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Hairball Cat Food — Are There Side Effects?

Lorre Luther

By Lorre Luther

young cat sitting on wooden table with hairball

The best approach to dealing with hairballs often requires multiple branches of attack, such as increased human-assisted grooming and sometimes a switch in the diet; a few cat foods are available to prevent hairball formation. If your cat is prone to experiencing this unpleasant issue, you might be wondering if it’s safe to give your feline companion a hairball control food or if there could be unpleasant side effects. Unfortunately, because of the ways in which these foods are formulated, they sometimes lead to stomach upset and urinary tract problems.

How and Why Hairballs Form

Hairballs form when too much loose fur gets into your cat’s digestive system, essentially overwhelming its ability to pass that much hair naturally through bowel movements. Cats ingest hair when grooming themselves; the sharp edges on their tongues deliver cleansing saliva and remove loose hair at the same time. Most of the time, when things are in balance, the hair your cat eats simply passes through their digestive system and comes out the other end. But if your cat takes in too much hair or has slow digestion, this natural system won’t work, and you’ll probably end up with a hairball problem on your hands.

There are two primary culprits in hairball formation: excessive grooming and slow digestion. Stressed kitties or cats with injuries will often groom themselves too much, which regularly results in hairball formation. Giving your cat an assist by brushing them is a simple way to help prevent the formation of hairballs. However, many owners turn to hairball prevention foods if the increased grooming doesn’t seem to be making a difference.

Image Credit: Montakan Wannasri, Shutterstock

How Do Hairball Prevention Formulas Work?

Most of these formulas work by increasing the amount of fiber and healthy fat in your cat’s food to ramp digestion. Hairball recipes include some type of fish oil, and they tend to deliver high doses of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids to help ease things along.

What Types of Problems Can Hairball Formulations Cause?

There’s often too much fiber in hairball prevention options for cats to comfortably consume. Cat foods for normal kitties that aren’t overweight typically contain around 1 or 2% fiber. Hairball management formulations often increase the quantity to a whopping 8% or so. Cats eating too much fiber can cause them to feel sick to their stomachs and become constipated.

Hairball formulas aren’t necessarily great for cats with kidney and urinary tract issues. High amounts of fiber require lots of water to be appropriately expelled. Otherwise, your cat will most likely experience severe constipation. Insufficient water consumption is one of the leading contributors to feline kidney and urinary tract disease, and it can ultimately lead to cystitis or bladder inflammation.

Many owners struggle to get their felines to drink enough water to maintain kidney and urinary tract health, and that’s without the added burden of a high-fiber diet. If your cat suffers from kidney disease or has a tendency to form struvites, it’s essential to speak with your veterinarian before switching them to a high-fiber food.

Cat after brushing fur
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Is There Anything To Look for in a Hairball Reduction Formulation?

The best formulations also include extra doses of important vitamins and minerals to ensure your cat gets the nutrients they need while on the high-fiber diet. Higher fat and fiber levels can make it more difficult for kitties to obtain all the nutrients they need from their food as whatever they eat passes through their digestive system more quickly than usual.

Don’t give your cat a product with more than 8% fiber without first clearing it with their veterinarian. Make sure to keep an eye on your cat’s litter box habits after you start them on any sort of high-fiber diet. Reach out to your veterinarian immediately if you see straining while peeing or notice your cat is producing less urine than normal.

Are There Other Products I Can Try?

Some veterinarians recommend giving your cat a bit of canned pumpkin or mixing a touch of psyllium into their wet food to give your pet a boost when it comes to digestion. There are several commercially available treats you can give your cat to temporarily increase their fiber consumption when it becomes evident that they’re dealing with a hairball issue.

Alternatively, lubricant products contain flavored oil, liquid waxes, or petroleum jelly designed to ease the passage of matter through your cat’s digestive system and prevent the hair your cat ingested during grooming from clumping together. If you choose to serve your cat this sort of remedy, let them take the lead. Some cats may be okay with the lubricants, and others simply won’t tolerate them. Back off if your cat isn’t willing to consume a particular product, and remember to never use multiple hairball remedies at once.


Featured Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

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