Fur mice, big black ones, crowd the corners of my home. The vacuum cleaner is afraid of them, and with good reason: I've been through three of these expensive appliances since I moved into my home a decade ago.
A house full of dog fur will wear down even the bravest vacuum eventually.
My latest one is wheezing plaintively and dreads leaving the closest. This is the time of year when the fur mice seem to be mating, and there's an explanation: the big fall shed. The Hoover is outmatched, for sure.
Dogs typically lose their winter coat 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.
Hormonal swings factor in, too, in unspayed females, who lose hair in sheets at different times in their seasonal cycles (another great reason for spaying your dog, in addition to the many health benefits).
The amount and kind of shedding varies widely from breed to breed. Some double-coated dogs hold their coats pretty well except for a period in the spring and fall, while some medium-coated pets shed constantly. And some curly-coats seem to hardly shed at all. Golden retrievers and German shepherds, for example, are prolific year-round shedders, while poodles deserve their reputation for neatness.
Shorthaired breeds may shed as much as the longhairs, but since the hair they shed is more easily overlooked, it may seem they are shedding less. Not so in my house, where most of the fur mice are from the medium-coated retrievers, even though Andy, my sheltie, has a glorious, long double coat.
Even the heaviest shedders can be tamed by a regular and frequent schedule of combing and brushing. After all, the fur you catch before it's shed won't end up on a rug.
Grooming should be a regular part of maintaining your dog. The advantages are many. Regular brushing will keep your pet's coat in top condition, lengthen the period between baths, and help you to spot suspicious lumps and bumps early. Plus, it's great for bonding, especially if you end every session with lots of love and a good tummy rub.
And it's not hard to do, no matter your pet's coat type. Divide the coat into small sections and work slowly and gently. Misting the coat with water from a spray bottle will make the work easier. Work against the grain and close to the skin to catch as much of the ready-to-fall fur as possible.
Mats can be painful to your pet and need to be kept under control. Work cornstarch in and carefully slice the tangle in half with scissors, with the sharp edge pointing away from your pet's skin. Work the fur gently free with your fingers and finish the job with a wide-toothed comb. If you can't get the mat untangled without a lot of tugging, do your pet a favor and cut it off. The fur will grow back.
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 too dull or excessive hair loss is noticed.
What about winter protection for dogs who don't naturally carry enough coat? Try a sweater. While many people laugh at the idea of putting clothes on dogs, it's not a bad idea in some cases. In particular, slight breeds such as whippets and Italian greyhounds can use the help, as can many older, arthritic dogs.
PETS ON THE WEB
They're America's top dogs, according to the American Kennel Club, and they've even got one of their kind in the White House. The Labrador retriever has a well-earned reputation as a great family pet and versatile working dog. If you're among the breed's many fans, you'll love Labrador World (www.labradorworld.com). The site packs in information on finding a reputable breeder or rescue group, which is never so important as in a popular breed. (A poorly bred and unsocialized puppy or dog is much more likely to have serious health and temperament problems.) Labrador World also offers help on training and health, as well as chat rooms, discussion groups, and links to many other Labrador-related sites and e-mail lists. Lots to sniff through on this site!
"Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul," a collection of short works celebrating the human-animal bond, is the pet book phenomenon of the year, and its co-authors are ready to ladle up another helping. If you have a story for them, they'd like to see it -- and soon, since the deadline for submission is Dec. 31. Stories should be 1,200 words or less and have what the authors call a "Chicken Soup moment," a point that evokes a emotional response. Carol Kline is the person to contact by regular mail: P.O., Box 1262, Fairfield, Iowa 52556; or by e-mail at ckline(at)lisco.com.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: A number of years ago you printed in the San Jose Mercury News a recipe for "liver brownies." I saved it, the dogs loved it, I moved, and it's lost. Hooper, a black, handsome, bright Lab-pit would be eternally grateful to you if you would send the recipe. Thanks! -- L.Z.D., via the Internet
A: My best to Hooper. Here's the recipe, and bone appetite!
-- 1 pound of liver, pureed in blender or food processor;
-- 1 cup cornmeal;
-- garlic powder to taste (your dog's, not yours);
-- a little water to get the consistency of chewy brownie batter.
Mix and spread in brownie pan. Bake about 25 minutes at 325-350 degrees. Stick a knife in center to see if they are done. Cool and cut. They can be frozen for later use.
Q: We recently just got a new puppy and are still unsure of its breed. We noticed worms about two weeks ago in her stool and assumed it was roundworm. I went to the store, purchased the worm medication, followed the instructions on the package and gave two treatments. We thought the problem had disappeared, but then the other night we noticed a worm in his stool.
If you could give me some general information on what kind of worms they might be, it would be very helpful. Can I treat it myself, or should I take her to the vet? -- H.O., via the Internet
A: Puppies aren't born with roundworms, but they pick them up so soon after that they might as well be. The very mother's milk that gives puppies the immunity they need to survive their first few weeks of life also carries the roundworm larvae that will plague almost every puppy.
Chances are your puppy still has roundworms, but that's not the only kind of parasite that could be compromising his health. Your puppy needs to see a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Your veterinarian will give you the medication you need to treat the infestation. Follow directions exactly, including the one for a recheck. Your puppy won't be in the clear until a fecal examination at the vet's office reveals no sign of worms.
Don't forget to discuss heartworms with your vet, too. In most areas, heartworm prevention should start within the first month of life. Prevention is the key to keeping heartworms at bay, since despite recent advances in the treatment of heartworm infestations, it's still better for the pet to prevent problems with either the monthly or daily pill.
Ask your veterinarian about a "puppy package." Some practices combine preventive-care measures for puppies into a single plan that's priced more cheaply than each procedure would be individually. It's a great way to get your puppy off to the best start, with vaccinations, wormings and spaying or neutering.
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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