Regular and frequent grooming is important for your pet, for many different reasons.
Brushing and combing remove dirt and help distribute oils evenly in the coat, giving it a glossy look and allowing more time between messy baths. Periodic grooming gives you a chance to spot and treat skin problems and parasites before they get completely out of hand, saving both misery and money.
It's also a great way to strengthen the bond between you and your pet. And remember: The fur you catch on a brush or comb isn't going to end up on clothing and furniture.
As if that's not enough, let's add one more thing to that compelling list: Grooming could save your pet's life, by giving you the chance to spot a dangerous condition, such as cancer.
I went through just such a scare last week, when during a grooming session I spotted a suspicious lump behind Toni's shoulder.
Benign fatty tumors are common, especially in older dogs, and 10-year-old Toni has carried one for several months in the skin fold where her back leg meets her hip. Not long after I first discovered it, I had the vet confirm my layperson's diagnoses and continued to check on its size and shape every time I brushed the dog.
But this new lump felt different, not like the routine fatty ones I was used to finding. I was on the phone with the vet before I put down the brush.
A little later, the vet said he didn't like the location or the feel of it, either, so Toni was scheduled for surgery to take out both lumps, just to be on the safe side.
Neither was malignant, thank heavens, but even if they had been, discovering them early would have given Toni a fighting chance against the spread of the disease. With pets, as in humans, early detection holds out the best hope for beating cancer.
Toni's stitches come out in a few days, and you can bet she'll be back on a regular grooming schedule long before the shaved areas start filling back in with her long golden fur.
Long-haired pets need plenty of grooming, of course, but don't let even "wash-and-go" pets escape without regular attention. Once a week is plenty for most to keep coats in top condition and spot problems. If you don't know what combination of brushes, combs and mitts are right for your pet, check out any number of fine books on pet grooming, or ask a groomer, your vet or, in the case of purebreds, the breeder.
If your pet has never enjoyed grooming, work up to it slowly. Many dogs enjoy a good tummy rub, and if that's the case with yours, start with the tummy and end with the tummy, gradually building up the time in between. Remember to offer lots of praise and encouragement, and cut the session short if you feel your temper starting to fray. Always end on a positive note.
During every grooming session, don't forget to put down the brush and gently check for lumps, bumps, parasites and other problems. Take your time: This "hands-on" period is a health check in your eyes, but it's a petting session for your pet, so make it enjoyable.
And if you do find something suspicious, don't delay in having the vet check it out.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278