7 Cat Hairball Remedies: Which Ones Actually Work? [Vet-Approved]

A close-up photo of a cat to represent cat hairball remedies

As a cat parent, you may have seen your cat struggle with an occasional hairball. Your cat may cough up a hairball occasionally. However, frequent hairballs or hairballs found in a cat’s vomit can be a sign of other health problems. 

Cat parents often look for a cat hairball remedy or hairball control cat food. Could this be what will help your feline companion? Which cat hairball remedies work? Read on to learn more in this comprehensive, vet-approved guide by Sploot Veterinary Care

What’s in This Guide?

A cat getting brushed, a cat hairball remedy that may be effective if no other underlying cause is tied to increased cat hairballs

What are Hairballs? 

Cats are notorious for their meticulous grooming habits, spending a significant portion of their day licking their fur to keep it clean and tidy. However, this grooming behavior comes with a potential downside: hairballs. 

Hairballs are clumps of hair that accumulate in a cat's stomach due to grooming. Dry, compressed hairballs tend to be more common and can be considered ‘true hairballs’. However, in some cases, pet parents may also refer to hair clumps in cat vomit as hairballs as well.

Is it Bad for Cats to Have Hairballs?

Dry, compressed hairballs are normal — as long as they are occurring around twice a month

Meanwhile, hairballs in cat vomit may indicate gastrointestinal disease. The likelihood of gastrointestinal disease in cats is increased if the cat vomits (with hair clumps or hairballs) more than 2- 4 times a month. 

Note: Frequent vomiting of hairballs within 48 hours OR accompanying symptoms like signs of cat pain, prolonged unproductive retching, lethargy, loss of appetite, and lack of bowel movement will likely require urgent veterinary care. Make sure to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Why Do Cats Get Hairballs & How Do Cat Hairball Remedies Help?

The effectiveness of a cat hairball remedy depends on what’s causing frequent cat hairballs. Frequent cat hairballs can be caused by any of the following: 

  • Increased shedding
  • Overgrooming 
  • Allergies in cats
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Other metabolic or hormonal diseases (hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease)

Depending on the cause of frequent cat hairballs, cat hairball remedies may work by:

  • Helping manage seasonal and or increased cat shedding;
  • Relieving overgrooming; or
  • Restoring gastrointestinal health, which can be affected by gastrointestinal disease or allergies.

Cat Hairball Remedies & How They Work

In the following sections, we talk about the different cat hairball remedies, how they work, and the importance of seeking veterinary advice regarding frequent hairballs or hair clumps in cat vomit.

1. Seeing a Veterinarian

  • Cat hairball remedy for: all cats that have frequent hairballs

As mentioned earlier, certain symptoms (e.g. lack of bowel movement, signs of cat pain, unproductive retching) may require urgent veterinary care. However, even in the absence of these symptoms, cat hairballs that occur more than twice a month should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian. 

Consulting a vet about frequent hairballs should come first. Trying different cat hairball remedies without consulting a vet may lead to certain health consequences, ranging from unaddressed gastrointestinal issues to possible life-threatening intestinal blockage.

 A cat getting a comprehensive wellness exam in Sploot Veterinary Care, a vet clinic with locations in Denver and Chicago

2. Regular Brushing 

  • Cat hairball remedy for: all cats, as part of regular cat care

Regular brushing helps to remove loose hair from a cat's coat before it can be ingested during grooming, thus reducing the likelihood of hairballs. This is especially helpful for cats with medium-length or long fur, as well as seasonal shedders. However, all cats (except for hairless breeds) will benefit from regular brushing, as part of their routine care at home.

3. Giving Access to Water at All Times

  • Cat hairball remedy for: all cats, as part of regular cat care 

As discussed in our complete cat care routine guide, it’s important to ensure that cats have access to clean water at all times. This is not only essential for maintaining optimum health but also helps them stay hydrated — which can help keep their digestive system functioning smoothly and may aid in the passage of hairballs.

4. Hairball Control Cat Food

  • Cat hairball remedy for: use as recommended by your veterinarian. 

Next on our list of cat hairball remedies is hairball control cat food. These types of cat food are formulated with more insoluble fiber than regular cat food. 

Insoluble fiber improves digestive function, helping move hair through the cat’s digestive system more efficiently — and thus reducing the risk of hairball accumulation.

A cat eating hairball control cat food, a preventive cat hairball remedy that can be recommended by a veterinarian depending on the cat’s needs

5. Allergy Testing & Treatment

  • Cat hairball remedy for: use as recommended by your veterinarian.

One of the little-known causes of increased hairball formation is allergies in cats. Whether caused by food allergens (e.g. chicken, beef) or seasonal environmental particles (i.e. spring allergies in cats, fall allergies in cats), allergies in cats can lead to increased shedding — as well as itching. These can thus contribute to increased hairball formation.

If a cat is suffering from allergies, allergy testing and management can help reduce hairball formation, among other complications of allergies in cats like itchiness and increased chances of ear infection. 

Note: Managing allergies in cats can take the form of optimizing a cat’s diet, anti-allergy medications, and other modes of treatment based on the cat’s individual needs. Learn more in our complete guide on allergies in pets.

6.  Mild Laxatives for Cats

  • Cat hairball remedy for: use as recommended by your veterinarian.

Mild laxatives for cats can help ease constipation issues, potentially reducing hairballs. However, it's crucial to use laxatives for cats under veterinary supervision, as improper administration, dosage, or use can lead to complications like dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. In any case, mild laxatives should be STOPPED once diarrhea begins.

7. Digestive Enzyme Supplements

  • Cat hairball remedy for: use as recommended by your veterinarian.

Digestive enzyme supplements for cats can potentially reduce hairballs by aiding in the breakdown of ingested hair. These supplements often contain ‘protease’, an enzyme that breaks down peptides and proteins. When added to a cat's diet, these enzymes can help break down hair, reducing the formation of hairballs. 

However, it's essential to consult a veterinarian before using digestive enzyme supplements to ensure they are safe and appropriate for your cat’s needs. 

Final Thoughts on Finding a Cat Hairball Remedy

This wraps up our complete guide on cat hairball remedies. As a final reminder, seek veterinary advice for frequent hairballs or hairball vomiting in cats. While remedies may help, a vet can provide tailored guidance and ensure safety. It is also possible for hairballs to obstruct a cat’s gastrointestinal tract, a life-threatening issue that requires urgent veterinary care.

If you have questions about cat hairballs or cat hairball remedies, Sploot Veterinary Care is here to help. Sploot is a primary and urgent care vet clinic in Chicago and Denver. We offer unparalleled convenience and top-notch care, 365 days a year, with extended vet clinic hours

Book an appointment easily online or through the Sploot Vets app.

Till next time, we’re with you every pounce of the way!