February 7, 2010

Grooming: who needs it?

I was visiting the Charleston Animal Society (CAS) one day and I saw a Shih-Tzu available for adoption. It is a little unusual to see such a pampered breed at the shelter, so I inquired about the friendly little guy. Apparently, he was covered in mats so thick that you couldn’t even see his eyes. The staff and volunteers at CAS clipped him and bathed him and now he is much more comfortable and cute as a button. I am sure he has a much better home by now.

I just cannot understand how people can let their dogs get badly matted. Everyday I see dogs in my practice that need serious attention from a groomer. The same holds true for some of the pure bred long-haired cats like Himalayans or Persians. It breaks my heart to see these animals in such bad shape.

Many of our pure bred pets have such long silky hair that their normal grooming instincts are inadequate to maintain a healthy coat. These pets rely on us to help them stay in good shape. If we fall down on the job, skin problems, eye problems and ear problems quickly follow. Mats pull on the skin and decrease air flow. This creates an abnormally moist environment that allows bacteria, yeast and parasites like fleas and mange to establish a home under the matted fur. Most people don’t even know this is happening until their dog is scratching uncontrollably or the dog starts to smell.

As hair grows around the ears, it decreases air flow into the ear canal. Many dogs actually have hair growing in their ear canals. This is especially true with poodles and toy breeds of dogs. Yeast and bacteria love this warm moist environment and reproduce in the ears readily.

As hair and mats accumulate around the eyes, conjunctivitis can follow. As this becomes a chronic condition, eyes can have a decrease in tear production that results in a goopy discharge and blindness. The discharge then accumulates in the surrounding hair making matting worse. Soon the skin around the eyes gets infected and the discomfort must be astounding.

If you have a long haired dog or cat, be sure to brush him thoroughly 2-3 times a week. This will help prevent mats and will force you to look for mats that may soon become a problem. Especially check around the ears where hair is soft and silky and tends to mat easily. Behind the legs and around the tail is another key spot. Cats tend to get matted on their bellies. Unless you are very experienced, don’t try to cut mats out with scissors. I can’t tell you how easy it is to cut the skin. Mats tend to coalesce with the skin, making it nearly impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends. If you are feeling mats, your pet really needs a professional groomer to remove them safely and cosmetically.

There are certain breeds that need regular grooming whether you brush them regularly or not. These breeds include the dog with continuous hair growth like poodles and dogs with long silky hair like Lhasa’s and Shih-Tzus. Many people argue that their dog is cuter with long hair, but this may not be appropriate for our climate. If you do choose to keep your pet’s hair long, you must institute regular brushing at home and professional grooming to prevent skin problems.

I have heard that some breeds are thought to be cooler if they keep their long coats. This seems to apply to Huskies and other thick coated breeds. In my opinion, this is NOT true. Shaving these thick coated breeds seems to result in more comfort during the summer months and it allows guardians to see fleas or skin problems before they become a problem.

Most long haired dogs benefit from a full body shave. Groomers can do some very cute cuts where they keep the head and tail fur long and taper this into a shorter coat on the body. Some dogs act embarrassed after they have their coat shaved. They seem very excited when they come home from the groomer and then they run under beds or couches, as if they don’t want people to see their new haircut. I think they are just getting used to the feeling of the air flowing over their skin.

So please, if you have a pet with long hair, check the coat and skin regularly and don’t hesitate to use a groomer to help your pet stay comfortable.


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