Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Universal Press Syndicate

Fall is a wonderful season, and our pets seem to love it as much as we do. They seem to perk up as the evenings get cool and the breezy days gently warn of cold to come.

Dogs seem to be even more excited about walks in the autumn crispness, and cats seem to love playing in the leaves, no doubt looking for the mice who are busy beneath.

But even as we're enjoying the brisk beauty of fall, we need to remember it means winter is around the corner, and with it, an awareness of seasonal challenges for our pets.

Primary among these, of course, is cold weather.

The weather -- heat in the summer, cold in the winter -- is certainly of most importance to outdoor pets. We don't agree with the practice of keeping dogs and cats outdoors all their lives -- these pets are often lonely and bored, and are more likely to be suffering from physical neglect.

That said, we realize some people won't bring animals in the house, no matter what. If you're one of those people, you must provide adequate outdoor shelter. And the time to review your pet's shelter is now.

Animals must be able to get out of the elements. A pet must have a well-insulated structure just large enough so that he can curl up inside to maintain body heat. The structure should also have a wind-block to protect it from wintry blasts. In the coldest parts of the country, it should also have some sort of outdoor-rated pet-heating pad or other device. And be sure that there's always a supply of fresh, unfrozen water by using a heated bowl.

Animals who spend any significant amount of time outside will need more calories during cold weather. Food is fuel, and they'll need to burn it to stay warm.

Final outdoor caution: Remember to thump on your car's hood on cold mornings. You neighbor's cat may be nestled against the engine for warmth, and thumping your car's hood will get the animal to skedaddle to safety.

Indoor pets don't face the challenges outdoor pets do, but winter can be uncomfortable for them as well. For pets with arthritis, cold weather can be more painful, so ask your veterinarian about supplements or prescription medications that may help your pet feel better. A soft, heated bed may be much appreciated, too, especially by older pets. And remember that one of the best things you can do for a pet with joint problems is to keep the extra weight off: A pet who's more sedentary in winter needs to eat less.

What about sweaters and coats for dogs? Some animals really can use the extra insulation of a well-fitted sweater: older pets, and dogs who are tiny (such as Chihuahuas), or who are shorthaired and naturally lean (such as greyhounds or whippets). Overcoats can save you time drying your dog if you walk in inclement weather, especially if your pet's longhaired. And don't forget to wipe your pets' feet, legs and belly after they've been outside to keep the animal from ingesting any de-icing solutions.

Because home heating systems can dry out the air, you and your pets may be more comfortable if you introduce some humidity. Birds, especially those species originating in tropical climates, will enjoy extra opportunities for bathing or being misted.

Cold-weather pet care is a matter of compassion and common sense. Use both in equal measure, and your pet will get through the worst of the season in fine shape.


Are dogs supposed to shed in fall?

Q: I've noticed my dog seems to shed as much in the fall as in the spring. Is this normal? I thought shedding was only supposed to be in the spring. He's a husky mix, if that has any relevance. He always has a lot of fur, no matter how much he sheds. -- G.W., via e-mail

A: Fall shedding is perfectly normal.

Dogs typically lose their winter coats in the spring, when it is replaced by a shorter, lighter one for summer. In the fall, this cycle is reversed, as the summer coat is shed to make room for heavy protective fur for winter. The change is most obvious in "double-coated" breeds such as collies, shelties and keeshonden. Those breeds carry not only a harsh, protective long overcoat, but also a soft, insulating undercoat -- and they lose masses of fur from both in spring and fall.

The amount of shedding varies widely from breed to breed. German shepherds, for example, are prolific year-round shedders, while poodles seem to lose little fur at all. Shorthaired breeds may shed as much as the longhairs, but since the hair they shed is easily overlooked, it may seem as if they are shedding less.

All shedders -- even the heaviest -- can be tamed by a regular and frequent schedule of combing and brushing. After all, the fur you catch on a comb won't end up on a rug. Work against the grain and close to the skin to catch as much of the ready-to-fall fur as possible.

If you have a purebred, or a dog that has the characteristics of a purebred, ask a breeder for grooming advice, especially in regard to the proper kind of grooming equipment. The slicker brush that works fine on a poodle won't make much headway in the thick mane of a full-coated collie at the height of a seasonal shed. For a shorthaired dog, a curry comb or hound glove will do the job well, catching the short fur before it ends up on your rug.

No matter what the breed, shedding -- and heavy seasonal shedding -- is normal, but some heavy shedding can be a sign of health problems. Skin allergies and skin parasites may trigger shedding, and poor nutrition can also be a cause of coat problems.

Become familiar with your pet's normal pattern of shedding, and ask your veterinarian for advice if coat condition seems to dull or excessive hair loss or patches of baldness are noticed. -- Gina Spadafori


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to or by visiting


-- To avoid becoming dinner, some animals use brilliant, razzle-dazzle markings (such as stripes, zigzags or other high-contrast patterns on their skin or fur) to throw off their predators. A study reported in The New York Times reports that stark, high-contrast markings make it difficult for a predator to judge the animal's speed or trajectory while moving.

-- With an estimated 17 million overweight dogs in the United States, it's probably no surprise that 100-calorie snack packs are now available for pets (from reports Weight Watchers magazine. The same article noted that 40 percent of cats are obese in part because cat owners leave unmeasured amounts of food out all day. If your pet is fat, talk to your veterinarian.

-- The eight tentacles of an octopus divide up into six "arms" and two "legs," reports a recently released study. The creatures favor their first three pairs of tentacles for grabbing and using objects. Unlike humans and some other animals, most octopuses did not appear to be left-handed or right-handed.

-- The North American market for pet insurance will grow from an estimated $248 million in 2007 to $1.1 billion by 2012, according to a recent Packaged Facts report. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon


Moving a cat? Confinement is key

The best way to move with your cat is to confine him before and after moving day in a "safe room."

Choose a room where your cat isn't going to be disturbed, and outfit it with food and water, a litter box, a scratching post, a bed and toys.

Confining your cat not only reduces his stress, but also prevents him from slipping out, which is a danger at both the old home and the new. Your cat could easily become scared, take off and get lost, even in his familiar neighborhood, if he gets disoriented. Even if your cat turns up back at your old place, a reunion can be hard to arrange if you need to leave before you find him, especially if you've moved to another city.

Your cat should be confined in his safe room the day before packing begins, moved to his new home in a carrier, and then confined again in his new safe room until the moving is over, the furniture arranged and most of the dust settled.

Trying to force a scared and stressed-out cat to do anything he doesn't want to is hazardous to your health. After you arrive at your new home, don't pull your cat out of his carrier. Instead, put the carrier in his safe room, open the carrier door, and let him come out into the room when he wants to. After he's a little calmer, you can coax him out with some fresh food or treats if you want. But don't rush him and don't drag him out -- or you may be bitten or scratched.

When you have the rest of the house settled, open the door to the safe room and let your cat explore his new home, on his terms. -- Gina Spadafori


Hop to popularity

When it comes to small mammals as pets, rabbits are the most popular, followed by hamsters and guinea pigs. All small mammals are common children's pets, but most have considerable followings among adults as well. Among those households with small mammals as pets, here's how the animals rank in popularity (more than one answer allowed):

Rabbit 43 percent

Hamster 36 percent

Guinea pig 20 percent

Mouse/rat 8 percent

Ferret 7 percent

Gerbil 5 percent

Chinchilla 4 percent

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association


Cue 'happy' dog with greetings

Help your dog relax when greeting new people or dogs by giving your dog a consistent "be friendly" cue. In a happy, relaxed voice, ask your dog to "Say hi!" Over time, these words will be a sign to your dog that something good is going to happen.

In training, remember to not set up your dog with a bad experience. Observe the body language of dogs you don't know. A friendly dog has relaxed, fluidly moving body postures. Unfriendly dogs are stiff. Do not cue your dog to greet a dog who does not look friendly even if that dog's owner says it's OK. You be the judge!

Praise friendly postures as you allow dogs to touch noses but be prepared to pull your dog back if tensions rise suddenly.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at

Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to or by visiting

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