Solid, tabby or tuxedo, longhaired or short, a cat's coat is one of the most beautiful things about this special pet. It's also one of the most annoying, if you're fussy about fur.
How much do you know about cat fur? Enough to make a decision about what kind of coat type you could live with? Read on:
Cats have three kinds of hair in their coat -- down, awn and guard. The down is the shortest, finest and softest hair. The awn is the coarsest, and the guard the longest. Not all cat breeds have all three kinds of hair. The "hairless" Sphynx, for example, has only guard hairs, and not many of those. The curly-coated Cornish Rex has only awn and down. The makeup of the different hair types can differ, too. The awn hairs are usually shorter than the guard hairs, but when they're the same length, it makes for an especially thick covering known among cat fanciers as a "double coat."
Some cats, such as the Rexes, shed little. Longhairs seem to shed a lot, but that's partly because the hair they lose is longer. But all cats shed, and you need to take the amount shed into consideration when thinking about adding a pet to your household. Call it the "fur level" consideration, and add two others: aesthetics, and time and money.
Aesthetics is easy to sort out, for it's strictly a matter of personal choice. Some people love the sleekness of shorthaired cats, while others prefer a longhaired look. While personality and body types don't always match up so neatly in random-bred cats, it helps to know that in pedigreed animals, short hairs are often lighter, leaner, louder and much more active than the heavier longhaired breeds.
Even if you prefer the feel of a longhaired cat, you need to be aware they require more upkeep. Longhairs, especially the silkier ones such as Persians, mat easily and need to be combed out every other day or so as well as brushed out weekly. Hairballs are a bigger problem in longhaired cats and may require more veterinarian visits or medications. That means money, as does a professional grooming -- most likely shaving -- if the coat gets out of control.
Combing and brushing help keep both hairballs and shedding under control, but they won't eliminate either. Living with a cat is always going to be about dodging the urp-ups in your bare feet and picking hair off your clothes. If you're at the lower end of the tolerance level, invest in lint brushes and think shorthair, or the Rex breeds if you're considering a pedigreed. If you like glorious coats of the longhaired cats, invest in lint-brush stock and jump right in, but don't forget to put on your slippers first.
PETS ON THE WEB
Sometimes I could not be more grateful that I'm a writer, not a radio host, and this is one of those times. I won't have to embarrass myself by trying to pronounce Polski Owczarek Nizinny, an interesting breed of herding dog with a pretty good informational Web site (www.aponc.com). The PON, known in England by the far easier monicker of Polish lowland sheepdog (which is what Polski Owczarek Nizinny translates to), is a medium-sized dog looking something like a bearded collie -- lots of long hair and a fuzzy face.
Its fans brag that the breed is an intelligent dog with a good memory and an intense desire to please. The Web site offers a decent overview of the status of this breed in the United States, with pictures, show results and links to folks who own and show this interesting rare breed. Check out the story of the dog named Bob, who has made quite a career for herself (yes, Bob's a girl) in commercials.
If you have a cat, you ought to have a cat carrier. I've seen people trying to transport their cat in everything from bare hands to pillow cases, and nothing beats a cat carrier when it comes to safety -- for both you and your cat -- comfort and convenience. Skip those cardboard ones the shelters give you to take your new pet home; they're not designed for sturdy long-term use. Others to rule out include carriers with no privacy, or ones that don't clean easily, such as those made of wicker.
Your best bet is a carrier made of hard, high-impact molded plastic that has an open-grid door. Most models have the door at one end, but you may find it easier to deal with your pet if you instead find the kind with the door on the top. These make getting your pet in and out of the carrier much easier.
Another reason to own one: A carrier is an essential piece of any disaster kit, making evacuation easier in the event of an emergency and expanding the possibilities for temporary housing for your pet.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have a 14-year-old Scottie who has arthritis. The vet has prescribed half a buffered aspirin twice a day. I've heard conflicting views on this -- from family, not professionals -- and I'm wondering what to do. She seems to be in some pain and definitely is suffering stiffness. - K.F, via the Internet
A: I'd go with the good doctor's advice. Buffered or coated aspirin is a commonly recommended medication for creaky dogs, as are some of the newer nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory prescription medications such as Rimdayl.
Give your relatives some credit, though: They're on the right track by suggesting caution when it comes to over-the-counter drugs. Drugs behave in different animals in different ways. Cats, for example, cannot handle Tylenol and can be killed by what you might consider a small, cat-sized dose!
Such dangers stress why it's so important to develop a trusting relationship with your veterinarian, one where you feel comfortable asking questions and discussing what's best for your pet without feeling you must keep an eye on the clock or your bank account. You and your veterinarian must work together to maintain your pet in the best health.
A final note: Ask your veterinarian about chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine supplements for your dog. These medications improve the fluid around the joints, making movement easier. Inquire, too, about skipping the name-brand supplement and buying a generic equivalent made for humans at a discount pharmacy or warehouse store. You'll need to work with your veterinarian on the dosage, though.
Q: My puppy is losing his teeth! We were playing tug-of-war the other day, and I noticed one of his teeth in the rope. I called the emergency clinic and they said it was normal. I'm still worried. -- P.D., via the Internet
A: Stop worrying. Dogs have puppy teeth just like we have baby teeth, and they start coming out as early as two months of age. The smaller teeth pop out earliest, with the bigger ones such as canines and molars hanging on for a few months. Your pup's shiny new adult teeth will be securely in place by the time he hits his seven-month birthday, most likely.
Sometimes, though, a puppy tooth will hang around even after it has been pushed aside by its replacement. Talk to your veterinarian if you see this. Your puppy's doctor will probably opt to pull it.
Time now for the advice you didn't ask for: Stop playing tug-of-war with your puppy. Tug-of-war can teach your pet to be aggressive, and I'm sure that's the last thing you want.
Here's how the game plays out, from the human and pet point of view:
You play a rowdy round of tug-of-war with your pet, until you get tired, bored or remember you have to call your mother. You drop your end. You think, "Game's over." Your pet thinks, "I won." Leaving a dog with the idea that he won is never a good idea. Dogs are opportunists: If you aren't a leader, he will be, and that's a road to trouble.
Teach your puppy to play fetch instead. It's better exercise, and it reinforces your role as a fun leader.
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 Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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