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Good dog grooming equals good health

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Good dog grooming equals good health

Nicky is a Maltese whose person wanted to keep his coat long. When he was brought to us, he was a mass of mats and barely recognizable. It was clear he had been improperly brushed and bathed.

Using a clipper and scissors, we had to shave off all of Nicky’s hair in one mass. We also found some sores underneath that were quite painful. The entire process took about four hours, including a couple of brief breaks for the both the dog and us. This kind of grooming is like surgery – slow, painstaking and difficult. Correcting a severely matted coat is a long and sometimes uncomfortable process for the dog, as the matted hair will pull at his skin no matter how careful the groomer is. In extreme cases, the dog should be sedated to get through it all.

At the end of his ordeal, Nicky was mat-free and happy. His “dad” has realized that the coat on this type of dog can get out of hand very quickly, so Nicky gets groomed every eight weeks now. This way, his coat can be kept at a manageable length, while still looking cute and fluffy.

Why you shouldn’t overlook dog grooming

As a professional groomer for more than 30 years, plus a few years as a veterinary assistant, I have come to know one thing for sure – most people have the best of intentions when it comes to their dogs’ health and well being. With dog grooming, however, many miss the mark, just as Nicky’s person did. A lot of people believe grooming is just for aesthetic purposes and not part of the dog’s overall health. Depending on the breed, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

If a long-haired dog isn’t brushed properly, for example, you are going to have a badly matted animal on your hands before you know it, and then it becomes a health issue and a nightmare for both the dog and groomer, especially if you are bathing him without detangling. My basic rule of thumb, if you wish to keep the dog’s coat long, is to do more brushing and less bathing. Incidentally, I strongly advise against trying to cut mats out yourself with scissors. It’s very easy to grab a piece of skin and cause a nasty cut.

Any groomer will advise you to brush a long-haired dog. That’s great, and many people do “brush” their babies. But do you really know how to do it? Yes, there is a correct way to brush a long-haired dog to keep him free of mats and tangles. My suggestion is that if you want to keep your dog in full coat, call a groomer and ask them if they can actually show you how to do a basic brush and comb out. They will probably be more open to this if you offer to make it a paid appointment.

How does it affect his health?

What happens when a dog becomes a matted, tangled mess? If you’re a woman, imagine hot rollers wound too tightly to your head. Imagine having to constantly endure that feeling as you carry on with your daily life. Of course, you could do something about it, but your dog can’t. He suffers in silence all the while his circulation is being hampered by the mats, not to mention the skin sores and infections that might be brewing.

While Nicky’s story is an extreme example of how a dog’s coat can get seriously out of control without proper grooming, there are other concerns that can arise with a dog that is not properly and regularly groomed.

  • Hygiene: Keeping a long-haired dog’s genital areas neatly clipped prevents urine scald and problems defecating. If matting completely covers his rectal area it can actually prevent him from being able to poop, as was the case with Nicky.
  • Eyes: Some long-haired breeds have a lot of tearing which can build up and cake over, causing severe irritation and even infection in some cases, if not kept under control. Tear residue can harden into a gummy mass, stick to the sensitive skin underneath, and is not easily removed. You can help prevent this between grooming sessions by just keeping that area dry and clean.
  • Nails: Nail care is a necessary part of every dog’s overall care, regardless of the length of his coat. If nails are allowed to grow too long, they can actually curl over into the pad underneath. This is extremely painful and may require medical intervention if it has gone too far. Overgrown nails also make it difficult for the dog to walk properly, causing strain on the tendons and joints.
  • Feet: many dogs get matted wads of hair between the pads. These are also painful as they can become very hard, like pebbles embedded in the paw.
  • Ears: A lot of breeds, particularly long-haired ones, have hair growing down inside the ear canal. This can lead to painful infections and can prevent medication from getting to the desired source within the ear. A regular grooming schedule will include removal of this hair.

Keeping your dog’s coat in good condition can help keep vet bills down by avoiding the maladies caused by a lack of basic grooming care.

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