Here's another Miami Herald column for you. I'm travelling in New York (yes, lucky me, I'm in Manhattan for the weekend)  but I'll be keeping up my posts--I promise.

Q. My cat Smushball has a hairball problem. For the last couple of months, she’s been throwing up hairballs at least three times a week (usually in the least desirable places). I know cats do this but three times a week? Is that normal?

A. Nothing is quite as unwelcome as a semi-fuzzy blob of something that used to be in your cat’s stomach—especially now that it’s attached to your best Oriental rug. There’s something about knowing where it came from that makes it all the worse, right?

Smushball’s problem is common, as you’ve no doubt deduced. But every cat’s hairball frequency is different. Some, in fact, never seem to suffer them. Lucky them.

In reality, though, feline hairball trouble usually has nothing to do with luck. A variety of factors are usually at play. Cats with longer haircoats (Persians, for example, consume longer, more difficult to pass lengths of fur) as well as those with fastidious self-grooming schedules, are obviously more at risk.

We humans play a role as well. Those of us who brush our cats frequently are less likely to endure the telltale gaggings of our favorite felines (yuck!) or encounter the odd hairball squashed under our shoe (double-yuck!). Long-haired cats, when clipped to the tune of the descriptive “lion cut” are similarly less likely to cough up the goods. It’s all about reducing the available fur at their tongue’s disposal.

Some products can also help alleviate the symptoms. My favorite is the now-popular Furminator. This brush is, bar none, the most effective tool to help relieve a cat of its loose and tangly undercoat. It’s expensive (for a brush) but it will save you a mint in rug-shampooing costs alone. Orally administered gels (which are essentially flavored petroleum jellies) will help lubricate the passage of the ingested hair. And then there are the new “hairball formula” foods, which add oils to their diet for increased fur digestibility.

But Smushball’s case may not be so simply resolved. After all, three times a week is an awful lot to be retching up hairballs, especially if this activity has increased in recent weeks. So I have to ask: Are these hairballs? Or vomit with hair in them? Is she long-haired? Is she missing patches of fur (which may indicate allergic or anxiety-induced skin conditions)?

Many cats with so-called “hairball issues” are actually vomiting as a result of more deep seated troubles. Gastritis, inflammatory bowel disease, foreign bodies (things they might have ingested other than just plain fur) and cancer (God, forbid!) are often implicated in some of these cases. Consequently, I urge you to take Smushball to your vet for a complete evaluation as soon as possible.