Hairballs?! Natural remedies that are working

furrow rich sanders 276x300 Hairballs?! Natural remedies that are working

"Hairballs-no thanks!" Photo: Furrow by R. Sanders

Last Updated: May 2011
We have two cats and yet rarely get hairballs at our house. Our cats are short-haired, but 1-2 hairballs total per year is very few indeed.

If you’re like me, you may yearn to give your cat something besides those petroleum/mineral oil hairball products. (See my worries about ingesting petroleum jelly supported here and also here. Also, long term use interferes with your cat’s ability to absorb the important fat-soluble vitamins – A, E and D – according to vetinfo.com.)

I have an old cat care book that says one hairball per week is not unusual, but I now think that 1+ hairballs per week is not normal.

So I must say this first: I have seen IBD– or worse, intestinal lymphoma (cancer)—turn out to be the cause of frequent hairballs. So if the following tips don’t work for your cat, please get a full vet exam. It could save their life.

What’s working for us

UPDATE MAY 2011: I now believe that grain-free may be the cure for hairballs for most cats. So many reports of this! I would try it first, because anything else is just a bandage–not a cure. That means find foods with no wheat, gluten, barley, rice, corn.

The prevention remedies that work for us also happen to be recommended by Dr. Karen Becker.

Your cat may get relief from just one of these, but we do both because they are healthy in general:

  • Pure 100% canned pumpkin—we offer a teaspoon as a side dish several times per week. One cat eats more of it than the other, so I assume he needs it more. Ask your grocer for the 100% pure pumpkin from Libbys, or get the brand at Whole Foods. You can also find it on Amazon.com (Check the label – no spices or other junk! Not good for kitty.)
  • Probiotics/enzymes mixed into wet food. When we aren’t feeding raw food, we add this probiotic/plant enzyme mixture designed for animals.

If that doesn’t do the trick

A couple more things to try:

  • Most importantly, Dr. Becker also recommends grain-free cat foods. They can prevent hairballs because they are easier on your cat’s digestion. (We use grain-free and I would have mentioned this above, but I was trying to keep it simple.)
  • Vets Best Hairball Relief (Chewables) are natural, designed to be tasty for your cat, and popular at our local holistic pet store. We haven’t needed them, but the ingredients include Slippery Elm, Psyllium, enzymes, probiotics, and other natural, safe ingredients.

I must wrap up by saying again: If these tips don’t work and your cat is throwing up hair too often, please get a full vet exam. It could save your cat’s life!

Do you have a natural hairball remedy success tip?

Don’t hold out—please share in the comments.

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44 Responses to Hairballs?! Natural remedies that are working

  1. Abbi July 9, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    I read olive oil was bad too. Mine doesn’t like coconut oil tho. She just left a hairball today and thought it was a mouse. I didn’t realize kittens didn’t get hairballs much, she will be two in December and is a medium long tuxedo. I’ve been giving her a bit more dry Wellness and treats so that may be it as well. She’s slim as well, she has free access to the in and outdoors and wasn’t fed as a kitten, I know her dog brother wasn’t..

  2. ARW December 17, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    I’ve heard to add olive oil into their food

    • Cass June 20, 2014 at 9:47 am #

      I’ve heard different things. I know some people have said that olive oil is bad for the cats, and others have said it’s good. So I’d recommend doing some research.

  3. Cathoarder October 15, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    I have a hairbally cat in the household (13 years) and a diabetic (17 years), among others.

    My problem will be how to persuade the finicky hairbally cat to eat pumpkin without her donating (or regurgitating) this high GI treat for her (greedy, opportunistic) diabetic sister.

    Anyone done any work on the GI effects on pumpkin in cats?

  4. TJ August 11, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    Hi everyone,

    I am looking for guidance. I have a 7 yrs old cat and she has OCD yep that is what the vet says she has an obsession with licking herself and gives herself rashes or hot spots I guess on her belly and most of her fur is gone from her belly. The vet says there’s nothing really we can do because we may never know the reason why she is doing it. Instead of using their steroids and creams I did lots of extensive research on using coconut oil as a natural product to put on her hot spot to cure her. I have to say in only 2 days there’s already an improvement.

    Question: The only problem I see is she is starting to throw up way more like 2-3 times a day usually a bit of yellow or white. This doesn’t concern me but it does when she does this so often. I am not putting lots of coconut oil on her sores but I am assuming once I leave her cone on her head for approx 2 hours or so to let the oil soak in she then licks it.

    Anybody can guide me on why she would be throwing up so much and is it normal?? if it’s harming her I will stop but if it’s not a concern then I will continue as it seems to help a lot

    thanks everyone

    • Liz-cat August 13, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      TJ, no it’s not normal for a cat to throw up that much. I would guess it’s either an uncommon reaction to the coconut oil, a medical issue, or a food reaction – did you change her food recently?

    • Liz-cat August 13, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

      Oh, I also wanted to say that often the OCD licking stops when the cats environment becomes less stressful to them – and that in many cases when the human stress diminishes, the cat’s stress diminishes.

    • Schmaif September 26, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

      With the licking all the fur off the belly–I had a cat who did that, and the vets didn’t figure it out until another cat also started missing fur. They tested negative for mange, and were indoor cats, but somehow they’d picked up fleas. They were so clean there was almost no evidence of the fleas, I never saw one or got bit by one, but the vets found flea poop in their fur when they looked very closely, and flea medication made the hot spots go away. If the fleas ever came back, the hot spots would come back too.

  5. Steffen July 24, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Hi there, my cat is 10 years old and I think he may be having a problem with a hairball. I’m not sure what kind of remedy to give him since he has stage 3 kidney disease and I need to be very careful not to give him things with too much protein, and also can’t give him stuff with salt. The coconut oil sounds like a good idea but if anyone knows of a specific low-protein, no-salt hairball remedy that would be great. My vet won’t offer advice without me bringing in my fuzzy buddy, but vet visits really traumatize him and I can’t afford vet bills right now either (working two jobs and barely making ends meet). Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  6. Pam Maltzman June 27, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    I have 6 cats. The oldest one is a beautiful LH red tortie. One or more of them has, on occaison, thrown up not meely hairballs but a whitish/clear spongy wet gunk. Spooks me a bit. Ii wonder if whoever it is has something wrong with her. 3 are LH and 3 are SH. Ii’ve been trying various anned foods from the local feed store. I had bought, some time ago, a Tasin meat grinder, but somehow it got left behind when we moved. I had been thinking of transitioning them over to raw. My youngest 2 are 11-month-old SH kittens, and they are actually more picky about food than the older ones. For a while, when they were younger, they had a problem with dry eyes. I started feeding them anned salmon, tuna, mackerel, and cooked chicken mashed with tuna, and that seems to clear up their little faces. To me it proved that they really need fat in their diet.

    BTW, we just moved to another state (Arizona).

  7. crosswind April 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    2 of my 3 cats sneezes A LOT for a couple days after giving them canned pumpkin puree, even organic. So, i have concluded it’s an allergy since i have tried a few times. I have used coconut oil, which seems to help, but only if the cat likes it. ALSO, Coconuts are high in salicylates, which some people are sensitive too. Some cats might be too. FYI. ~~ I am trying EVOO (olive oil) right now. They seem to like the taste better some days than coconut.

  8. the raw food is radcat and natures variety – I use the kibble looking natures variety. Im vegetarian so its less gross for me to deal with!!

    the Vetri-Science Acetylator looks good/clean but again, if I add anything new to their food, they walk away, I have to really have a lot of the food they like before they’ll eat the stuff that they need!

  9. HI Liz

    I wanted to add to the postings here about grain free diets. One of my cats who is coming up for 13yrs old started to have loose smelly stools, one day I was looking at an email from Dr. Becker, a vet who is associated with Dr mercola and she wrote that cats and dogs shouldn’t eat dry grain filled food. Raw is best.

    So I switched my cats food to grain free and that fixed the issue immediately! A year or so later the issue resurfaced, after trying many natural dry foods, one finally worked…for about 9 months or so…again the issue arose. I contacted a natural vet and she recommended I stop the dry food all together and go to raw. Of course cats being cats, they wont touch it unless I mix it in their wet canned food. This fixed the issue and everything has been fine for the past month. the raw food is frozen and thawed in the fridge and then served. As im only able to feed them small amounts as they turn up their noses and walk away from the food, I take small portions out and put into small containers, and put the remainder that hasn’t quite thawed completely back in the freezer.

    So now this morning my one cat with the digestive issues is vomiting about 20 mins or so after eating their raw/wet (more natural) canned food, I fed her again, and it happened, I fed her tonight and it happened again, then I fed her just the canned food, no raw, and so far no throwing up, Im not sure that its the raw food, im thinking its a hairball or the fact that she is eating to quickly. any thoughts? I like the idea of coconut oil, but how much?

    • Davina June 19, 2014 at 5:24 am #

      I hope your problem has improved in the meantime, but if not, I personally believe that our pets can take on our own (unrecognised) illnesses and health issues. A talk with your pet via an animal communicator would be helpful in finding this out. I have had very good experiences with this approach and wish you lots of luck!

  10. VP August 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    Do you know if it’s safe for kitty to ingest bees wax or castor oil? I’m looking for a non-petroleum jelly to use as a hairball remedy, and found this one online: Live Clean Baby Non-Petroleum Jelly The ingredients are Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Cera Alba, Tocopherol. (I think cera alba is bees wax.)

    Or could I just give my girl castor oil? I have some handy, and it certainly seems a better option than mineral oil (if it’s safe, of course), which figures into some commercial hair ball remedies.

    Many thanks.

    • Liz-cat August 14, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      Hi VP, I am not comfortable with giving cats castor oil because it can be quite dangerous if they get too much (as it would be for us if we ingested too much). Beeswax, I’m not sure – I’ve go no data on that.

  11. Jennifer August 10, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    I too, have recently made the switch to a grain-free diet for my long haired cat. I adopted him from our local animal shelter about a year ago and this summer, presumably because of a heat-induced upswing in grooming, he started developing terrible hairballs. He was having on average one per week, despite regular brushings from me. The switch to grain-free came with almost immediate benefits, his coat was softer and shinier, he wasn’t shedding as much and his litter-box output was, shall we say, admirable. He hasn’t had a hairball since the switch. The best part is he loves the food! My kitty also had occasional outbreaks of cat acne, which have also disappeared since making the switch (I can’t tell if that’s related or not because it hasn’t been long enough). I’ve also been interested in supplementing with a homemade diet, can anyone recommend recipes? I will definitely try pumpkin as a side dish and the probiotics as well, thanks for the tip!

    • Liz-cat August 14, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

      Jennifer, that’s great news about the health success for your cats with going grain-free. Thanks for letting us know. For homemade food I recommend working with feline supplement (AFTER any cooking)- the good ones always include recipes. This way you will be sure your cats are missing anything key. My biggest concern is always taurine, which degrades with cooking and food processing and can be deadly if lacking.
      Couple options:
      http://www.knowwhatyoufeed.com/alnutrin_supplements.html
      felineinstincts.com

    • Liz-cat August 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      By the way, I wouldn’t bother with the pumpkin if everything is going smoothly on both ends already, so to speak!

  12. Danne May 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm #

    Hello, My kitty actually does have small cell/small intestine lymphoma and we find that the product Acetylator by Vetri Science has helped quite a bit with hairballs and any other GI discomforts. I mix it with her food. Because her GI tract is so very sensitive, none of the oils went over very well and would cause urgent, loose stools. Same with things like pumpkin.
    Best of luck!

    • Liz-cat May 25, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

      Danne, thanks so much for sharing about Acetylator. It looks like a good clean one that includes enzymes and probiotics that would benefit cats with digestive diseases. It’s great to hear that it’s helping your kitty. I am wish you both well.

  13. Nicole April 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    So, when I lived in the US grain free was the way to be…… but now, I am in Mexico. The only food available is dog food of the lowest quality…yuck!!!! So, I’m stuck. Currently my cats are eating oatmeal with vegetable broth and eggs. I have looked at many recipes for natural homemade food, but every one I see has a myriad of ingredients and minerals and supplements that are just not available here. My guys are not too fond of rice… and my options are running out. Chicken is available once a week, so they do enjoy a liver feast every now and then….. But, blahhhhhh…. what else can I do??? Oh, and they are constantly coughing from hairballs. And pumpkin, fat chance! Vet with suitable products, no way!!! Help……..

    • Liz-cat April 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      Nicole, now that’s what i call a challenge! But I am impressed that were able to keep your cats with you when you moved to Mexico. Clearly you love them lots.

      Here’s my take:
      I’m pretty sure the hairballs are because of the oatmeal.
      My biggest, first concern is that your cats need taurine – cats can die without it. Trouble is, taurine disappears with cooking, so that’s why cats only get it from raw food or food that was supplemented with taurine AFTER cooking.
      Can you mail order food? Or at least have friends or family mail cat food to you?
      If you need to make sure they are getting the right amount of taurine or nutrients with homemade food, I would look at http://www.knowwhatyoufeed.com/RecipeBasicnonmetric.htm and their supplement http://www.knowwhatyoufeed.com/alnutrin_supplements.html or http://www.knowbetterpetfood.com/cat_food_better_in_the_raw. You can use these supplements with cooked chicken, but just be sure to add it after you cook.

    • Liz-cat April 28, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      Few more things:
      If available, raw fresh milk from clean, small farms can be very good for cats and will have taurine in it. Same with raw (unpasteurized) cheese.
      Raw egg yolks will give taurine and other nutrients too. Just don’t give them raw egg whites as that’s bad for them. (I know, tricky.)
      Are they able to hunt outside, or is not a safe area for cats to be out?
      For hairballs in the mean time, do you have some butter? That might help.

      • tulaniangirl January 25, 2014 at 9:55 am #

        For those who live places where they cannot find the pet food they need, I recommend checking into petfooddirect.com. Nicole, I don’t know that they will have what you need, but it’s worth a “look see”. I have used them in the past for my dog’s special food, and I really appreciated the ability to use autoship.

        I realize I am chiming in a long time after the initial post, but I thought it might help some people.

  14. Julie October 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    I have been using Pet Naturals of Vermont Hairball supplement and they rarely have a hairball. I notice they contain propionic acid as a preservative, and wonder if that ingredient is safe. I’m also in the process of switching our three cats over to a grain free diet. The hardest part will be to wean them off of the Greenies – they are like kitty krack! Any suggestions for healthy cat treats would be appreciated. :)

    • Liz-cat October 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

      Hi Julie, I haven’t yet seen any glaring concerns about propionic acid–it’s apparently a by-product of dairy and used in human foods. But then again, it doesn’t sound all that natural does it?

      A pure, natural treat that our cats love is Halo Liv-a-Littles. See what your cat’s think!

      • Julie October 15, 2011 at 7:36 am #

        Hi Liz, I appreciate your insights! I looked into the Halo treats and see carrageenan on the list of ingredients on-line at Only Natural Cat. I wonder if they recently changed them? EVO Wild Cravings seem to have fairly decent ingredients. 2 of my 3 cats will eat them. At the store when I read the bags the Herring & Salmon version had some type of bisulfate in it, so I avoided that one. I also notice when I look up the Evo products on line at Pet Food Direct and National Pet Pharmacy, for example, their list of ingredients is smaller than what is on the bags. So it looks like it’s important to actually read the bags vs. what they advertise on line. In general some of the product labels are almost impossible to read with the small fonts and color schemes they choose!

  15. Marisel June 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    I have to say that I love this site! Anyway, I’ve heard of pumpkin but have not implemented it yet. My cats don’t have hairballs really. Although, I do give them the paste on the rare occasion that they need it, but now I will try the pumpkin since I always try and find the natural solution instead. I have given them a tiny bit of coconut oil on some occasions and they really like that, but I try to stay away from that because of the fat. My cats adore grass and I try and give them some daily, so I know that really helps with their digestion and if a hairball is stuck somewhere in there, the grass takes care of it.

    • Liz-cat June 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

      Marisel, thank you for your kind words! Sounds like your cats are pretty healthy–good for you guys!
      I have heard of olive oil and coconut oil too, though haven’t received any definitive consensus on those. They just seem to make sense, and I always say “if it works, and it’s not toxic, do it.” : ) Thanks again for your comment.

      • Justin April 10, 2012 at 10:03 am #

        Olive Oil is in fact too rich for kitties and can cause digestive and bowel problems in my experience and research. I’d stick with Coconut or another light oil like Canola or Sunflower for this purpose.

        • Liz-cat April 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

          Good information Justin, thanks for sharing that.

          • MehMeh December 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

            I give my cats coconut oil almost every day (1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cat) since they were kittens. I discovered this accidentally when my girl cat kept trying to lick organic coconut oil off of me–I use it for cooking and as a skin moisturizer. When she was a wee little kitten she had this gagging cough like she was trying to pass hairballs but as soon as she started licking coconut oil the gagging stopped once and for all and I’ve NEVER seen a hairball from either of my cats-thank God. They’re a little over 1 year old now. The girl still is more crazy about it than the boy and never lets me forget, but they both eat it daily. I’ve also seen improvement in their coat-softer and shinier. I also feed my cats raw &canned diet mix and try to go as high meat % and grain-free as I can afford and I definitely avoid dry foods-those cause UTI. The raw grain free diet also definitely helps with their skin and coating and definitely helps keep them normal weighted. The vet took a while to decide whether they were normal or under weight until she weighed them, then explained she wasn’t used to seeing cats that were NOT overweight. How sad!
            To reply the above comments: one must understand that there are good fats and bad fats. animal fat, canola, sunflower, vegetable oils, fake butter, margarine type oils: bad for both humans and pets. Coconut oil is excellent for weight loss cooking and delicious, so I recommend it to both humans and pets. Good fats help you lose weight. Olive oil for cold dishes, butter and coconut oil for baking and cooking, avocado, eggs, nut butters, these are your good fats. I’ve recently went from being obese to being normal weight by following the logic of replacing bad fats and bad carbs like grains and sugar with good fats and carbs and I always plenty, never go hungry, so I know it’s not just talk but it works and it’s the healthy non-diet way of shedding your excess fat. When to cats, although I have first hand experience they love coconut oil I also have first hand experience they don’t like olive oil or even fish oil that has strong smells-my two kitties anyway. I know there is also scientific evidence on organic refined coconut oil’s health benefits on pets. I’ve also seen less smelly fish oils made for pets in stores.

            I’ve never tried pumpkin but I think I will and see how that helps my kitties.
            Anyone tried castor oil on cats? I use castor oil as a foot moisturizer and every time I do, my girl comes running trying to lick it and I don’t want to give it to her before I know it’s safe. On the other hand if it’s not safe why is she so crazy about it to the point of waking up to the smell of it even when she’s asleep and running to beg?

        • crosswind April 11, 2013 at 1:30 am #

          except Canola is high GMO & also known as Rapeseed. Sunflower seed oil is also high allergenic. Both of my cats react to any food made with Sunflower seed oil. I have done the elimination & narrowed it down. Coconut oil is best so far & I’m trying EVOO. Just gotta watch the serving. Too much EVOO, even in people can cause weight gain compared to coconut oil.(mono-saturated fats vs. MCT saturated fats)

          • crosswind April 11, 2013 at 1:32 am #

            Good post, Meh Meh. I agree with what you said :))

          • Candace July 13, 2013 at 6:18 am #

            I have a problem with 2- 10 year old spoiled monsters! They, after reading all of the symtoms, are suffering from constant hairballs.
            I thought they had funny sick tummies from there age. I rescued them from a mud hole when they were 2weeks old and fed them whatever they would eat. Ten years later they have caviar tastes.
            HOW MUCH COCONUT OIL DO I GIVE THEM AND HOW OFTEN?
            HOW DO I OFFER PUMKIN IF COCONUT OIL IS REJECTED.
            tHANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR ADVICE

  16. Ingrid King February 17, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    Great post! Hairballs are never normal, they’ve just come to be accepted as normal because so many cats who are fed commercial diets with inferior ingredients and loaded with grains have them. Grain-free or raw diets seem to make a big difference. I like probiotics because they don’t just help with intestinal health and motility (which is the real cause for hairballs), they’re also a great general immune system booster.

    My feline vet wrote a great article about this topic titled “Some startling new thoughts on cats and hairballs.” Here’s the link: http://consciouscat.net/2010/04/28/some-startling-new-thoughts-on-cats-and-hairballs/

    • Liz-cat February 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

      Ingrid, thanks so much for sharing that and the link to your blog’s related article. This is so important! Years ago I was feeding my cat “organic holistic” foods but they still had too much grain—and I had no idea at the time that those grains could have contributed to IBD that turned into intestinal lymphoma before I even knew what was going on. Oh, very painful, but so important for us all to learn!

  17. Jen February 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

    My cats transitioned to a grain free diet two years ago, one of the MANY benefits was a reduction in hairballs. I’ve tried pumpkin before, when their tummy’s were upset, but never as a regular part of their diet.

    • Liz-cat February 15, 2011 at 9:56 am #

      That’s great Jen. I’m starting to think that grain-free may be surest cure for hairballs.

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