Does it seem like there's more dog fur in your house these days? There's a reason for it: The big fall shed.
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 seems to lose little fur at all. Shorthaired breeds may shed as much as long-haired breeds, but since the hair they shed is easily overlooked it may seem they are shedding less.
Even the heaviest shedders can be tamed, however, 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, chair or sweater. Work gently against the grain and close to the skin to catch as much of the ready-to-fall fur as possible. Ask the folks at a reputable pet-supply store for advice on the proper kind of grooming equipment. The brush that works fine on a Doberman won't make much headway in the thick mane of a full-coated collie at the height of a seasonal shed.
Shedding is normal no matter the breed, but some heavy shedding can be a sign of health problems. Skin allergies, parasites and hormonal problems may trigger above-average 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 too dull or excessive hair loss is noticed.
Pet-pourri: Are all calico and tortoiseshell cats female? Not always. One out of 3,000 cats with such markings is male, according to a study by the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri.
Here's why: The gene that governs how the orange color in cats will be displayed is on the X, or female, chromosome. Any cat, male or female, can be orange, but in males that color usually is expressed in the tabby pattern, sometimes called a "ginger tom."
Females, however, can be orange tabbies, torties or calicoes. (The last two are genetically similar, except that the calico has white patches.)
Because orange females are divided among calicoes, torties and tabbies, it often seems that most orange tabbies are males, and statistically, males do make up the majority of orange tabbies. But it's a lot more common for females to be orange tabbies than for males to be either calicoes or torties.
That's because for a cat to be a calico or tortoiseshell it must have two X chromosomes, and that means in the vast majority of cases it's going to be female. When the calico pattern exists in a male, it's because the cat has three sex chromosomes, two X, one Y, a genetic rarity that occasionally shows up in cats (and people, too). If both of those X chromosomes carry the calico blueprint, you're looking at one rare cat: a male calico.
For the record, such "male-female" animals are called "Klinefelter males." They're usually -- but not always -- incapable of reproducing.
Pets on the Web: Want to know how a cat show works? Confused about the difference between the Norwegian forest and the Maine coon? Curious about how many color varieties you can find in Persians? You'll find the answers to all your questions and more on the Web site of the Cat Fanciers' Association (www.cfainc.org), the dominant breed registry in the world of cats. The CFA site is useful if you're interested in pedigreed cats or cat shows, but general cat care information is pretty basic here. The site of another breed registry, The International Cat Association (www.tica.org), offers a lot of the same sort of information with a different spin -- check out the TICA information on showing mixed-breed cats.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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