The cool evenings and changeable weather of fall should remind every pet lover that it's important not to forget our pets as we make our seasonal adjustments.
One thing that won't change with the season, however, is the annoyance of fleas, as the hardy pests move indoors to take advantage of central heating and a steady food supply -- our pets. The last few weeks of fall are a perfect time to launch an attack, for if it's well-planned and well-timed, it should keep the worst infestations at bay until spring.
Remember that for flea-fighting to be successful, treating pets isn't enough. Fleas actually spend little time on an animal -- they hop aboard for a meal or two then hop off to breed and find new hosts.
A three-pronged attack
The flea-control effort must be fought on three fronts: Treat the pet, house and yard in as short a time frame as possible, to prevent the pests from one area re-infesting the others.
The easiest and often most thorough way is also the most expensive -- have everything done professionally. The pet goes to the groomer or vet for a bath and flea dip, while exterminators work on the house and yard. Insist on flea-control products that not only kill existing fleas but also contain growth-restricting hormones that keep new fleas from developing. The results can be astonishing.
More fall reminders:
* Remember that it's normal for some pets to shed heavily in the fall. Dogs typically lose their winter coats 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 and malamutes. 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.
Even the heaviest shedders can be tamed, however, by a regular and frequent schedule of combing and brushing. After all, the fur you catch on a comb won't end up on your rug or sweater.
* If you're into do-it-yourself car care, be careful when changing the antifreeze. The stuff is deadly -- so much so that a cat walking through a puddle of it can die after cleaning its paws of the fluid. Collect and dispose of used antifreeze carefully and safely, and waste no time in cleaning up spills.
* Assess your pet's condition -- age, level of exercise and weight -- and make adjustments for the cold. In general, inside pets need less food (to offset a decrease in activity), and outside pets need more (keeping warm requires energy, and food is the fuel).
Older pets need sweaters
Cold weather is especially tough on older pets -- for the elderly animal, it's not ridiculous to help out by putting a sweater on your pet for a trip outside.
As always, common sense and a sense of humor are the keys to good pet care.
Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.