Let's get one thing straight up front: Almost all cats shed. The "almost" is there to apply to those very few cats who haven't any fur -- such as those of the Sphynx breed, who still manage to carry a little down that can rub off on your clothes. Once you accept the shedding, though, you'll find there's a lot of variety when it comes to cat fur.
Cats can have three kinds of hair in their coats -- down, awn and guard. The down is the shortest, finest and softest hair. The awn is the coarsest, and the guard (sometimes called the primary hairs) is the longest. Not all cats have all three varieties. The Cornish Rex, for example, has only down and wavy awn hairs, giving the coat a distinctive feel some have described as being like touching warm suede.
If you count out the more exotic coats of some purebred cats, though, you're mostly looking at the difference between choosing shorthaired and longhaired cats. If you're thinking of adding a cat or kitten, you should give some thought to the kind of fur you like, since you'll be brushing it off every piece of clothing and furniture you own for the next dozen years or more.
Some people like the sleek look and feel of a shorthaired cat; others adore the flowing softness of the longhairs. The shorthairs have about them the air of a tiger: You can see their muscles move as they walk, see the coiled promise of power while they sleep. In longhairs, the power is even more subtle, hidden by lush thickets of lovely long fur. Do you prefer to rub your hand down a sleek pelt or bury your fingers in a longhaired one?
What about shedding? The difference in shedding levels between short- and longhaired cats can be dramatic, especially in cats that are prized for the volume of coat, such as with Persians. Are you prepared to live with a lint roller in your bathroom, your glove box and your desk drawer at work? Would you be appalled to have a friend pick one of those glorious 4-inch pieces of fur off the back of your sweater? If you're on the low end of fur tolerance, you'd better stick with shorthaired cats. (If you have no tolerance for fur at all, maybe you'd be better off with a tank of fish.)
You also need to consider the extra care that goes into all but the sleekest of coats. Longhaired cats mat easily and need to be combed out every other day or so and brushed thoroughly on a weekly basis. Hairballs, clumps of fur caught in the cat's digestive system, can be a constant problem with longhaired cats, requiring medical attention. If your cat's mats get out of control, you'll need seek out a professional groomer, and that costs money. You'll spend even more money if you elect, as some cat owners do, to have your longhaired cat professionally groomed on a regular basis.
Longhaired cats are more challenging to live with in other ways, too. Their urine and feces can get caught in their coats, and litter may catch on the tufts of fur in their paws and get tracked all over the house.
In my own home, I have always preferred longhaired pets to short ones, and consider the extra effort well worth it. I love the feel of a fluffy coat! It's purely a matter of personal preference, though, and it's a decision you'll have to make on your own before adding a pet to your family.
PETS ON THE WEB
"Overweening hubris is not part of the Hamster Way," claims The Hamster Page (www.direct.ca/hamster), and hey, who am I to argue? This nifty page isn't much to look at, but if you want to find all the Internet has to say on hamsters, this is where you must go.
There are links galore, divided into "Useful" (care and handling information) and "Useless" (humorous or bizarre), as well as categories for hamster links that aren't really about hamsters, and some e-mail to the page's creator that can be all of the above.
Oh, and if you're wondering why anyone would spend time collecting hamster links, here's one answer: "Hamsters are honest, fun-loving and trustworthy rodents that are deserving of more respect! And they're certainly deserving of their own Useless Web Page." I wholly concur, and I enjoyed the light touch of this helpful site.
Although every imaginable feline coat length, type and color has a fan somewhere, you do need to watch out for one thing that's related to coat color: White cats with blue eyes have a high probability for deafness. Some of these cats have eyes of different colors and are deaf only on the side with the blue eye. (You can check for deafness by snapping your fingers or clapping your hands behind a cat's or kitten's head.) Though a deaf cat can still be a good pet -- indoors only, for her own protection -- you'll still want to know what you're getting into before you adopt.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I'm a 4-month-old flat-coated retriever, and momma says I should write and say thank you for sharing about how great head halters are. I got one, and now I get to go for walks again and I don't choke myself!
But I have one problem. Mom says I can't go for long walks yet because I'm just a baby, and I could hurt my joints. I say it's not fair, and I wanna go for long walks, like the ones the springer spaniel gets to go on (he's 5). Who is right? -- Eleos, via e-mail
A: Eleos, you're already ahead of my two flat-coated retrievers, neither of whom shows any interest in the computer. (Indeed, they despise it, because they know the time I'm fooling with it is time I could be spending taking them swimming or to the dog park.)
You didn't say how long the walks are, but a half-mile to a mile seems plenty at your young age. To be honest, even longer walks wouldn't worry me too much, but I'd definitely avoid jogging with your mom, especially on hard pavement, until you are all grown up. Maybe you should play "fetch" on grass instead. Swimming is great, too, and I know you'd like that. (My younger flat-coat, Heather, was an otter in an earlier life, I think, based on how much she loves to be soaking wet.)
I'm glad you like your new head halter. You were too young to have a choke collar on, and now you'll never need one. Be patient! Your mom is trying to do what's best for you. And besides, you'll be grown up before you know it.
Q: I currently own a delightful pair of budgies, and I am looking into getting a parrot. What I already know is that I want a hand-raised, well-socialized and fully weaned baby. What I'm not sure about is the kind?
I want a "beginner's" parrot. I also want something medium sized and relatively quiet. For these reasons I have ruled out macaws, cockatoos, African greys and Amazons. Although I will enjoy teaching tricks and words, talking ability is not a priority. The most important trait I am looking for in my bird is the desire to cuddle and to be petted.
I am now considering a Senegal parrot. I am hoping you can tell me: Am I on the right track? Which other birds should I consider? -- L.V., via e-mail
A: Yes, you're on the right track. The Senegal is a fantastic small parrot, and one of my favorite birds. My Patrick, who died a few months ago, was a Senegal, and he was quiet enough that I had him in my office with me while I wrote. He kept himself amused playing quietly or coming over for an occasional kiss and snuggle.
Other birds to consider would be the pyrrhura conures -- the maroon-belly, green-cheeked and black-capped. These birds are smaller, less flashy, less expensive and much quieter than the aratinga conures such as the sun and jenday.
A final recommendation would be the pionus, which avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer, my "Birds for Dummies" co-author, calls "the poster child for the underappreciated parrots." Pionus parrots are generally quiet and gentle.
A bonus: All these birds are considerably less to purchase then their flashier, noisier relatives, with prices in the low hundreds of dollars, compared to more than a thousand for some of the larger parrots. What a bargain!
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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