By Jean Sutherland

     Most cat owners know the sound. The hacking dry cough can be quite alarming if it remains unidentified. In many cases it is the cat trying to get rid of a hairball.
     Hairballs are caused by the accumulation of excess hair in the cat’s system. Most cats are easily able to digest the hair ingested by their grooming, but every so often, they may have difficulty, so they throw up a tubular shaped, dense, accumulation of hair and digestive fluids. Hairballs can often cause constipation and lack of appetite. These symptoms can be indicative of a number of problems, including upper respiratory distress. Make sure to keep a close eye on your cat.
     If your cat has a history of hairball difficulties, there are many hairball remedies on the market. These are petroleum jelly-based and come in flavors such as tuna or malt that makes them attractive to most cats. Some cats even come to look forward to it as a treat. It will soften the hairball and help it move through the digestive tract. If your cat refuses to take it, apply a small amount of the paste to their paws and they will lick it off.
     Keeping your cat well-groomed is a key element in preventing hairball accumulation. Brushing your cat daily will ensure that no dead hairs are present. This way, your cat’s system will not have to work overtime. Pick a brush that is best suited for your cat’s particular coat. Long haired cats do well with slicker brushes. Look for one that has a soft base and do not use a heavy hand while brushing. Cats with shorter hair, like Siamese and Abyssinians, do well with the Zoom Groom. You can finish them off with a chamois cloth to give additional shine to the coat. Though most cats do not like being bathed, it should be done a few times a year. If you are unable to manage, speak to your veterinarian or groomer and have it done professionally.
     Many pet food companies sell specially formulated foods for cats with chronic hairball problems. Be sure to speak to your vet about this diet change, and always switch the diet slowly. Add the new food in with the previous food a bit at a time, increasing it over the course of the week. This will avoid any tummy upsets. If the problem persists, visit your veterinarian. In severe cases, hairballs may be lodged in the digestive tracts and cause a serious problem. As in everything else, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
     The shelter currently has over 60 cats. Not kittens but cats. Older people often worry that their pet might outlive them and this is a cause of concern. If that is the case, why not consider adopting an older cat? We have many in the older age group and just like the others, they also need a loving home. And don’t worry about adopting a pet here and then taking it back home. Whether driving or flying, it is quite easy to take a pet back home with you. I wrote about how easy it is to do in a previous column last year and if you would like a copy, please let me know and I would be happy to send it to you by email or you can pick it up at the market on Wednesday. We will do anything to help an animal in Mexico find a good home anywhere in the world.