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HAIRBALLS

Cat owners just don't appreciate the benefits of a big juicy hairball. If you think about it, discovering fur-filled surprises on the living room floor is a small price to pay for your pet's intestinal health.

Rabbit owners should be so lucky. Their pets also are fastidious groomers, but unlike their feline friends, bunnies can't bring up hairballs. Hair or items like synthetic carpet fibers can collect in a rabbit's stomach and cause obstruction and even death. Risk Factors and Detection

All rabbits can develop hairballs, but longhaired breeds are most susceptible. As long as your rabbit appears healthy, she's probably fine. But call your veterinarian immediately if she stops eating, acts lethargic, or passes few or no fecal pellets. You may also notice abdominal enlargement or a reluctance to move. The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination, and he may recommend abdominal X-rays and blood work.

Prevention and Treatment

Regular combing or brushing can help minimize hairball formation. The more hair you remove, the less hair your rabbit will swallow - especially when molting. Breeds such as Angoras need daily grooming. Also, for regularity, give your bunny high-fiber hay and leafy, dark green vegetables, and make sure your bunny gets plenty of exercise.

Despite regular brushing, some rabbits still develop hairballs. You can help ease the mass through the digestive tract by feeding high-fiber foods, plenty of fluids and hairball ointments. If your pet is dehydrated, the doctor will administer fluid intravenously or under the skin. Once the obstruction is on its way out, your veterinarian may use medications to increase intestinal movement.

To get your rabbit's appetite back on track, try serving its favorite foods. Closely follow your veterinarian's instructions regarding how much and how often to feed your furry friend. Overfeeding will just add to the problem.

Your bunny's recovery depends on the severity of the obstruction.

When all is said and done, cleaning up cat hairballs doesn't seem so bad after all.