A grooming session with my American Eskimo dog, Norman, always reminds me of a scene from "Terminator 2." As I brush him, his long white hair seems to immediately (and ominously) replenish itself like the villain's limbs in the movie. To deal with his ever-growing -- and ever-shedding -- coat, I buy lint-roller refills in bulk. I vacuum, run the DustBuster, and push the Swiffer. And still, I spy hairs on couch cushions and clothes, as well as on things that never even get near him (my mascara wand!). I love Norman like crazy, but I often wonder what I was thinking when I (someone with compulsive cleaning tendencies and a dark wardrobe) chose a white fur ball out of all the dogs in the shelter years ago.
The Pet Hair Takeover
As long as there have been house pets, there have been owners grappling with pet hair. While some dogs and cats shed profusely only in spring and fall, "those that are indoors more often, like city dogs, shed all year," says veterinarian Emmy Pointer of the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, in New York City. All dogs and cats shed (save the hairless ones). Dogs with a double coat, which consists of a soft undercoat and a coarser topcoat, shed more often than single-coated breeds. Those with single coats include poodles and Maltese (the dogs whose owners always say -- and in my experience, smugly -- "Oh, my dog has hair, not fur ...").
A pet may lose some of its coat in a stressful situation, but any noticeable, ongoing change in shedding patterns warrants a trip to the vet, since it could indicate an endocrine disease or a fungal condition, says Pointer.
Rethinking Norman's Diet
Although shedding is inevitable, pet owners don't have to succumb to hair-covered "cat lady" cliches. A high-quality pet food is the first step toward reducing fur loss. "The more digestible ingredients are in the food, the better the pet's coat will be," says Marc Morrone, host of "Ask Marc, The Petkeeper" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius XM Channel 110. Along with many vets, he recommends food that lists meat as its first ingredient and doesn't include mysterious-sounding additives. "Anything you wouldn't eat yourself shouldn't be in the dog food."
Morrone also suggests adding raw flaxseed oil to a pet's food -- one teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight. You should talk to your vet before trying any nutritional supplement that promises to eliminate shedding, which -- aside from being scientifically unproven -- could be dangerous to pets that have preexisting medical conditions, says Pointer.
Finding My Magic Solution
While there may not be a miracle cure for shedding, there is a magic solution: the brush. It's easy to let a day -- or several days -- lapse between at-home grooming, but "brushing does two things," says Morrone. "It gets rid of any fur that's ready to come out, and it takes oil off the animal's skin and coats the fur that's there, making it more supple and less likely to fall out." A stainless steel comb works well for most pets. For worse shedders, groomers and vets swear by the Furminator (from $39, furminator.com), a short-bladed rake-style brush that pulls out the undercoat. Even its name makes it seem to have been created just for Norman.
Along with changing his diet, I've made a nightly "furmination" as much of a habit as brushing my teeth. Gradually, I've seen the amount of fur removed with each session reduce from a mountain to more of a molehill -- and with it, my frustration.
Any dog with a double coat, such as a shaggy Icelandic sheepdog or a sleek Labrador retriever, loses much of its coat at least twice a year. Dogs kept indoors can shed continuously, year-round.
The Clean Team
Martha uses a damp dishcloth for everyday removal of pet fur from furniture and clothes. If you are looking for something more high-tech or heavy-duty, give these fur-fighting products a try.
Remove hair and dander as well as typical household allergens from the room. (Honeywell Pet CleanAir Purifier, $59, homedepot.com)
This highly effective (and more eco-friendly) alternative to tape rollers is good for pet beds and upholstery. (Fur & Fuzz brush, $6, bissell.com)
Made to handle fur, this new robotic device is worth the price for the hours it saves you in vacuuming time. (Neato XV-21, $429, amazon.com)