1. Provide a nutritionally complete diet
"The best way to maintain skin and fur health is through feeding a diet that optimally meets the nutritional needs of the pet," says Dr. Doug Roberts, a veterinarian in Kentville, N.S., and President of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. "Many nutrients contribute to healthy skin and fur, including essential fatty acids, high-quality proteins and vitamins and minerals."
Nutritional composition varies between various age- or weight-specific pet foods, or special-diet foods, so if you’re not sure what food is best for your pet, talk to your vet.
2. Don't forget to brush
Grooming keeps your cat or dog's fur untangled, shiny and clean, says Roberts. It also reduces the incidence of hairballs, which afflict cats and dogs.
Some shorthaired animals require weekly grooming, while those with thick, shedding or long hair may require daily brushing sessions.
Most cats are groomed by brush (or flea comb, when required), while grooming tools for dogs include brushes, combs, shedding blades, gloves and pads, strippers and polishing cloths. Not sure what's best for your pup’s coat? Ask your groomer for recommendations. Or visit a large pet-care shop – many have on-site pet salons, and you can find an expert there who can advise you.
It may take some trial and error to find the perfect grooming tools. Some cats and dogs are fussy and may love one tool and hate another. Remember that if Spot's comfortable during his grooming session, he’ll be more likely to cooperate.
3. Treat fleas year-round
Itchy fleabites can make animals scratch, bite or lick excessively at their fur, causing irritated skin and bare patches.
"Our cat, Claire, lost most of the fur on her belly. We took her to the vet thinking she had a disease. It was actually irritation from fleas," says Ernesto Ourique, a teacher in Hamilton. Although Claire had been on a premium monthly flea, tick and ear mite prevention regimen, Ourique says he'd inadvertently waited too long between treatments, allowing fleas to return.
Treat fleas promptly and stay on schedule so problems don’t flare up.
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4. Bathe Fido regularly. Bathe Whiskers less often.
There's a wide range of opinions for how often to bathe your dog, from weekly to monthly – or even seasonally. The truth is, it depends on the dog.
Here are some considerations:
• Activity level: Rough-and-tumble mud puppies need frequent bathing!
• Sleeping arrangements: If your dog shares your bed, a nice smelling coat is probably important to you.
• Hair type: Thick, coarse-textured coats repel dirt better than soft coats. German shepherds and Huskies, therefore, need less frequent bathing than Afghans and Malteses do, for example.
• Coat colour: White dogs will start looking dirty if you wait too long between baths.
• Allergies: Some dogs suffer from environmental allergies. Bathing them weekly keeps pollen, dust or other irritants from accumulating on their fur. And if humans in your household suffer from allergies, bathing your pet can reduce the dander that triggers allergic reactions.
Cats don't need baths unless they get especially dirty, or covered in something they shouldt't be ingesting. But if you want to bathe your cat – and she'll let you – it will do no harm.
"Years ago, we had an all-white cat whom we bathed monthly from a young age. You have to make sure the water and bathroom are very warm – if you cat's shivering, she'll hate being bathed," says Ourique.
Never use discount or human hair-care products on your pet. High-quality pet shampoos and conditioners are gentlest on dogs’ and cats' fur and skin.
5. See if your pal needs some VIP treatment
Cats and dogs, like people, can develop food allergies, which can result in skin irritation or hair loss. Other skin conditions can also affect your pet's coat.
"Some pets may require hypoallergenic diets, therapeutic shampoos, other topical therapeutants, nutritional supplements and/or specific medications to manage their specific skin disorders," says Roberts. See your vet for a diagnosis.
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