Your last sentence is critical in my answer. Clients bring cats to me for “hair balls” on a daily basis. When I ask these people whether their cats actually vomit or regurgitate clumps of hair, most of them say no. Most of these cats have another problem, such as infiltrative bowel disease or food intolerance. If your cat is not regularly producing hair balls, it is not safe to assume that hair balls are playing a role in the problem.
However, you have mentioned that your cat is, in fact, producing hair balls. So let’s work under the assumption that hair balls are the problem in your cat’s case.
In the course of normal grooming, all cats swallow large quantities of hair. Most cats pass this hair in their feces. Some cats, however, have difficulty moving the hair through their intestines. Balls of hair (scientific term: trichobezoars) develop in the stomach or intestines. These hair balls may partially obstruct the digestive tract. Cats with hair ball problems often vomit moist or firm clumps of hair.
The root cause of hair ball problems is related to intestinal motility (the ability of the intestines to move the hair towards the hind end). The amount of hair consumed plays a smaller role. Therefore, short- and long-haired cats can both suffer from hair balls.
There are several ways to treat hair balls. Regularly brushing your cat may reduce the amount of hair consumed. However, it does not help with the root cause of the problem (intestinal motility). Therefore, many people find that increased brushing alone does not solve the problem.
Hair ball treats, hair ball formula diets, and hair ball remedies (such as Laxatone and Petromalt) generally contain laxatives to help move the hair through the intestines and out the hind end. It sounds like you have tried the treats, but not a special diet or remedy. Adding one (or both) of these items into the mix may help with the problem. Be aware, however, that even if you feed a hair ball diet and offer special remedies and treats you may still encounter an occasional hair ball on the floor. No hair ball treatment is perfect.
In very severe cases, medications or surgeries are performed to deal with hair balls. However, the vast majority of hair ball problems can be tolerably controlled with a combination of the treatments listed above.
Photo credit: Pam Beesley. Photo licensing information: CC