Tough tools in the war against pet hair

Dec 6 2011 - 10:44am

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LEZLIE STERLING/The Sacramento Bee
Rita, a cattle dog, checks out the Eureka AirSpeed Bagged Upright with the Pet Power Paw (left) and the Dyson DC 41 Animal.
LEZLIE STERLING/The Sacramento Bee
Rita, a cattle dog, checks out the Eureka AirSpeed Bagged Upright with the Pet Power Paw (left) and the Dyson DC 41 Animal.

Pet hair -- it's enough to make you want to sneeze. Or choke. Or vacuum. But what can you do? It's family.

Spurred perhaps by impending holiday company, we remember that the gray sofa in the den actually is black. We move the furniture and discover rolling hairballs.

The problem isn't just about the mess, but the misery. Guests may suffer pet-related allergies from the dander that accompanies hair.

What's a pet lover to do?

Judging by the diversity of new products, we've developed a national obsession not only for getting rid of pet hair, but for making it look great before the pet sheds it.

"The whole grooming industry for pets totally mirrors the beauty and grooming industry for people," said author and pet lifestyle expert Sandy Robins. "Several major people-product companies are now crossing over into pet-care products."

It's a huge market. An estimated 118.2 million American households have at least one pet. The American Pet Products Association estimates we'll spend $50.84 billion on our pets this year, up 23 percent from 2007.

Pet spending roared right through the recession. That attracted such companies as Paul Mitchell, Omaha Steaks, Origins, Harley-Davidson, Conair and Old Navy to expand into pet products.

This year, the average pet owner will spend $73 per dog and $34 per cat on grooming and grooming aids, the association says. That doesn't count pet-related cleaning products.

Bissell, Dyson, Eureka, Scotch, Johnson, 3M and Pledge are among the companies that recently released new products aimed at pet hair.

"There's no shortage of tools to deal with these issues," Robins said.

For example, Robins says pet vacuums are big right now. Dyson and Eureka both released new vacuums this fall, targeted at pet owners.

"The Dyson Animal is a big purple monster, but it really works on carpet. Remember the shed-fighting mantra: Must have tools," Robins said.

Research by Bissell, which in 2006 became the first company to release a pet-specific vacuum, found that rubber creates a static charge that pulls pet hair out of carpet. That insight led to more new products such as a rubber-cored broom and a sweeper for bedding and upholstery.

The real issue isn't cleaning; it's grooming.

Robins shares her house in Irvine, Calif., with two cats. A regular on TV morning shows, she believes in daily brushing. "Don't think of it as grooming; it's quality time with your pet," Robins said. "Get them used to it, especially when they're young."

Not necessarily for daily use, de-shedding tools such as the FURminator and the Oster Grooming Rake can remove up to 90 percent of dead hair. It still may end up in the vacuum cleaner.

"They're now coming out with (vacuum) deshedding tool attachments made specifically to apply to the dog's coat -- if they will stand for it," Robins said.

Why so much hair? Diet and daylight.

A healthy coat indicates a healthy dog or cat. "A healthy diet, less dead hair," Robins said.

Dogs and cats tend to shed more during summer, so they'll have a thicker coat in winter. But hours of daylight, not temperature changes, trigger the coat change, Robins said. More light, more shedding.

"So, in winter, a pet should shed less," she said. But cats and dogs kept indoors get "exposed to light all the time, so they're shedding all the time."

Baths help; ideally every week or two. If expecting company, consider taking the dog to a professional groomer.

No matter what, some fur will inevitably fly onto your skirt or pants.

Robins recently attended a red-carpet event in Beverly Hills for the American Humane Association.

"Everybody was dressed to the nines," she said. "Then you looked down. So many people had dog hair on them -- it was really funny."

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