If it’s a dry substance, like a dry food or a treat, what makes it work to allow there to be less instances of your cat vomiting up a hairball is a stomach acidifier. While cats are supposed to have acidic stomachs from eating a diet of entirely meat, and while dry food tends to make the gut alkaline, so all of that should be good, there is a possible negative effect. There is a second, also deadly crystal called Oxalate crystals that cats can develop from having their urine be too acidic. “Urine care” foods and “hairball” foods tend to use this urine acidifier to work, but potential side effects can be as bad as or worse than the original problem.
If it’s a cream that your cat is supposed to consume, it works as a lubricant to allow the hairballs to come up more easily, which means more often, but it also means they’ll be smaller, less painful for kitty to pass, and less mess for you. Sometimes, the lubricant allows the hair to pass through the gastrointestinal system, no barfing required.
What’s the main ingredient in hairball remedies?
Again, with dry foods, the main ingredient is a urine acidifier. For lubricating creams, there are two classifications: Petrol-based and plant-oil-based.
Petrol-based hairball remedies, while effective, involve specifically putting into your cat’s body a petroleum-based substance. Petroleum cannot be naturally broken-down by the body, so even after it’s no longer needed, it can stick around. Continued use of these types of products can cause intestinal burns, petroleum poisoning, and gastrointestinal upset. Petroleum jelly is good for a lot of things, but it’s not a substance that should ever be consumed by a living creature.
Plant-oil-based hairball remedies allow the lubricating effect without putting the potentially-harmful substance into their bodies. It can safely be broken down by the body when it’s no longer needed. For an added bonus, it’s more palatable, renewable, and safer for the environment.
How often should you use a hairball remedy?
Only as often as your cat needs it. If you NEED a hairball remedy, The Whole Cat recommends a plant-oil-based remedy, such as Richard’s Organics (my cats prefer the chicken flavor, but it also comes in tuna). But, ANY hairball remedy should be used judiciously. Most cats do best when given a little when they’re hacking. (They’ll compose themselves, eat it off your finger, and you might or might not hear about it later, depending on which direction the hairball has an easier time traveling and how easy it comes out if it goes North.)
Unfortunately, continuously using any hairball remedy impedes the cat’s ability to absorb nutrients from their food because it coats the inside of the esophagus with a layer of oil. While it doesn’t completely block their being able to use their food, continuously having a harder time making use of their food isn’t good for them, since they usually have to make do with what they get, being called greedy or piggy for eating more than usual or for ever getting hungry sooner than their assigned eating time. Because of the combination of reduced resources and the societal judgement, they’re likely to lose weight over time, starting with muscle because of their being obligate carnivores.
How can you avoid needing hairball remedies?
Cats, as obligate carnivores, can only use meat and moisture. Anything else in their diet, they have to get rid of. The single most effective way to reduce or eliminate the need for hairball remedies is an improvement of diet. The closer you get to their natural diet, the more improvement you’ll see, but you’ll need to move them one step closer at a time because each improvement has a milder and milder smell naturally.
From worst to best for cats:
Dry food -> Pet grade canned food -> Human grade canned food -> Raw food
When cats take in things they don’t need, they have to pass them. Most of it will come out as excrement, dominantly feces, but when the problem is bad enough, the skin will start to participate in the process of elimination. This looks like excessive shedding, excessive dandruff (oily skin flakes), and excessive dander (what people allergic to cats are allergic to about cats, can be carried on either of the previous). So, the more junk (stuff cats can’t use) that you take out of the diet, the less they’ll shed, the less dandruff they’ll have, and the less they’ll bother your allergies. With less shedding, you have fewer hairballs.
A short-term solution and a way to kick-start the above would be to get your cat a haircut. A lion cut is a great place to start because it’s the fastest, easiest haircut to receive. In the short term, removing the hair will keep kitty from consuming the hair and in turn needing to expel the hair. In the long term, when combined with a diet improvement, by the time the hair grows back to it’s full length, the cat should be shedding a significant amount less.
Our goal is to educate you in the ways of a cat, to help your kitty live the most happy life they can, and to help you and your kitty stay together as long as possible.