Best Cat Food For Hairball Control

Hairballs—also known as trichobezoars (pronounced trike-oh-bee-zohrs)—are considered a normal quirk of being a cat, but they say more about your cat’s digestive health than you might expect.

Chronic hairballs occurring more than once or twice a month are associated with poor diet and digestive problems. In this article, we’ll learn about how hairballs relate to diet and which foods can help to lessen your cat’s hairball issues.

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Top Pick

Tiki Cat Koolina Luau Chicken with Egg in Chicken Consomme
  • Simple, highly-digestible recipe
  • Limited ingredient list
  • Hydrating
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  • Popular among cats with digestive issues
  • Hydrating canned food
  • Contains pumpkin, which may help reduce hairballs
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  • Made from turkey, which is a good alternative to chicken
  • Free from commonly irritating ingredients
  • Highly digestible
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  • Pumpkin seed may help minimize hairballs
  • Rabbit is a novel protein - ideal for allergic cats
  • Can be as hydrating as you want it to be
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  • Limited ingredient food
  • A Free from common allergens and irritants
  • Highly digestible
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Are hairballs normal, and what do they have to do with diet?

Ingrid King, a veterinary journalist and creator of ConsciousCat.net, thought that regular hairballs were a normal occurrence until she saw the differences between her cats who were fed raw food and those who ate vet-recommended kibble.

Her first cat, Feebee, ate a vet-recommended dry cat food and hacked up hairballs a couple times a week, despite regular doses of a petroleum-based hairball treatment. After learning more about feline nutrition, King switched her two cats Amber and Buckley to a grain-free canned diet. After the transition, yakking up a hairball became a rare event.

And Ingrid’s current cats, Allegra and Ruby? The two torties were raised on raw food and, when Ingrid wrote on the topic in 2012, had never vomited a hairball.

This story might be a string of coincidences, but it might also tell us something about the connection between hairballs and digestive health.

Hairballs normally pass through the intestines and leave your cat’s body through their stool. If this movement is interrupted or delayed, the hairs may fuse together with fat in the stomach, forming a trichobezoar. Typically, this triggers retching, which forces the mass through the esophagus and up out of your cat’s mouth.

Again, every time that a hairball “comes up” in this manner, it’s indicative of an anomaly in the digestive process. In a piece published in Veterinary Practice News, Dr. Gary D. Norsworthy, DVM makes the surprising assertion that:

“I am convinced that the vomiting of hairballs is a sign of chronic small bowel disease if it occurs twice a month or more in any cat; or if it occurs once every two months or more in shorthaired cats; or if it occurs in cats that are not fastidious groomers, i.e., presented with many mats in their hair coats or with heavy dandruff.”

In short, a hairball once a month or less is no reason for concern. Any more frequently suggests that something isn’t right.

Do hairball home remedies and supplements really work?

Hairball treatments operate on one of two premises.

The first is the fiber theory, which dictates that fiber supplementation helps to bind single strands of hair to food particles, which hasten them on their journey towards the colon and into the litter box. Remember that more time spent in your cat’s body translates to more opportunities for the hair to fuse into a hairball.

The second belief is that oils, waxes, or petroleum jelly lubricate the hairs and prevent them from fusing into a trichobezoar.

Pumpkin

As a fiber source, pumpkin helps to carry hairs through the body. Canned pureed pumpkin is the most popular fiber supplement for hairball-prone cats, but some use other fiber sources like psyllium husk powder or coconut fiber.

Hairball-Specific Lubricants

These lubricants coat the hair in the digestive tract, helping it to pass through the system. They’re usually made from pharmaceutical-grade petroleum jelly, mineral oil, or a combination of the two.

Butter and Oil

Instead of lubricating hairballs as some suggest, butter and oil are digested and absorbed by the body before they can have any effect. Too much fat supplementation could bring your cat a whole new set of digestive problems.

Slippery Elm

This supplement lubricates the inner surfaces of the GI tract, helping to encourage hairballs to slide in the right direction.

Egg Yolks or Egg Yolk Lecithin Supplements

Egg yolks contain two micronutrients that can help to minimize hairball problems. These are choline and lecithin. The choline component acetylcholine helps to increase contractions in the muscular layer of the GI tract, propelling food and hair down and out.

The other significant micronutrient in egg yolk is lecithin, which emulsifies the fat that binds hairballs together.

You can provide these nutrients by adding egg yolks to your cat’s food or by providing an egg yolk lecithin supplement. Remember to choose egg yolk lecithin rather than lecithin from other sources like sunflower or soy.

Qualities of the Best Food for Hairballs

The best cat food for hairballs promotes overall digestive health.

Knowing that hairballs can be a symptom of digestive problems, feeding a cat with chronic hairballs is similar to feeding a cat with other symptoms of GI inflammation. Your goal is to give your cat food that’s an organic match with their physiology. This means feeding your carnivorous cat a diet consisting primarily of meat and as few plant ingredients as possible.

Hypoallergenic foods may help.

Like diarrhea or vomiting, hairballs are a sign of inflammation that may indicate food allergies. Consider switching to a limited-ingredient or hypoallergenic food that’s free from the potentially-allergenic ingredients your cat eats most often.

Added fiber might help.

Most foods sold for hairball control are high-fiber products. Fiber additives help food and hair move through the GI tract.

While there’s evidence that indigestible matter can aid in the feline digestive process, a daily regimen of pumpkin, beet pulp, and cellulose isn’t necessarily what your cat needs.

If your cat has been eating a typical commercial cat food with ingredients like brewers yeast, wheat middlings, and dried beet pulp, they’re already getting more indigestible plant matter than any cat needs. Start by giving your cat an optimally-digestible diet. If the hairballs persist, then you might try adding a small amount of fiber.

Top 5 Best Cat Foods for Hairballs

Tiki Cat Koolina Luau Chicken with Egg in Chicken Consomme Grain-Free Canned Cat Food Review

Tiki Cat Koolina Luau Chicken with Egg In Chicken Consomme - 8x6 oz

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First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Chicken Broth, Sunflower Seed Oil, Dried Egg, Tricalcium Phosphate

This bare-bones recipe from Tiki Cat has several qualities that may help your hairball-prone feline.

If your cat’s hairballs are caused by digestive issues, you might appreciate the simplicity and digestibility of this recipe. Unlike other foods that emphasize low-value plant protein, the recipe is all about the meat. Chicken takes center stage and dwarfs all other inclusions, offering a species-appropriate source of protein and nutrients.

Of course, chicken-based food always comes with a caveat. It’s probably not a good choice for cats with suspected allergies and is out of the question for cats with a confirmed chicken allergy. Because it’s so common in cat food, chicken is one of the top food allergens for cats.

Because this food contains dried egg, it’s a source of the choline and lecithin that help to prevent hairballs.

On the negative side, it’s made with sunflower seed oil instead of animal-sourced fats. Chicken fat, fish oil, and other animal-sourced fats are optimally digestible for cats.

Pros

  • Simple, highly-digestible recipe
  • Limited ingredient list
  • Contains egg
  • Hydrating

Cons

  • Contains plant-sourced fat
  • Expensive

Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat & Kitten Food Review

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First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Chicken, Turkey Liver, Turkey Broth, Tuna

Since chronic hairballs can indicate digestive issues, it’s a good idea to choose foods with a positive reputation among cats with GI problems. This chicken and turkey pate from Nulo has that kind of reputation.

It’s primarily made from turkey and chicken meat, along with tuna fish. This variety of protein sources might make this food a problematic choice for cats with allergies or sensitivities, but for those who can handle it, this food does well in taste tests and seems to soothe the digestive tract.

Along with pinches of other plant ingredients, the food contains pumpkin, which is a commonly-recommended treatment for hairballs.

Pros

  • Hydrating canned food
  • Popular among cats with digestive issues
  • Contains pumpkin, which may help reduce hairballs
  • Less expensive than comparable foods

Cons

  • Contains some plant content
  • Multiple protein sources

Hound & Gatos Turkey & Turkey Liver Canned Cat Food Review

Hound & Gatos Turkey & Turkey Liver Canned Cat Food 24 - 5.5 OZ Cans

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First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Turkey Broth, Turkey Liver, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride

Because it’s built according to what the company calls a paleolithic feeding model, this food is particularly popular among cats with IBD and other digestive issues.

This limited-ingredient food is made with a single source of animal protein. Turkey isn’t one of the top allergens for cats and a good alternative to commonly-allergenic chicken.

The recipe is is one of the simplest on the market, containing turkey meat, organs, and broth, along with binders and supplements. No fruits or vegetables were used in the making of this food. For an obligate carnivore, this spells easy digestion and, hopefully, fewer hairballs.

While few reviewers argue the nutritional merit of this food, some say that the pate has a strange firm texture and that their cats didn’t like eating it.

Pros

  • Made from turkey, which is a good alternative to chicken
  • Free from commonly irritating ingredients
  • Limited ingredient list
  • Highly digestible

Cons

  • Some cats don’t like the taste or texture
  • One of the most expensive foods on the market

Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Absolutely Rabbit Dinner Morsels Cat Food Review

Stella & Chewy's Freeze Dried Food for Cat

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First 5 Ingredients: Rabbit With Ground Bone, Olive Oil, Pumpkin Seed, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Phosphate Monobasic

Freeze-drying destroys pathogenic organisms without altering the nutritional and textural qualities of fresh raw meat, making this Stella and Chewy’s recipe a highly-digestible choice for cats.

The morsels are primarily composed of rabbit meat and bones. Since most cats don’t eat rabbit on a regular basis, it’s not one of the top allergens and is unlikely to stir up any allergy issues.

It includes olive oil and pumpkin seed. These plant-sourced ingredients aren’t ideal for an obligate carnivore, but it’s worth noting that pumpkin seeds are fiber-rich and may be able to help flush hairs through your cat’s body.

The food contains probiotics, which can improve overall digestive health. Handling, processing, and storage conditions could kill these microorganisms, so it’s unclear how viable they’ll be by the time they reach your cat’s food bowl.

Pros

  • Rabbit is a novel protein – ideal for allergic cats
  • Pumpkin seed may help minimize hairballs
  • Added probiotics
  • Highly digestible

Cons

  • Rehydration takes a few minutes

Primal Turkey Formula Nuggets Grain-Free Raw Freeze-Dried Cat Food Review

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First 5 Ingredients: Turkey, Turkey Necks, Turkey Hearts, Turkey Livers, Organic Collard Greens

These freeze-dried nuggets are primarily composed of turkey muscle meat and organs. Turkey isn’t a top allergen for cats, so it’s a good alternative to chicken for cats who have a known or suspected food allergy.

Because 96% of the protein in this recipe comes from animal sources, you know that it’s highly-digestible and nourishing for your cat. The food isn’t all meat, though. It contains small amounts of organic collard greens, squash, celery, cranberries, and traces of other fruits and vegetables.

These low-carbohydrate plant ingredients make the food nutritionally complete in lieu of synthetic vitamins and minerals.

Pros

  • Limited ingredient food
  • Free from common allergens and irritants
  • Highly digestible

Cons

  • Demands rehydration
  • Contains some plant ingredients

Tips for Minimizing Hairballs

Groom your cat regularly.

Cats ingest hair during self-grooming, so one of the best ways to prevent hairballs is by brushing the hair off yourself. Instead of entering your cat’s GI tract where it will turn into a hairball, the hair will instead go straight into the trash.

Click here for our guide to the best cat brushes and deshedding tools.

Maintain a healthy coat to prevent excessive shedding.

A vibrantly healthy cat sheds less than their less-healthy counterpart. Here are a few ways to keep your cat’s coat strong and healthy:

  • Identify any food allergies or sensitivities and eliminate irritating ingredients.
  • Introduce an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Species-appropriate sources of omega-3s include krill, salmon, and other fish. Avoid flaxseed oil and other plant-based sources of these fatty acids.
  • Feed a nourishing diet rich in animal-sourced protein.
  • Rule out any health conditions that could contribute to excessive shedding.

About the author


Mallory Crusta is a writer and adventurecat enthusiast on a mission to make cats’ lives extraordinary. She’s one of the founders of Wildernesscat – a site for happy, healthy, and adventurous cats who are fueled by nature. Visit Wildernesscat for radically natural cat nutrition, home remedies, and lifestyle inspiration.

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