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THE PET CONNECTION
By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Regular Grooming is an Easy Way to Make Pets Happy and Healthy

There are few things that make a veterinarian happier than walking into an exam room to see a pet who's squeaky clean and perfectly groomed. That's because it's a sign of a pet owner who's paying attention to all aspects of preventive pet care and overall comfort.
 
How important is grooming to your pet's comfort? Consider a simple mat, so easy to overlook. 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 dog -- 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 dog need never know what a mat feels like if you keep him brushed and combed -- but that's just the start of the health benefits. Regular grooming allows you to look for lumps, bumps and injuries, while clearing such things as tangles and ticks from his coat. Follow up with your veterinarian on any questionable masses you find, and you may detect cancer early enough to save your pet's life.
 
For shorthaired breeds, keeping skin and coat in good shape is easy. Run your hands over him daily, a brush over him weekly and that's it.
 
For other breeds, grooming is a little more involved. Breeds such as collies, chows, keeshonden and Alaskan malamutes are "double-coated," which means they have a downy undercoat underneath harsher long hair. The down can mat like a layer of felt against the skin if left untended. To prevent this, divide the coat into small sections and brush against the grain from the skin outward, working from head to tail, section by section. A tip: Yes, you can keep these long-haired dogs clipped short to keep grooming easier -- and you'll be rewarded with a dog who sheds the least of all, owing to the longer grow-and-shed cycle of long hair.
 
Silky-coated dogs such as Afghan hounds, cockers and Maltese also need constant brushing to keep tangles from forming. As with the double-coated dogs, work with small sections at a time, brushing from the skin outward, and then comb back into place with the grain for a glossy, finished look. Coats of this type require so much attention that having a groomer keep the dogs trimmed to a medium length is often more practical.
 
Curly and wiry coats, such as those on poodles and terriers, need to be brushed weekly, working against the grain and then with it. Curly coats need to be clipped every six weeks; wiry ones, two or three times a year. (But clipping every six weeks will keep your terrier looking sharper.) A good professional groomer, along with your veterinarian, can be a dog's best friend.
 
Good grooming is about more than keeping your pet looking beautiful and clean-smelling, although those are certainly pleasant payoffs. Regular grooming relaxes the dog who's used to it, and it becomes a special time shared between you both. A coat free of mats, burrs and tangles, and skin free of fleas and ticks, are as comfortable to your dog as clean clothes fresh from the wash are to you. It just makes you feel good, and the effect is the same for your pet.
 
Some added benefit for you: Giving your dog a tummy rub after every session is sure to relax you (and your dog, of course) and ease the stress of your day. - By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
   
Q&A
Houseplants can make chewing cats very sick
 
Q: I'm tired of shredded houseplants! Can you suggest plants that our two cats won't chew on? -- via Facebook
 
A: We'd rather you satisfy your cats' desire to chew by offering safe plants for their pleasure, while removing all toxic foliage and cat-proofing the plants you want left alone.
 
Many common houseplants can make your cats ill, and a few can be deadly. Among the most dangerous are dieffenbachia, lily of the valley and philodendron. Various ivies and yews can be troublesome, too, and the bulbs of plants popular for "forcing" into early indoor bloom -- such as amaryllis, daffodils and tulips -- can cause problems for the cat who likes to dig and chew.
 
The Animal Poison Control Center maintains a list of problem plants, and you should also be able to find such lists in most basic cat-care books. Check your household inventory against the "bad plant" list, and replace any dangerous plants with safer ones.
 
Indulge your pets by keeping planters of sprouting grasses growing in an accessible place for nibbling. Special blends of seeds for cats are available in pet stores and specialty shops, or you can purchase rye or wheat grass seeds at the nursery. Catnip, too, is something that's always better when fresh, as is valerian. While not all cats react to the pleasures of these plants, those who do will appreciate your keeping it in-house and using fresh cuttings to recharge cat posts, trees and toys.
 
When your cats have their own plants, you can work on keeping them away from yours. Plants on the ground or on low tables are the easiest targets, so make your houseplants less accessible to the bored and wandering cat. Put plants up high, or better yet: Hang them.
 
For the plants you can't move out of harm's way, make them less appealing by coating them with something your cats find disagreeable. Cat-discouragers include Bitter Apple, a nasty-tasting substance available at any pet-supply store, or Tabasco sauce from any grocery store. Whenever you find what your cat doesn't like, keep reapplying it to reinforce the point.
 
Pot your plants in heavy, wide-bottomed containers, and cover the soil of the problem plants with rough, decorative rock to end digging. Foil, waxed paper and double-sided tape are also effective digging deterrents, albeit less attractive ones. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
   
THE BUZZ
Powerful beaks give parrots big leverage

  • The beaks of most parrots are remarkably well-designed for one of their most important tasks: cracking, crushing, prying or otherwise destroying the protective coatings around many of the foods they like to eat. Beaks should not be given routine trims: Overgrowth of the beak is frequently a sign of illness, such as liver disease or malnutrition. Any bird whose beak seems to be too long needs to see a veterinarian expert in avian medicine to determine the cause of the problem and treat it accordingly.

  • Viagra (sildenafil) is used for more than what it's most famous for. In veterinary medicine, the drug may be prescribed for severe pulmonary hypertension - high blood pressure in the lungs. 

  • Dealing with hairballs - fur ingested as a cat grooms himself, then vomited back up in clumps - is a normal part of living with a cat. Canned or fresh pureed pumpkin - not pumpkin pie filling - is a good way to increase the fiber in your cat's diet to help the hair work its way through your cat's digestive system. Many cats enjoy a teaspoon of pumpkin daily if it's mixed with something yummy, such as canned food or the water from a can of tuna or clams. Daily brushing can help prevent hairballs as well, by reducing the amount of hair a cat swallows. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
       

Date Published: 8/19/2013 12:41:00 PM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 08/19/2013

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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 at petconnection@gmail.com.

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