Hairballs (Trichobezoars) are a problem for many cats, especially if they have long hair. We expected to see some hairballs when we adopted our Maine Coon, Athena. The breed has fur that gradually lengthens from the top to the bottom of their body. They even have tufts of fur between the pads of their feet (known around here as “tufty toes”).
What we weren’t prepared for was a hairball obstruction that left her howling in pain. Luckily, her veterinarian resolved the issue before surgery was needed. I quickly designed a natural prevention plan to ensure she didn’t have to go through it again.
Natural Remedies for Hairballs
The majority of natural remedies are, in fact, preventative measures.
Our goals are to:
- Prevent fur ingestion with frequent grooming. While we did have a comb for her, we decided to invest in a Furminator to do a better job.
- Help Athena move the fur through her digestive system naturally.
- Increase her appetite and bring her up to a healthy weight.
There are commercial hairball cat foods on the market. They’re usually formulated to provide a lot of fiber with the goal of improving digestion. Since cats are obligate carnivores, a high-fiber / high carbohydrate diet can actually interfere with digestion and nutrient absorption. Therefore, feeding a high-fiber diet to a cat is counterproductive at best.
Athena is a picky eater, probably due in part to a belly full of fur. With no appetite, very little appeals to her. She’s slightly underweight due to her small appetite and vomiting hairballs. Her main diet is canned food and human-grade meat, enhanced by natural supplements. She likes to graze on kibble, so she also has a dish of Orijen biologically appropriate cat food at her disposal.
Most experts recommend a biologically appropriate diet for all cats and that’s especially true of those suffering from digestive issues. Feeding a low-carbohydrate diet that consists primarily of meat is an important part of preventing hairballs. There are some sources of fiber and roughage that are low in carbohydrates, such as freeze-dried krill, seaweed and pure, unseasoned pumpkin. Very little is needed, so it doesn’t interfere with digestion.
- Seaweed provides low-carbohydrate fiber and highly digestible vitamins and minerals (including Taurine).
- Krill is an excellent source of carnivore-friendly roughage and omegas. While you can use krill oil, the freeze-dried form brings many more benefits including roughage, antioxidants and nutrients. It is also an attractant, which will encourage your cat to eat more.
- Pumpkin contributes moisture, vitamins and antioxidants.
Once the basic diet has been formulated, you can add ingredients that will help your cat process hairballs. Oily foods, such as unseasoned sardines, can be provided in small amounts as a treat. You can puree your own cat food recipe for hairballs by combining foods like meat, unseasoned roast drippings, a bit of virgin olive oil or coconut oil, and your choice of supplements discussed below. Naturally, you’ll need to manage the fat content for cats that are overweight.
Natural Supplements for Hairballs
Following are the natural supplements most frequently recommended by holistic veterinarians for hairballs. It’s important to use herbs from a reliable store, with responsible sourcing and minimal manufacturing. We rely on Starwest Botanicals for most of our herbs.
Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)
Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmas fulva)
Papaya Extract (Papain)
Ayurveda Triphala (Emblica officinalis, Terminalia chebula and Terminalia belerica)
Aloe vera “juice” (Edible grade, use sparingly. Not for long-term use.)
Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Omega 3 Supplement (Krill oil or low-contaminant fish oil)
Cod Liver Oil
If you prefer a manufactured natural supplement, we use liquid Hairball Gold and probiotics capsules from Pet Wellbeing (pictured above). We started her on this combination after her tummy troubles sent us to the vet, and we’ve seen a marked improvement. The probiotics (with prebiotics) capsules are easily opened and closed for custom dosage. Mixing them into wet food ensures she’ll eat it. The Hairball Gold drops are palatable and easy to add to her kibble or wet food. The dropper has measurements for easy dosing.
Cats aren’t always the best drinkers, but you can encourage more water consumption with a fountain. You can also add water to food or your “hairball puree” recipe.
Notes of Caution: Please consult with your veterinarian to verify a hairball diagnosis and before making changes to your cat’s diet (including the addition of natural supplements). Herbs should be used with extreme caution in cats. We do NOT recommend petroleum jelly or mineral oil for the treatment of hairballs.
Do hairballs plague your cat? What have you done to help prevent them?
✔ You may also be interested in reading:
Natural Support for Feline Chronic Kidney Disease / Renal Failure
Top 5 Sources of Antioxidants for Cats & Other Carnivores (With Infographic)
Natural Diet of Large Breed Domestic Cats
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