New Mexico's Pet Resource SUMMER 2007


By Patricia Finn.

Summer is the time of year when most people think of getting their furry family members groomed. Hair flies everywhere and softly accumulates in every corner of the house. But good pet hygiene begins with regular grooming. Understanding the consequences you might face if you put off the grooming may prompt you to pick up the phone and make that appointment.

Your dogs and cats may look fluffy on the outside, but under the fluff a multitude of problems may lurk. The coats with the most serious problems are the types that do not shed completely clear of the animal. Without regular grooming, the dead coat that loosens gets entangled or matted into the remaining live hair. Dogs have between seven and twenty-two hairs per hair follicle, with one “guard” hair that is course and grows more slowly. The other hairs in the follicle are soft “undercoat” hairs, and therein lies the problem. The guard hair grows slowly and stays in the follicle longer. The undercoat hairs are constantly falling out and new ones are growing. This is what causes the “shedding” problems so many breeds have. Even short-coated dogs like Jack Russell terriers and Labrador retrievers shed off massive amounts of hair.

Pet owners have a responsibility to understand the hygienic needs of their furry family members and take precautions to avoid skin and coat problems that could turn into painful medical complications and costly veterinary bills. In New Mexico much of our beautiful natural landscaping turns into a drilling machine once it enters the pet’s coat. Local plants often have exteriors that keep the leaf, seed or thorn attached to whatever it lands on. It is smooth if you rub your fingers over it in one direction, but if you rub in the opposite direction there are sticky ridges. These ridges keep the “intruder” from falling out of the animals coat once it enters. Essentially it keeps drilling into and through the coat until it reaches the skin.

Once it pierces the skin it becomes lodged and the body’s protective mechanisms take over. A small puncture wound is created and the possibility of infection increases greatly. In my forty years of grooming, I have seen many dogs who receive once a year grooming and most of them are literally “living pin cushions.” Many pet owners have no idea what is going on under all that hair. The more serious problems are caused by anything sticking the animal in the skin. I have found old pieces of cactus (embedded up to the full length of the needle 3/4 to 1 inch), multiple pustules caused by infections when the body tries to rid the skin of the intrusion, and maggots that are now feeding on the rotting flesh created by the unnoticed and untreated infection. Vegetation like “foxtail” grasses can literally enter the body in one spot, travel through the dog, and exit somewhere else on the body wreaking havoc on the way. When I get dogs and cats that are groomed only once or twice a year I find many surprises under all that fur. As I’m removing the coat I am constantly feeling and looking at the skin for things that are abnormal. Last year I even found a dark splinter like protrusion, pulled on it and out came a small black feather that was about 3 inches long! Poor doggie!!!

Some people may brush their companions and measure how well they have done solely by the outward appearance. The coat only appears well groomed because someone has brushed the outer coat but doesn’t realize the need to get all of the dead coat out, down to the skin. As a result, a thick felt forms next to the dog or cat’s skin. To remedy the problem, the animal has to be shaved right down to the skin because clippers are unable to cut through the felt. Using scissors is extremely dangerous. Normally there is about 1/8 of clearance next to the skin and this is the only place a clipper can move to cut the coat off. The coat generally comes off in one big piece all entwined together. You literally cannot pull it apart once it is off the animal. Imagine how it feels when it is attached to the skin! As the dog or cat moves, one section will pull another part of the dog or cat’s skin so that literally the hair attached to one part of the body is pulling on another part of the body. Sometimes the coat actually causes the skin to tear from the pulling pressure that is created. How painful and unnecessary.

The recommendation? Learn to properly brush and comb your dog or cat’s coat and don’t just brush out the top layer so it “looks” fluffy. The live coat must be clear of all dead hair right down to the skin. Actually look as you are brushing to prevent damage to the skin or coat. Make sure you get the entire dead coat out. Never wash your dog or cat when it is knotted or matted. The knots and mattes act like sponges and soak up detergent making it very difficult to rinse out. This can cause additional skin irritation. Ask your groomer for advice on how to care for your animal’s coat, what type of brush to use, and how frequently professional grooming is needed.

Finally, find an experienced groomer, preferably one that is ‘certified’ by a nationally recognized, outside certification program. Petstylist/groomers are not truly “certified” unless they take an independent test, not associated with a grooming school. Independent “certification” programs are designed to document the skills of the petstylist/groomer so you can be assured they really know what they are doing with your beloved family member. A grooming school certificate is not the same as an independent certification. The best, nationally recognized “certification” program is the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists (ISCC). They test skill levels for grooming dogs and cats from basic brushing and bathing all the way through to a Master Petstyist Meritus - the highest level of accomplishment in the industry. Look for the ISCC logo and ask your groomer about certification.

By keeping your dog or cat regularly groomed, you not only keep those dust bunnies at bay. You ensure that your companion will look better, and will be healthier and happier for your effort.

Patricia (Trish) Finn lives in Santa Fe with her husband, dogs and horses. She is a member of the International Society of Canine Cosmetologists (ISCC), international competitive grooming judge and seminar speaker. She is a certified ISCC Master Pet Stylist Meritus and has been grooming pets for 40 years. For more information on pet groomer certification, see

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