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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Shedding in the Fall can be just as bad as in the Spring

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow cooler, you may be observing something that seems rather odd for a body preparing for winter: Your dog is shedding more than usual.
Be reassured: It's perfectly normal.
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.
The amount of shedding varies widely from breed to breed. German shepherds, for example, are prolific year-round shedders, while poodles seem to lose little fur at all. Many shorthaired dogs actually may shed more than the longhairs, but since the hair they shed is easily overlooked, it may seem as if they are shedding less.
All shedders -- even the heaviest -- can be tamed by a regular and frequent schedule of bathing, combing and brushing. After all, the fur you grab while grooming your pet won't end up on rugs or furniture.
If you have a purebred dog, or one that has the characteristics of a purebred, ask a breeder for grooming advice, especially in regard to the proper kind of grooming equipment. The slicker brush that works fine on a poodle won't make much headway in the thick mane of a full-coated collie at the height of a seasonal shed. For a shorthaired dog, a curry comb or hound glove will do the job well, catching the short fur before it lands elsewhere.
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, hormonal abnormalities 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 the coat's condition seems to dull or if you notice excessive overall hair loss or areas of complete hair loss.
Other fall pet-care tips: 

  • Cold-weather cautions. Assess your pet's condition, age, level of exercise and weight, and make adjustments for the cold. In general, pets who live mostly indoors need less food (to offset a decrease in activity), and pets who spend more time outdoors need more (keeping warm requires energy, and food is the fuel). Don't forget shelter, and make sure your pet always has access to water that isn't frozen. Outside or in, heated beds are a good idea, too, and there are many models to choose from at pet-supply outlets.

  • Special care for older animals. Cold weather is especially tough on older pets. For elderly animals, it's not ridiculous to help out by putting a sweater on them when they go outside. Pet-supply outlets have a wide selection, or fashion your own from thrift-store children's wear. - By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Cat 'bib' may stop a pet from hunting
Q: One of our cats has become proficient at catching small birds and rodents, and brings them alive or barely alive into the house. We really don't like this and would appreciate some tips on how to change both cats back to indoor-only pets, if possible. Also, do bells on collars really work, since maybe that would at least hinder her ability to catch birds? They both wear collars, but not bells. -- via Facebook
A: If your only concern is about the hunter cat turning your home into the "nature channel," the easiest thing to try is a cat bib. While it may not be the best feline fashion statement, this device hangs down the front of a cat and keeps her from getting the jump on her prey. As for bells on cat collars, they do sometimes work to scare birds away. But some cats learn how to stalk without ringing their bells. Who says cats aren't smart?
The better route to take is to convince your outdoor adventure lovers to accept an indoor-only life.
Feline frustration can turn into an orchestra of cat complaints. Some cats complain vocally (nonstop), others make the 50-yard dash to the door their sport (nonstop), while still others play Tarzan indoors from curtains to couches. Cranky cats may pick on each other. Just a few escapes can drag out this feline focus and fury on gaining freedom. If you decide to make them indoor cats, go cold turkey. Once they're in, they're in forever.
When you take away the great outdoors, replace it with a new indoor cat jungle. Purchase a few floor-to-ceiling cat trees for climbing and perching. Place new things to explore in the room every day. Boxes and bags make great cat caves to investigate. Place catnip mice in new places. Buy a variety of scratching surfaces, both vertical and horizontal. Add a few containers of cat grass. Buy cat toys that look like real prey and begin daily indoor hunts.
The better you are at creating a new nature environment indoors, the less fuss and stress for you and the cats when changing from outdoor to indoor scenery.
Mentally and physically tired indoor cats will be more contented ones. They may never completely give up trying to escape, but over time, their efforts will wane. -- by Gina Spadafori
Beauty of black cats more than skin deep

  • If you have a black cat with yellow eyes, you have a pet who's not only striking in appearance, but fairly remarkable genetically. These cats display a condition known as melanism, which is more or less the opposite of the better-known albinism. Their genetic code is what makes them appear completely black with "Halloween eyes" to match. According to National Geographic's News Watch feature, "Melanism (is) seen in 11 of the 36 wild felid species, (and) produces yellow irises as a result of high levels of melanin in the pigment." While superstitions say that black cats are bad luck in the United States, the exact opposite is true in the United Kingdom. 

  • After the horrific deaths of nearly 50 large cats, wolves and bears following their release from a Zanesville, Ohio, compound in 2011, laws were changed that turned the state from one of the easiest places to keep dangerous exotic animals into one of the most difficult. Ohio officials have offered owners amnesty to turn in their animals under the state's new Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes Act, but the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that some are just being turned loose. 

  • A transfusion using blood donated by a dog saved the life of a poisoned cat. With no time to lose and the cat's life slipping from her grasp, New Zealand veterinarian Dr. Kate Heller took a chance that the unorthodox move would work -- and it did. One hour after the transfusion, the cat was on the way to recovery. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 9/9/2013 9:32:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 09/09/2013


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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

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