Grooming is not just about an adorable poodle hairdo or a Persian lion cut in summer.
There are medical — not just aesthetic — reasons for keeping the dog who needs regular trims or the longhaired cat clean and groomed. Some body parts suffer unduly if folks neglect to keep their furry-but-high-maintenance friend fluffy and free of mats.
Here are some tips to keep your pet clean and comfortable all year long.
Eye and Face Area
Eyes secrete discharge. Depending on the breed and the individual animal, there can be a lot of “sleepies” or “eye goop” that collects in the corners of the eyes.
This is normal. (But always have eye problems checked if you’re not sure an ocular discharge is “normal.”)
Breeds requiring grooming — and particularly brachycephalic breeds — need the area around the eyes and in the nasal folds kept clean and trimmed, or else the ocular discharge builds up. After days and weeks of eye goop matting the fur, the facial skin around the eyes can become inflamed and infected.
The cure? Well before it gets to the point of inflammation, cautiously soak, wipe and remove the sticky, smelly fur as soon as you notice it.
The Other End
Can you imagine so much matted fur covering the anus of a dog that they cannot poop?
I often have poodle types brought in for constipation when that wasn’t the problem at all. These straining pups couldn’t poop because the area was blocked with poop mats. Yuck.
Carefully, one must tease the mixture of fur and old stool away from the skin and anus and remove the mess. Upon removal, poodle-doodle is so happy, she squats and poops right in front of you. Regular cleaning of that area will help keep your dog comfortable.
And then there are anal sacs. These are a couple of grape-sized pockets — filled with fishy-smelling secretion — that sit at 8:20 on the clock face on either side of the anus.
The anal sacs’ purpose is canine scent communication, and they are the reason behind all the butt-sniffing behavior in dogs. But anal sacs are optional, and dogs can get along just fine without them.
A groomer may be the first to notice that your dog seems irritated by their rear end. That was the case of Sandy, a Cocker Spaniel.
The groomer tried to empty the anal sacs, but Sandy seemed unusually agitated by the procedure, so she stopped. Sensibly, the groomer wondered if Sandy had an infection in the anal glands and strongly advised the client to take Sandy to a vet. This may have saved the dog’s life.
Testing of a hard anal sac feared the vet’s worse suspicions: anal sac carcinoma. Those dogs, like Sandy, who have the full lump removed before they’ve spread can go on to live for 3 and maybe 4 years. Happily for Sandy, he is still going strong with no sign of recurrence or complication.
The moral of this story: Those professionals who are working for the benefit of animals do well to cooperate together.
We’re so glad the groomer told the caretaker to see a vet, because it raised the suggestion of a problem in the caretaker’s mind. That allowed Sandy’s vet to check in time to do something about it.
Feathers and Pantaloons
For any animal, skin underneath mats that has been ignored is at best inflamed and at worst severely infected. In hot weather, dirty, matted fur — particularly on the back end — is a prime location for maggots to make a home.
Fur behind the ears, in the armpits, and in and around the feet, toes and pads also need special attention. Feet can become very sore if matted fur remains stuck between toes for a long time.
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Never Wait to Remove Mats
Even in the most neglected cases, mats can be removed and macerated skin recovers with proper wound care and antibiotics, but severe skin infections can cause systemic illness, particularly in an older or debilitated animal.
These matted animals experience unnecessary suffering and pain until groomed. They may not communicate this discomfort, so that’s why it’s crucial that you remain vigilant for matted fur.
When I see a pet with medical problems related to poor body care, their caretakers are usually surprised and embarrassed. They meant their pup or their longhaired cat no harm.
But folks tend to justify — out of guilt, perhaps — why Toto was not trimmed or why Bobo’s bum bummed me out. Here are a couple excuses I’ve heard over the years:
1. “My pet is afraid of the groomer.”
This translates into either the person is too upset about bringing the pet in for proper grooming or the dog is nasty to the groomer.
Fear, lack of training, a bad grooming experience — many of these situations can be rectified. For that last one, find another groomer. Seek out someone who can calm the animal who fears the salon. Such gifted people exist.
Or consider a groomer who comes to your home. When all else fails, ask your veterinarian for anti-anxiety medications for your pet.
2. “I groom him myself.”
This is a red flag in a matting situation. Either the pet is too difficult for the person to handle; the person is too timid or too inexperienced to clip around the delicate areas, like the face, feet and private parts; or the person doesn’t understand what adequate grooming looks like.
3. “I was waiting till it’s warmer.”
Sorry — I’m not buying it. Breeds like poodles or schnauzers cannot wait out a long winter for a haircut. An animal can be properly groomed and enough fur left on the body to keep warm or cool in any weather.
This video (warning: hard to watch) shows how matting can endanger a dog’s very life:
Ask your friends and your veterinarian to recommend capable, sensitive groomers. Most animals can find a friend in their groomer and feel great after their day at the spa, so don’t be afraid to seek that out for your furry buddy.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, with contributions from Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. This article was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Elliott and was last updated Dec. 17, 2018.