)

            I had forgotten that for a long time I was sprinkling a purina probiotic on their food so Ghost would eat and I stopped once the appetite returned, so I will start that again. I’m not sure now if the dry food is an issue (it’s mostly chicken and very expensive so I cuss at the cats when they insist upon it). Ghost won’t eat freeze dried unless I hold it for him to bite chunks off, the other cat will snatch it all if I put any down so that’s no good. Yes, Ghost is a weird cat.

            The one thing that has changed large is that his once a week pred is in an oil based fomula because the refrigerated concoction only lasts one month. Could the oil change the action of the pred? I’m considering switching back and getting smaller amounts.

          • Ingrid
            June 26, 2014 at 6:24 am (2 years ago)

            I’m not sure whether the oil could affect the efficacy of the pred – that would be a good question to ask your vet, or the compounding pharmacy.

  21. Clare
    June 20, 2013 at 11:29 pm (3 years ago)

    We have a 4 year old tuxedo cat and have had him only a year. The previous owner said he threw a hair ball every 2 weeks or so., but its more frequent than that. I hate to see him do this, he also rushes to eat some grass to help him throw it up. I had him on dry food and wet morning and evening. I read your article and have switched him to wet grain free. I give it twice or three times a day, more if I am home all day. About a teaspoon each time. he loves the grain free wet.
    I also switched the dry food to grain free and am breaking him in on that, still not at 100% on that. I was wondering how long it will take to see a difference, and a reduction in hairballs. he threw up a small one 2 days after the switch over, but as I said he is not 100% on the grain free dry yet.
    I realize the author of the article prefers 100% wet, but my worry is when we are at work and if he has to eat wet only in the am and pm, hikes to pick on the dry early morning around 4am.

    when should we expect to see a change in hairballs and overall health ?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 21, 2013 at 6:49 am (3 years ago)

      I would eliminate the dry food completely. If he eats a full meal at breakfast and dinner, he’s not going to need more food around while you’re at work. Some people see changes immediately after switching to grain-free canned or raw food, for other cats, it may take longer. If he continues to throw up frequently even after the changeover, I’d get him checked out by your veterinarian to rule out other issues.

      Reply
      • Helen Viola
        June 22, 2013 at 5:56 pm (3 years ago)

        Ingrid, please give me the names of grain free cat food.. I rescued a Maine Coon..she is precious but lots of hair balls. It is awful. Tell me, please what to buy to help her and myself. Thank you!

        Reply
      • clare
        June 28, 2013 at 9:23 pm (3 years ago)

        How do we make sure he has enough fibre in a wet diet ? i have him on the Wellness grain free (turkey/chicken) but how can we make sure there is enough fiber to help pass any hair through his natural plumbing ?

        Reply
  22. Carla Bennett
    June 18, 2013 at 8:35 pm (3 years ago)

    After spending years smearing petroleum jelly on my cat’s foreleg because she would get constantly plugged with hairballs, a wonderful Pussy & Pooch pet shop person sold me some Vet’s Best Hairball Relief. Directions are one pill broken up in the morning and one in the evening, but my cat does well with 1/2 in a.m. and 1/2 in p.m. I break the half-pills up in her treat dish and she loves them, snarfs them right down. This holistic medicine is wonderful! I have never seen such fabulous poop :). Occasionally, if there’s no poop in the litterbox, I give her a few extra crumbs. I love the vet who “invented” this stuff!!! It’s cheaper on Amazon.com. than in the pet shops, but heck, either way it saves on vet bills, which can be scarier than dental bills!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 19, 2013 at 6:55 am (3 years ago)

      I’m not familiar with this product, but I’m glad it works for your cat.

      Reply

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