Using herbs to prevent and treat fur balls in cats


Well, it is that time of year again folks! As you are undoubtedly aware, we just celebrated Hairball Awareness Day!  Doesn’t it feel like you just put the decorations away from last year? But, I jest.

Fur balls are caused by a buildup of fur in the stomach. When the gastrointestinal tract of a cat is well lubricated and a cat has adequate digestive fire, fur balls are absent except on rare occasion during periods of intense shedding in the spring and fall. Generally fur balls are an indicator of a possible imbalance, but are harmless in themselves.  If you suspect any obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract (GI) from fur balls or any type of material, it is a serious condition. So if your cat experiences lethargy and/or lack of appetite and liveliness, consult your cat companions’ veterinarian or health care provider immediately.

If your cat experiences repeated fur ball episodes, it is likely that the GI is dry and hot, as in the case of having intestinal worms, or dry and cold, in the case of finicky appetite caused by a low digestive fire. In either case the GI needs lubrication with herbs and raw diet. Imagine a hot, inflamed GI and then imagine a shard of kibble going through, OUCH! Since carnivores only chew their food enough to fit down their throat, they do not soften food in the mouth like we do when we chew.

The best GI lubricant is slippery elm. It moistens and soothes everything it touches and it is easy to get most cats to take it!  Do not give slippery elm dry as a tablet or capsule as it will wick moisture from the GI instead of wicking moisture from the milk or water that it is soaking in. Slippery elm also eliminates the irritable bowel symptoms often caused by fur balls.

How to give cats medicine for fur balls

1.      Wisk ½ tsp. of slippery elm powder (cut and sifted slippery elm is only marginally helpful here) into about an ounce (more if you have a finicky cat) of room temperature milk. Cold milk causes excess congestion and mucous and is generally not good for anyone, cat or human. 

2.      Wisk in a small pinch of turmeric, fennel or other spice in it if your cat will allow it. Start very small!

3.      Give to your cat to enjoy

What? Your cat didn’t drink it?

·         Does she/he enjoy milk? If not try half and half or try the suggestion below

·         Wisk ¼ tsp. slippery elm powder in a tablespoon of water and mix into ½ of a can of wet cat food or

·         Wisk ¼ tsp. into sardines in water.

If she/he still won’t eat it, reduce the amount of slippery elm powder even further and ramp up the dose over the course of a week if possible.  Any slippery elm is better than none.

Butter or clarified butter works well for temporary help but the slippery elm treats the symptom (the fur ball) and the disorder (the dry GI). Butter is a great remedy to administer at the time your cat has the initial hacking/coughing of a fur ball episode.

Preventing Fur balls

If you have a long haired cat who preens often, you might try to support the GI at the beginning of each shedding season by giving the slippery elm remedy above.  Fur balls (accumulation of fur in the stomach) and excreting a lot of fur through stools will dry and inflame the GI and causes weakness in immunity to worms and other intestinal parasites.  You can also brush the cat (use a human grade dense bristle hair brush for the best cat-tongue-like brush). For added benefit, mist a bit of water on the brush and now you have made yourself a perfect cat tongue!  Also, see my blog on Natural Flea Treatments for more information about the benefits of brushing your companions.

Fur balls can be a sign of:

·         A long haired cat who is a fastidious groomer during shedding season may have a fur ball or two per year

·         An elder cat whose GI has dried out

·         Intestinal parasites which can cause fur balls by drying the GI – fur balls also cause GI dryness that can make cats weak to intestinal parasites

·         Lack of available clean water

·         Irritable bowel

·         Other GI difficulties and diseases

With this knowledge, we may be able to look forward to next year’s Hairball Awareness Day with a little less distress.

Wishing you well!

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