Guest post by Fern Slack, 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.

Dr. Slack graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993. She is the owner of Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center in Boulder, CO.

223 Comments on Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs

  1. Thank you very much for writing this article.

    Reading it makes me feel relieved : I’m now sure my cat has a problem. When he throws up a hairball, he’s often very sick for 48 hours : he’s very weak, refuses to eat and sometimes have fever.

    The vets keeps telling me there’s nothing wrong, that I should just brush him more, and give him petroleum jelly EVERY DAY + eserin salicylate every month. They never talk about IBD here. Well, they actually never talk about anything but vaccines and preventing hairballs kibbles.

    I got him 4 years ago. He’s the little brother of my first cat, (who died at 18 months old, probably from Pyruvate Kinase deficiency, another disease vets have never heard about here : FIP is the only diagnosis considered, most of the time). I knew there was a problem from the start with kibbles/canned food : the hairballs were really too frequent, and seemed to weaken him abnormally : when my other cat trows up a hairball, which happens maybe 2 times a year, it’s like nothing happened. It does not make her sick.

    When my cat was 1 year old, I decided to feed him raw food. It helped A LOT : he was throwing up hairballs maybe 2 times a week before and I think it’s now 1 or 2 times a month : not good but better.

    Now, I would really want to find a way to help him more because I know it will go wrong if I don’t find a way to do it. I have been thinking a few things :

    -I don’t use real bones but bone meal powder : I wish I could find a powerful grinder but I live in France (sorry for my bad english) and have not been able yet to find one able to grind bones while I can’t import an american one, because of the voltage differences. I think it would help : in my opinion, cats are made to swallow chunks, not mashed food.

    -I’m using low fat chicken, breasts (my other cat tends to gain weight very easily, even on raw diet). Maybe I should not : maybe more fat would help.

    -I’m using psyllium powder. I should try to stop. I’m a little bit afraid to do it though (when my cat’s sick after throwing up hairballs, he’s so weak, I’m always very afraid).

    -I give him cat treats everyday : sometimes dried meat, sometimes malted treats, which are like dry kibbles. I must stop that. It won’t be easy : my cat loves to catch them, he will miss doing it so I have to find something to replace them or find some new games he loves, but as a very smart cat, he doesn’t like cat toys, he finds them dull. Not so easy. He loves and needs exercise. Less exercice = more hairballs, I observed in the past.

    -Petroleum jelly : I don’t want to give that nasty product to him but it helps to manage the problem in the short term (probably making it worse in the long term). I tried butter but I stopped as it seemed to be too much for his liver. I’m thinking about olive oil, like olive oil from tuna/sardine cans, because he likes that and I know some owners who swear it works great. Maybe fish oil ? My vets disagree : they say it’s useless because these oils are assimilated.

    -Grass : I started giving him fresh grass last week. He loves to chew it before meals, I don’t know why but I read the theory here. It made him vomit once but he was not sick after so I let him do it, just prevent him from eating too much at a time. This week end, he threw up a hairball : it was much less compact than usual. Grass was the only change in his diet. I’ll keep an eye on it : he was sick but recovered quicky : less than 24 hours, which is unusual for him too.

    -IBD : I need to know more about this disease.

    That’s what I want to try. Even if my cat’s health is better, I can feel it : something’s still wrong. Unfortunatly, it’s impossible to find vets interested in finding the real causes of my problems here. That’s why I’m so happy I could read your article. I don’t want to give up : I deeply love my cats, but I’m afraid to be too late to find the solution.

    Thanks again for sharing informations. This is so comforting to know that there are vets who want to know how we can help our cats !

    • Your English is excellent, Natalie! It sounds like you’re doing a lot of the right things to try and help your kitty – keep me posted on how he’s doing.

  2. Back from the vet…Yep…anal glands where gummed up and a little constipation, but he is doing much better…

    He didn’t like the clearing of the glands much…don’t blame him there…

  3. Great article! I’m still struggling with my 15 year old male Scampie, have removed dry and gave grain free wet…does really good then he has episodes of “squawking” then assumes the position to poop, sometimes he stains, sometimes nothing…

    I’ve consulted a vet that is a friend of my daughters…she said since he had soft poops for a long time, that the anal glands might be the problem at the moment…

    Yesterday, I made homemade raw food, thought he wouldn’t go for it, but wolfed it down in no time flat, woke us up at 6:30 a.m. for food…so will go this route and have the glands checked.

    He’s only had a few vomits since switching to wet food and he brings up the veggies…guess cats don’t like veggies…LOL…

  4. Ingrid, Thank you for sharing this! Thank you Dr. Crist – I am so sorry for your loss. I appreciate all the comments with specific info; I used to be a Vet Tech and have a tortoiseshell who vomits daily – for 5 yrs! I’ve researched and found so much conflicting info, but finally suspected IBD and began to reduce grain and increase protein, with some improvement. I have consulted other DVMs and Techs, but I think some of the long-standing “conventional” diagnostics and treatments are costly and ineffective, perhaps even harmful. Thank you all again, and best to all who are on this journey.

    • Diane,
      Thank you for your kind sympathy. The information out there is full of conflicts, and almost impossible to evaluate objectively – but in science, truth eventually becomes apparent no matter who tried to obfuscate it. I feel sure that in decades to come, people will look back on this time of feeding cats breakfast cereal and say, “what the heck were they thinking??”

      Conventional treatment: steroidal antiinflammatories and chemo-type immunosuppressants…. perhaps harmful? No doubt these therapies carry their own risks, which must be weighed against the potential benefits on a case by case basis.

      That having been said, which makes more sense: keep on providing a source of inflammation while using drugs (with all those possible side effects) to suppress inflammation; or simply remove the source of inflammation?

      I know where I come down on that.

      Fern Crist, DVM

  5. My Luci had hairballs and throw up episodes several times a week. Of course, I went thru a number of tests and steroids with my vet. My cat sitter recommended BLUE BUFFALO cat food low carb as you are refering to. Its has been a miracle for her. There is still throw up on occasion but nothing like before. Read cat food labels and see if its really what your cat should be eating. I am slowly transitioning all my cats to Blue Buffalo.

    • I haven’t researched Blue Buffalo enough to be comfortable recommeding it, Tami, but I’m glad it’s working for your cats. Taking grain out of the diet really makes a difference.

  6. My cats have had far fewer hairballs since I started feeding them quality wet food, but they do have some dry food once in a while– the very best I can get – no grains. However, i still wear socks or shoes when i walk around the apartment.

  7. Thanks for a fascinating article. Two of our five cats do seem to get hairballs more often when the weather warms up and they’re shedding. They are both medium-haired cats who are seniors, fourteen years old. In warm spring weather, occasionally one of the other cats will throw up hair if I don’t brush them regularly when they’re shedding. Our cats have access to safe outdoor enclosures in the grassy yard (Purrfect Fence system) through cat doors on the deck, during the day when we’re home. Generally they do grow thicker coats in winter and then shed them rapidly in spring. Should I be worried about disease every time a cat throws up a hairball? Should I be horribly alarmed? Or can a hairball also be due to excessive grooming during the shedding season?

  8. I have two VERY long haired cats, and they almost never throw up. I give them freeze-dried or dehydrated raw food – Stella & Chewy’s, Wysong, Ziwi Peak, Feline Natural, and Primal. I sprinkle on some Wysong F-Biotic powder and add some water to make a gravy. This is all they get and they appear to be quite healthy. Am I doing the right thing? I love reading everyone’s comments!

  9. If hairballs are an indication of some underlying medical problem to the extent that you seem to suggest, why do the majority of cats that have an average amount of hairballs not sick with the illnesses supposedly caused by the things that cause hairballs? This seems to contradict your theory/explanation.

    • Depends on what you consider an “average amount of hairballs.” Far too many cat guardians accept hairballs as a normal by-product of living with cats, and never look deeper than that to see if a simple diet change could help.

  10. Pingback: Titch wont get spayed .... - Cat Forum : Cat Discussion Forums
  11. Hi,

    This is a very informative post. I have a cat with a vomiting problem. She started vomiting fur balls when she was about 6 months. The vet gave her some solution and started telling us to get special dry kibble – and to not give her any meat, because meat is fatty and too rich for her.

    I live in China and the vets here are not very good, so I took no notice of her advice to take meat away from her diet. We continued feeding her meat and special dry. A year later, the vomiting has just got worse. She vomits nearly everyday. Often there are clumps of fur, sometimes it’s just bile. I’m worried. She came from a Chinese pet market originally (was found by an American guy, dumped on his doorstep in a tiny cage, aged 1 month) and had various ailments, including worms. We plan to take her back to the UK in the next year and this is something I want to clear up. I’m showing this post to my bf, as he has always assured me that the whole vomiting thing is like totally normal.

    I’m going to try an all meat diet, which kitty will no doubt be ecstatic about. She DETESTS the dry kibble and always gives me a look of, ‘You no understand me… I am kitty, I no evolve eating fish flavour cereal,’ and walks off, only returning to eat it when she is really hungry 🙁

    • I’m glad you didn’t follow the vet’s advice about feeding your kitty a dry kibble. It’s preposterous to suggest not to give cats any meat! They’re obligate carnivores, and they need meat to thrive.

      I’d love to hear how she does after you make the switch.

  12. Wow! Loved your information on hairball! With seven kitties, one a relatively untouchable (except, of course, great friends with the other kitties) feral girl and one a long-haired girl who wasn’t handled enough as a baby (before I got her), and, because of her beautiful long coat needs much handling and brushing, which is not necessarily what she desires, sigh, I was very interested in what everyone had to say.

    All the kitties groom each other which spreads out the hairball problem beautifully. They rarely throw up. But I do try to corner beautiful little miss longhair once a day (“Don’t pick me up! Don’t you pick me up!”) to train her little mind into liking grooming. I do a lot of sitting on the floor with her while grooming and as we all know treats help!

    I also have a pesticide-free yard with cat fencing so the kitties can run around on the grass and in the bushes and eat clean grass (which they do not throw up, interestingly enough) and get real dirt on their lil feet and chase and eat little bugs and sharpen their claws on real tree bark, be in the sun and the rain and the snow (if they wish). They are much happier, I think!

    I’m also always looking for good raw meals for them.

    Thank you!

  13. Thanks for stopping by, Dr. Smith! I believe Dr. Crist will check in when she has a chance and address your comment herself.

  14. While there are many good points in the original article, it must be remembered that our domestic cats are NOT wild cats, but rather ancestors. No wild cats species inexistence today (insofar as I know) has the fluffy/thick and very long hair coats of some of our modern breeds. Further, the exploits of wild cats, squeezing through narrow spaces with twigs etc. probably contributes to grooming/ hair removal.

    It is important to look at the natural diets of felidae, and I agree wholeheartedly that vomiting more than once or twice a month is a medical red flag, but it is fallacy to think our housecats can be compared directly to wild cats.

  15. I’ve been posting links to this post in my comments on many other Hairball Awareness Day blog postings. So many of them have it so wrong! I hope people come here to get a real, logical explanation!

  16. Ivy, hairball vomiting can be a symptom of many different problems. It is not caused by diet in every cat. If Sydney is still bringing up hairballs despite your diet change, you should look at other possible causes. Sydney could be giving you a valuable opportunity to identify a problem early!

    Another thought: not all raw diets are the same, just as not all canned diets are the same. I’m no expert in raw foods, but I can tell you that without proper preparation, raw foods can convey disease organisms. With the wrong food, you could create all new and different problems! Your holistic vet can tell you which brands she/he prefers.

    Cats should pass hair in the stool; normally, it should just go in one end and out the other. It should still not “build up” in the digestive tract, but as you point out, if there’s less stool bulk to disguise it, the same amount of hair will be easier to see. That is not an indication of a problem!

    Keep up your excellent care!

  17. I used to feed my cat (a British Shorthair) EVO 95% meat, and gave him Petromalt twice a week. Hairball barfing used to be a once a quarter event (or sometimes even longer). Two months ago, I switched to raw diet and stopped giving him Petromalt because I have never felt very comfortable with that stuff. My holistic vet said that with the raw diet, I should not have any issues with hairball. However, since then Sydney had thrown up hairball three times! In fact, I have been brushing him more than before. I’m not sure if this coincided with the Spring molting season as well.

    The other change with raw feeding is that Sydney now poops every 2 days, compared to daily when I fed him canned EVO. I know he passes some of the hair in his poop (I can see it!). Perhaps now that the frequency of his bowel movement has been reduced by 50%, there is quicker build up of hair in his digestive system – hence the increased frequency of hairball?

  18. My cats are thrilled when they are able to get out in the yard, supervised of course, and chew on grass. Yes, they do vomit it up but I’ve always had dogs that do the same thing.

    And to Danielle Denhart’s question! I live in Northern California, 50 miles north of our Capitol in Sacramento. My town is a rural farming/Air Force town but since we do have lots of farm animals there are feed stores that will carry dog/cat foods too so I will check them out. And we do have an independent pet store, in addition to the big box stores PetSmart and PetCo. If I can’t find it anywhere I will go through

    Thanks everyone for you suggestions and ideas!

    Nena, Peanut and Missy too!

  19. Layla, I think there are better options for treats than petroleum based products such as petromalt or other so-called hairball remedies. The main ingredient in those products, petroleum jelly, was first discovered by workers on oil rigs as a parrafin like coating that caused the rigs to malfunction….. enough said! Maybe they’d like a little bit of cream cheese or even butter – similar consistency, but none of the chemicals?

  20. Interesting post as always. My Siamese cats love grazing on grass and herbs in my garden. They are very discerning and seem to instinctively know what they need at any given time. Since hairballs are not an issue for them, I wonder about giving petromalt products? They LOVE them as a treat.

  21. I agree with the statement that if you feed a better food you will save money in the long run. The one thing I have also noticed is that my cats are eating less because a better food keeps them fuller for longer. And since I have to drive 80 miles round trip to get the new food…thats money WELL spent!

  22. Thanks to everyone for your kind comments!
    Robin, you have posed a great question. I am of the opinion that “non-evolutionary” diets contribute to the hairball phenomenon through association with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), but that does not mean that all hairballs are caused by diet issues. If the impaired intestinal motility is the aspect of IBD that allows hairballs to form, then it follows that any other process that impairs motility, or for that matter IBD occurring for reasons other than diet, would also encourage hairball events.
    It appears likely to me that anything that causes inflammation in a cat, since inflammation is rarely if ever a focal phenomenon, might contribute to the development of IBD as well as inflammatory disorders in other organ systems. The mere fact that we have a name for the concurrent inflammation of the gut, liver and pancreas – “triaditis” – speaks to the systemic nature of inflammation.
    A common offender in this department is parasitism, and in this area, I believe that heartworm disease is hugely important in cats. Fleas, intestinal parasites, even ear mites can all be an issue, but heartworms are a special offender because of the inherently covert nature of the problem. Cats don’t have to have a heart full of worms, like a dog, to have issues; on the contrary, most of the damage probably occurs in the few days between the mosquito bite and the time the cat’s immune system kills off the injected larvae. The inflammatory response to these larvae is significant, and repeated events of this nature cause cumulative damage.
    Another common and highly underdiagnosed offender is allergies. There are a heck of a lot of allergic cats out there, and their symptoms are universally inflammatory. If your cat is allergic to, say, dust mites, you can ameliorate the problem greatly with simple environmental changes, and use no drugs at all. When needed, I’m a big fan of “allergy shots:” (hyposensitization) in cats, as it helps them to stop reacting to stimuli without exposing them to the numerous side effects of steroidal antiinflammatories.
    So we link problems like fleas and hay fever to IBD. Weird? I think not!
    We should not overlook other possibilities. Nearly any other disease process, and quite a few drugs, can affect intestinal motility and thereby cause or increase hairballs. However, as we learn more, I believe we will find that a large number of the GI problems we now see are being influenced by “non-evolutionary” diets.
    All of this comes back to your question. You are feeding a great diet, but your cats still barf the occasional hairball? Look for other causes of inflammation. See your feline vet to help you find out whether your cat is hiding another issue under that great coat!
    Why do cats eat grass? The Science Guys are still working on that one. Theories abound. For no particular reason, I tend to favor the idea that if cats DO have to vomit, the grass probably protects their delicate esophageal tissues from both acid and “scrapy stuff” to some degree. But they still ideally shouldn’t have to, and probably have evolved this protective mechanism to cope with the effects of all those parasites out in the Real World. Just my two cents.
    I think Dr. Pierson is brilliant. My thinking follows hers rather closely, I believe.
    By the way, like Danielle, I am a fan of both the Wellness and EVO grain free canned foods. These are what I feed at home. They do cost more, but they pay for themselves in lower vet bills!

  23. BTW…don’t forget that although grain-free (right now) is more expensive, you WILL save a lot of money on Vet bills and avoid the heartache of seeing your cats become sickly.

    • It isn’t just that you’ll save money and heartache at the vet, but my cats eat less of their grain free food than they did of the purina stuff I was feeding them, so it doesn’t really cost me more at all. Unfortunately, this might be something that isn’t true for everyone, and you won’t know until you try it.

      • Actually, that probably is true for everyone, Jennifer. Since grain-free food is higher in protein, cats will feel fuller sooner and longer, and that’s why they’ll need less of it than they would with high-carb, low quality diets.

  24. FWIW…Evo isn’t the only brand of high quality grain-free canned food out there. Evo is great, but my cats don’t love it. Wellness & Weruva and lots of others make some very good canned food. If you go the “raw” route, visit for resources there. There are pre-mixed raw frozen diets that are easy to deal with if you don’t have a lot of cats! I make up my own ’cause I have 8 cats. ALso, petfooddirect is a great place-I would second that suggestion! They’re having a sale on lots of food right now and if you get on their email list, you can get offers for better discounts or do “auto ship” and always save at least 15% . 🙂

  25. Sherry, I’m so glad you found our site, and I’m even happier to hear that your kitties stopped vomiting!

    Marg, the reason the grain-free diets are more expensive is because, unfortunately, meat protein costs more than grains. If I come across any less expensive grain-free diets, I’ll be sure to let you know.

  26. Wow that is a terrific post. I have always wondered about the hair balls because since I have so many cats, I wondered why some would have hair balls and some did not. But that was really informative and I sure did learn a lot.
    Now someone just needs to figure out a little cheaper way to feed the grain free food. I guess it is harder to make the grain free. I know I can’t afford to feed all 18 cats grain free food, but I could give the ones that are throwing up. I wish I could find homes for some of these cats but they are feral and would take a really patient person.
    Anyway, enough of my drivel, I am so glad to know this stuff about the hair balls. I will start looking around for some cat food that might be a little less expensive. Thanks so much for this great post.

  27. Thank you so very much for this information. I am new to this website and found it at a very critical time. I have 11 cats ranging in ages from 11 years to 3 years. I have had all of them since they were kittens. And about 3 weeks ago the vomiting and hairball issue came to a head. They were ALL vomiting all at the same time. Did the vet thing but I was still frustrated and they were still vomiting. So, I turned to the internet and found you. And the information I got fom you may have saved their lives. I changed their food and I haven’t seen a hairball or vomit in almost 2 weeks!! I have also been telling all my cat owner friends as well about you. Again, thank you so very much for what you do. Also, Samantha, Donovan, Sophie, Lucinda, Kelli, CJ, Tibby, Lovey, Elvis, Buddy and Joy thank you as well.

  28. I’m just thrilled that everyone is finding this post so useful. The more kitties we can get on grain-free diets, the better!

    Debbi, I love that Abbey is picking out the EVO – it’s like she instincutally knows that it’s better for her. I’d encourage you to keep offering small amounts of canned food and see if you can switch them over to that eventually.

    Nena, I get the EVO online at You can usually also find it at independent pet stores – I’ve not seen it at the major chains yet.

  29. Fabulous article! I was captivated! I have a long haired
    Calico and we deal with fur balls and I feel so bad when
    she’s hacking them up. Even my short haired Tortoishell
    has them, though not as frequent. I have a friend who
    swears by a raw diet, but I just don’t think I have the
    endurance to do this but I am interested in the Evo.

    Where can this be bought at? Pet stores? Vet’s offices?
    I have been feeding them a dry food that helps fur balls
    and have seen a decrease in the amount of upchucks.
    More like once every 1 or 2 weeks as opposed to every couple of days.

    I am willing to try something new…thanks for this great info!

  30. After the teleseminar, I decided that I will switch my cats to EVO dry. They don’t seem to be eating the wet food at all. I think Abbey has figured out that there is new food in the bowls and because I’m mixing it up to gradually change over, she seems to be going from bowl to bowl and picking the EVO out. She loves it! She must be thinking, “finally, I’m getting the food I need and love.” This will be a test for her in regard to the vomiting after eating and hairballs. This is extremely important information and I’m grateful for it. Thanks!

  31. Two of my cats seem to crave greens. (The other two could care less!) After my girl has been out mowing her special pot of grass (on a leash w/me attached), she does barf – but only the grass. Why would she crave something that causes discomfort?

  32. I’m psyched that you can ask Dr. Crist. That would be great to know if occasional hairballs are fine and what the roll of grass is in helping cats remove either toxins or hairballs or???

    You’re a doll for adding me to your blogroll. Thank you! I let my readers know about this article on my Facebook pg, too. I know it will help convert more readers to feeding grain-free as well as to know about a great resource for cat wellness topics (you)!!

    Thanks again and have a great day! 🙂

  33. Danielle, I think you’re ahead of most rescue groups by doing what you’re doing despite the limitations of Petco and budgets.

    Mason, it really is amazing how many people consider hairballs just a normal part of living with cats.

    Robin, great questions about the occasional vomiting and eating grass. I’ve asked Dr. Crist to stop in later today, and hopefully, she’ll have an answer for us! Thanks for providing the link to the Feline Nutrition Education Society website (and Danielle, thanks for providing the link to Dr. Pierson’s site). And Robin, feel free to plug your own blog – it’s great, and you’re on my blogroll!

  34. Great article and another reason why feeding a grain free diet is vital to a cat’s overall health. I’ve been feeding my cats a raw diet for 6 months and before that they were on a grain-free, high quality canned diet. It’s true that removing kibble is our first, best way to help our cats slim down, not have foul smelling excrement, have shiny coats and overall more vitality. I’m very curious about the aspect of hairballs in relation to all of this, since a few of my cats occasionally rocket out a hairball. Wouldn’t it be better if they vomited it on that rare occasion, instead of get impacted in their intestines? And what of the thought about why cats eat grass? To induce the vomiting to clear out the hairballs? Just some questions, not criticisms. I’m trying to figure it all out, just like you are. Also, if you’d like a great source on raw feeding, this is not a plug for my own blog…please head over to Dr. Pierson, who was mentioned, above, is a contributor to this website, but here you’ll find a lot of case studies on raw feeding and more info on how to do it. Thanks for this great post! 🙂

    • Hi Robin!

      Thanks for your kind words! This is a subject I feel quite strongly about… in case that didn’t come through in the article.

      The best way I can answer the “why hairballs at all” question is to begin on an evolutionary level. Cats groom themselves assiduously; their cleanliness is a huge part of their health maintenance. An animal evolved to swallow so much hair would only be evolutionarily successful if the hair went right on through and out the other end as a regular event. Vomiting is most certainly designed to rid the body of bad foods or toxins — but this should be a rare event, NOT a daily or even weekly mode of coping with hair intake. Vomiting is not good for your esophagus, your mouth, your teeth — chronic vomiters suffer a long list of predictable damages (read up on bulimia a little and you’ll see what I mean.). There is no way an evolutionarily successful species is dependent on a maladaptation of a system meant to be used only in emergencies.

      So let’s accept for the moment that vomiting as a means of coping with hair ingestion makes NO sense, and that clearly the hair should go in one end and out the other, the way the gut is supposed to function.

      The main reason for hairballs is when the gut does NOT function that way; that is to way, the smooth muscle contractions that control the movement of ingesta through the gut are in some way impaired. If the smooth muscles are not doing their job right, everything will back up, not just hair — but hair is special in that it gets tangled, and the tangled webs catch and hold other bits and pieces, and then you have a trichobezoar… the wonderful medical term for hairball.

      Lots of stuff can interfere with the gut muscle contractions – pretty much ANY intestinal disease will. So, conclusion one: Hairball = GI disease. However, the epidemic at present is IBD/lymphoma — so while not by any means being a hard and fast rule, the most common reason for hairballs TODAY (this was not true 40 years ago) is IBD.

      And how do you get inflammatory bowel disease? By constant exposure to tissue irritant. It’s not the grains/carbs themselves that are the irritant, it’s the change in intestinal flora populations and the waste materials those bacteria secrete. Cat GI flora love meat. A diet of breakfast cereal will starve a lot of the good guys and allow the bad guys to flourish.

      Sorry, longwinded – so your cat barfs a hairball now and then. THe first question is how often. Once or twice a YEAR falls into the category of probable normal response to some sort of GI irritant. Once or twice a WEEK mean you have a chronic problem, likely to involve inflammation at some level.

      Remember, it’s not only diet that can do this. Cats respond to ALL “not-self” with vigorous inflammation. So, all parasites (fleas, GI parasites, ticks, heartworms) – vaccinations (some more than others, and you must again weigh the benefits against the risks — I’m not advising against vaccination here, just encouraging people to THINK about it rather than blindly doing it) — anything that isn’t “supposed” to be there will cause inflammation – and inflammation is a system-wide event. Fleas on the skin will make gut inflammation worse.

      So the short answer is: how often? If you’re on the once or twice a week level, you have a health problem, not a “hairball” problem. Even if you’re feeding the best food in the world.

      The grass question has always intrigued me. No one really knows, and theories abound. I have mine, which I’ll share with you: feline stomach acid is about 100x as acidic as ours. Imagine how that would feel coming up your throat. Burn an esophagus enough, once really badly, or at a lesser degree many times, and you’ll get an esophageal stricture.

      I think cats eat grass before they barf in order to protect the esophagus. It may stimulate mucous production to protect the walls of the esophagus; the grass blades themselves may provide some shielding; HOW it does it I can only guess, but I do believe that’s the reason.

      And cats DO have to regurgitate certain bits of their natural prey – beaks and such – and grass provides protection there from the physical trauma of pushing hard pointy stuff back up through the throat. I expect they’ve adapted THAT behavior to deal with hairballs.

      Love Lisa Pierson’s site. That is one great lady.

      Thanks for the question!

      Fern Crist, DVM

  35. It really is quite amazing. Unfortunately, since with work with Petsmart and most of our kitties end up spending some time living in one of the adoption centers, we’re required to feed them Purina ProPlan while the cats are there. (Petsmart has a strategic alliance with Purina.) So, in order to lessen the chance of tummy upset from switching foods too much, we feed all of the cats the same Purina ProPlan unless they are in a foster home that wants to keep them in the home until adoption. In that case, the foster home is free to feed whatever food they choose (which is when I start singing to them!).

  36. Thanks for sharing Phantom’s story, Danielle. Thanks for spreading the word about the benefits of grain-free diets for cats. I undestand that cost is always an issue with rescue groups. I would suggest contacting some of the makers of these grain-free diets to let them know that you recommend their foods to all of your adopters – perhaps they’d consider donating some food to your group?

    I just experienced the power of grain-free foods in yet another dramatic way with Allegra, my new 7-month-old kitten. She has giardia, an intestinal parasite that can cause diarrhea. She was fed a dry, so-called “intestinal” diet, which did nothing for her diarrhea. The first day she came home with me, she had blow out, liquid stools. Within two days – yes, TWO DAYS! – of feeding her canned EVO grain-free kitten food, her stools became formed and they’ve been completely normal ever since!

  37. I figured this out on my own too. My kitty, Phantom, was one of a group of 7 foster kittens. To keep a longish story short, I decided to keep him. Right around 6 months of age, when he started eating dry adult cat food rather than dry kitten food (he didn’t want to eat something different from the other 2 cats), he started vomiting after every meal. Since I was pretty uneducated about cat nutrition back then, I had been feeding my two adult cats Purina Cat Chow Indoor Formula. I knew enough to know that there were higher quality dry foods, so I started going up the quality chain – Purina One, Purina Pro Plan, Science Diet – and all had the same effect on poor, little Phantom.

    So, I hit the internet. I discovered a site called and it was written by a Vet. Grain free? Only wet food? OK, I’ll try it! I immediately switched everyone over to Wellness grain free wet food and the vomiting stopped immediately! Really? After 4 months? Just like that? YES! Just like that!

    We eventually changed over to Evo 95% protein canned food (I learned it’s better quality AND it’s less expensive here in Farifax, VA) and have never looked back. All of my now 5 kitties are slimmer, have shinier coats, and are more playful than ever. I do give them each a handful of dry Evo grain free food a couple of times each week, just so they can have something to crunch with their teeth. I know there’s no evidence that their teeth need it, but I figure the grain free crunchies are better than the very unhealthful “treats.”

    Anyway, since I’m involved with cat rescue as a volunteer with Fancy Cats Rescue Team, I have been spreading the word to fellow volunteers and adopters about the grain free diet and its benefits. Unfortunately, the rescue group cannot afford to feed all of the rescue kitties the premium stuff, but if the foster homes are willing to splurge for it and they tell the adopters of their kitties about it, then more and more of them will be on the right track.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Hi, thanks for your interesting post. I would just like to ask your opinion of wheat grass for cats?

      • I don’t have much of an opinion on wheat grass for cats, Karen. Some say it aids digestion and can help detox, but I’m not sure nibbling on a few blades of grass really brings any benefit other than the entertainment value!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.