Horgan is one of the world’s only Covert Animal Handlers. He is an expert on cats. He’s a great boss. But there are some things he will never understand.

Horgan: “Why are you always leaving hairballs on the kitchen floor, Timber?”

Me: “Would you prefer I stopped taking baths?”

Horgan: “How about you stop eating things with backbones? I can’t tell you how many tiny skeletons I’ve cleaned up this week.”

Me: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Horgan: Disgusted sigh.

There’s a simple answer to the mystery of why cats throw up hairballs:

Because they are there.

But is it ever that simple?

According to Wikipedia, a hairball is a collection of fur that is vomited when it becomes too big. (Yes, Wikipedia has an entry on hairballs.) I’ll spare you the picture and the video; anyone familiar with cats can bring to mind the unique sounds and motions that can only indicate the return of that which cannot be digested.

A hairball, when placed properly, can mean many things:

– Your offering of food, though generous in portion, was unpleasing to my palate. I was bored, so I ate it anyway. But don’t think I liked it.

– Your offering of food, very generous in portion, was extremely pleasing to my palate. Unfortunately, it was too much for my stomach, which is a bit upset from a romp with the catnip. You should have anticipated that.

– My long, luxurious coat is shining, but the residual layers are accumulating in a packed cylinder near my pyloric sphincter.

– The natural diet of cats, which includes a variety of small mammals with indigestible bones and fur, relies on hairballs. No hairballs, no more room in the stomach. Please understand this, and feed me the occasional vole.

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