With pets as with anything else, nothing succeeds like excess. That's why some of the most popular pets are the ones with lots of lovely fur -- such as collies, cockers and Persians. Even breeds like the golden retriever seem to get fluffier every year.
But there's price to be paid for such beauty, and if you don't pay, your pet will. Consider a simple mat, so easy to overlook on a longhaired pet. Have you ever had your hair in a ponytail that was just a little too tight? A mat can feel the same way to your pet, a constant pull on the skin. Try to imagine those all over your body, and you have a good idea how uncomfortable an ungroomed coat can be.
Your pet need never know what a mat feels like if you keep him brushed and combed. You should go over him daily, clearing snarls, and brush him out completely every week. For shorthaired breeds, doing so is a cinch: Run your hands over him daily, a brush over him weekly, and that's it. Even shorthaired cats, who do pretty well on their own, benefit from this attention.
For longhaired pets, grooming is a little more involved. Divide the coat into small sections and comb and brush against the grain from the skin outward, working from head to tail, section by section. Lightly misting the part of the fur you're brushing with water from a spray bottle makes working the brush through the coat easier and helps keep the fur from breaking. Work slowly and gently, with lots of sweet praise and encouragement. If either of you starts losing patience, take a break.
For those mats, sprinkle in some cornstarch and work it in well. Slice the mat with scissors from the skin out and then pick it apart gently with a comb. If your pet is heavily matted, don't put either one of you through the torture of combing them all out -- have the coat cut short by a groomer, instead.
One of the most often neglected parts of grooming is nail trimming, and it's easy to see why. Some pets lose control when the nail trimmers come out, which is why many owners leave trimming up to their veterinarian or a professional groomer -- or ignore it entirely.
The problem is that nail trims need to performed regularly, every month or so at least, which means it's up to you to keep it up. Get your pet used to the idea slowly by handling his feet and rewarding him with praise and treats. Short nightly sessions -- while you're watching TV, perhaps -- will build tolerance quickly.
When it's time to cut, start with just one nail and take just a fraction of an inch off before calling it a day. Eventually, you'll build to the point where you'll trim to just beyond the pink line that marks the vein. (In black nails, shine a flashlight through the nail to see where the vein is.)
If you're uncertain about your nail-trimming technique, have your veterinarian demonstrate and watch while you practice. But whatever you do, don't ignore nail trims or any part of a regular grooming regimen. It's an important part of the pet-lover's responsibility for maintaining good health and comfort.
More on "lost" pets: Many readers wrote to remind me that I missed something in my recent column on how to help pets find their way back home -- microchips. It's true that more pets than ever before are carrying this invisible, high-tech ID, and it's a good idea to have any animal you find "scanned" by your shelter or veterinarian.
Pets on the Web: This one's for my 6-year-old niece, Kate, who called me recently with news of her new pet, Ginger, a dwarf rabbit. "Aunt Gina," she said, "will you write a book on rabbits?" No doubt I will, someday, but I would consider it a real accomplishment if I could do as good a job as the House Rabbit Society has with its Web site, www.rabbit.org. This well-run site serves as a strong voice for the proper care of rabbits. Oh, and Kate: The HRS site has a special area just for kids.
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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