One of great reasons cats are such beautiful animals to live with is their cleanliness in all aspects of their lives. Grooming themselves is one way that cats naturally keep themselves clean, but it’s this very act that can lead to the issue of hairballs.
Most cats will cough up a hairball occasionally throughout their life, as a result of groomed hair not all passing through the digestive tract, but instead forming a clump in the stomach. Cats then have an instinctive urge to literally vomit up the ball of fur (which is usually long and thin when you see it, not shaped like a ball at all once it has come out via the esophagus).
Preventative measures to help reduce the risk of hairball formation goes a long way to helping prevent serious problems like blockages. Long-haired cats are more susceptible to serious issues with fur balls, and actions on your part like regular grooming with a brush as well as specific dietary measures mean that you can help contribute to a lower risk of a cat have hairball problems.
Risks of Hairballs in Cats
What are the signs and symptoms that a cat might be having serious problems with a hairball?
A normal reaction for a cat who is trying to eliminate a hairball is to hacking and gagging with the head moving back and forth and the body gently heaving, before the hairball is suddenly thrown out of the mouth (sometimes accompanied by liquid or digested food, depending upon what else was in the stomach).
This should happen in a matter of seconds or a couple of minutes at most.
A cat who is continually struggling to bring up a hairball is one who needs attention. If the cat keeps gagging and wretching, and even vomiting, but no hairball is being brought up, there are potential risks of a blockage. Other symptoms of a potential serious problem include lack of appetite, constipation or diarrhea, and lethargy or lack of activity. These are signs to take your cat to the vet.
Best Food for Hairball Prevention
Completely preventing hairballs is impossible, but we can do things to reduce them and to reduce the risk of complications occurring because of hairballs. We want to make it easier for cats to bring up a hairball if one does form, while also reducing the risk of them forming at all, but encouraging the passing of hair through the digestive system.
Cat foods that are developed specifically to target the issue of hairballs (while still providing all round nutrition) are higher in fiber compared with regular cat foods.
Mostly, these formulas are dry foods however there are some wet foods that are hairball formulas – often these are called “Indoor” cat foods as well, because cats who live their entire lives indoor may shed continuously throughout the year, rather than seasonally (although this certainly varies between individual cats and other external factors like climate).
A quality hairball control food should bring about a reduction in the amount of hair being shed and provide the digestive system with increased capability of having any hairballs pass through it smoothly.
Royal Canin Indoor Intense Hairball 34 Formula (dry food)
This dry food is designed for indoor cats aged between 1 and 10 years old.
What does the 34 number mean? This something you’ll see in the Royal Canin Feline Care Nutrition food range. It indicates the percentage of crude protein in the food; so in this case, the Intense Hairball dry food contains 34% crude protein.
This measurement of protein is not the same as the absolute true protein content of the food, as crude protein is calculated based on a chemical analysis focused on nitrogen (which can get rather confusing and is beyond the scope of this article). However, many cat food brands utilize the crude protein measurement so you can still make a side by side comparison.
When looking at the ingredients list of this dry food, we see that it’s not until the 8th main ingredient that we arrive at a whole animal protein – chicken. The first ingredient is chicken meal, then we have several grain based ingredients as well as chicken fat and flavor.
Normally, so many grains in any cat will raise questions, but keep in mind that all hairball formulas aim to increase the fiber in the cat’s diet, to assist with digestion. This requires the careful addition of grains, while still maintaining adequate protein content.
Royal Canin Intense Hairball aims to strike this careful balance, and they do so by using several sources of fiber.
In total, the fiber content equals 8.4% of the formula. The carbohydrate content may just be too high in this food for a lot of ingredient-conscious cat owners to feel comfortable with.
Those who want to avoid corn completely in a cat food will need to look elsewhere, and this is one of the only reasons some people avoid this formula despite its popularity and recommendation by many vets.
There’s no doubt that a lot of people see positive results when using this food, in terms of a reduction in hairball frequency, and a reduction in the difficulty of a cat bringing up hairballs. As always, weighing up the potential benefits and downsides will help determine whether this formula is going to suit your cat.
It is high carb, it does contain a high content of grains (particularly corn), and these issues alone can be enough to turn people away in favor of a formula that is corn-free or even completely grain-free.
Feeding this as an exclusive diet? Not recommended. You will notice I’ll never support the feeding of any dry food as an exclusive diet for cats, regardless of formula (I’m not a vet, this is simply my preference and belief that a dry food is not a substitute for a natural cat diet).
As part of a complete diet, the RC Hairball formula is one that I would try if any of my cats did start showing a major problem relating to hairballs.
Good results seen for many cats in terms of hairball reduction
Chicken meal as first ingredient
Reports of excessive vomiting in some cats
This applies particularly to medium and long haired cats, but all cats can certainly benefit from a regular grooming with a comb, brush or other cat grooming tool.
Cat Hairball Treatments and Remedies
If a cat is struggling to pass a hairball, and/or is lethargic, uninterested in food and has other adverse symptoms – see your vet. A blockage is a serious health issue which requires urgent medical attention so it can be rectified as soon as possible.