Tabby's hairballs are symptom, not cause

Cats on a dry-food diet can have frequent Cats on a dry-food diet can have frequent issues with hairballs.

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Q: I have an 11-year-old tabby cat I rescued when he was a kitten. This time of year, he spits up hairballs at least four times a week. He is very scared at the vet and tends to lash out. Our last vet visit ended up with him having his hip displaced by the technician who was trying to clip his nails. Do all cats spit up hairballs? Is there anything I can do to alleviate the problem? He eats Royal Canin dry food and has a water bowl that has flowing water at all times. --Loretta Blue, Holtsville

A: It is actually very rare that a cat in a state of nature will swallow so much hair during normal grooming that it would have to vomit it all back up. However, this happens quite often to cats that are on a dry food diet.

Cats' teeth are designed for shearing raw meat and not for chewing dry pellets of extruded cat food. Cats are pretty adaptable, and most of them do chew dry food just fine. But some do not. They will just crack the food pellets in half with their back teeth and then swallow them in halves or quarter pieces. If the cat's stomach is full of unchewed dry food, the food cannot pass out of the cat's stomach. It then gets regurgitated. Of course, any fur that is in the cat's stomach at that moment comes up with the food and the fur gets the blame for the regurgitated mass.

When the cat is switched to a diet of canned food or frozen food, the regurgitation most often stops completely. Of course, if you do stop giving the cat dry food and he is still regurgitating, then there may be something else going on and the cat will need to be seen by a vet.

Q: My bunny is quite friendly and loves to come out and play on our lawn on nice days. When I was petting him the other day, I noticed a flea on him and wondered what flea product to use. Are the ones that I have for my dog OK for my bunny? --Cindy Hicks, Wantagh

A: Most pet stores sell flea sprays for bunnies and other small mammal pets that use pyrethrum as the active ingredient. This is perfectly safe if used as directed.

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If you use the top spot flea preventive, Advantage, on your dog or cat, you also can use this on a bunny. But some preventives, like Frontline, specifically say not to use on bunnies, so check all labels.

Q: The other day, we took our green cheek conure outdoors with us. We just had his wings trimmed and he cannot fly. We put him on the back of a chair on our patio and in about 15 minutes we noticed he was standing up very straight with his wings out slightly, panting like a dog. We immediately brought him back into the house where it was air-conditioned and he felt better right away. Obviously it was too hot for him outside. However, we thought that since these birds are native to tropical parts of the world that they should be OK on a sunny day outside in New York. What is a safe temperature for taking him outside? --Lyn Davis, Garden City

A: It is true that your bird's ancestors did come from the tropical areas of South America; however, a bird that is in 90-degree temperatures in the forest canopy of a tree has much more control over how hot it gets than a bird sitting on the back of a chair in a sunny backyard.

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The wild bird can pick and choose where it wants to be, but your bird had to just sit there and take the heat and got too hot. That is why he had his wings spread out: He wanted to expose as much of his body to the air to cool it off.

Never leave a bird outside in the sunlight unless you have a spray bottle full of water nearby so you can mist the bird down if it gets too hot. Be sure there is shade nearby that the bird can be brought into if needed. If it is too hot for you to be comfortable in the sun, then most likely it is too hot for your bird, as well.

You said you just had the bird's wing feathers trimmed, but the cut feathers do fall out and grow back. Be sure you spread the bird's wings out every week to check that the feathers have not grown back so it can fly.

Even if just one or two cut feathers get replaced, that can be enough for some very fit birds to take off and end up on the roof or in a tree.

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