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Dealing with Hairballs

Veterinarians call them trichobezoars, but cat lovers call them "hairballs," or, more commonly, simply "gross." Whatever you call them, hairballs are a normal part of living with a cat and are usually not indicative of a health problem. If coughing up a hairball is an intermittent event — a couple times a month or up to once a week or so — and your cat appears otherwise normal, it's likely not a concern.

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Your veterinarian may suggest the use of a mild laxative (mineral oil) preparation or an increase in fiber in the diet to help the hairballs "pass" in most situations. Canned pumpkin is a great way to increase the fiber in the diet. One or two teaspoonfuls mixed daily with canned food or with the water from a can of tuna (for humans) keeps things moving nicely. You can also ask your veterinarian about some new high-fiber foods that are designed to help keep a hairball problem to a minimum.

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Don't let your cat become a laxative junkie, however, as daily use may tie up and decrease the absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins. These products should not be used more than twice a week except on the advice of your veterinarian. Instead of changing your cat's diet, consider combing him more frequently to remove excess hair.

If your cat's pattern of coughing up the occasional hairball changes, make an appointment with your veterinarian to find out why.

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