Hair Comes Trouble: Why Pets Need Regular Grooming
Most people get haircuts to look better, feel better, or to simply get a fresh start in life. But for dogs and cats, proper hair hygiene is essential; failure to groom pets regularly can have serious health consequences.
“Grooming is as important as bringing your pet to the vet for regular checkups,” says Lauren Lakritz, an Animal Care Technician in the ASPCA’s Animal Recovery Center (ARC) and a certified professional groomer. “It’s maintaining the well-being of your animal.”
Good groomers don’t just cut for beauty; they look for signs of trouble beneath the furry surface.
“A groomer may discover health issues before you know they exist, including cysts, bad skin conditions, and ear infections—all of which can hide under fur,” adds Lauren.
For example, matted hair can progress quickly from causing mild skin irritation to infecting wounds. Fleas and ticks can live relatively invisibly in a hair mat, and mats around the hind end can cause an accumulation of feces that sometimes impedes defecation. Severe hair mats can grow so tightly that they can restrict or cut off blood circulation, which can eventually require amputation.
“Simply put, animals, especially those with long hair, suffer when they aren’t maintained or regularly groomed,” says Lauren, who, along with her ARC colleagues, routinely bathes, grooms and cares for victims of cruelty and animal hoarding.
Lauren Lakritz, certified professional groomer and ASPCA Animal Care Technician, grooms Laslow, a 7-year-old Shih Tzu
Laslow, a 7-year-old Shih Tzu who was surrendered to the ASPCA last October and was recently adopted, was treated for skin allergies related to untended mats. Another Shih Tzu, Roo, seized by the NYPD last winter, had her right front limb amputated due to strangulation of the limb from severe matting. She, too, has since been adopted.
Cats, especially breeds with long and medium-length hair, are also prone to health issues caused by matting. Broccoli and Apricot, two cats who came to the ASPCA from a hoarding situation, had to be shaved completely to eradicate their dangerously-matted coats. Both have been adopted.
Tanika Hernandez, a certified groomer who readies all of the animals at the ASPCA for adoption, admits her biggest grooming challenges are cats.
“Felines usually groom themselves and are not used to being bathed, so they will try to get away by any means,” says Tanika, who uses her creativity to find ways to make cat baths less stressful. “Most cats become unruly when they hear water run, so I fill up a plastic litter box and gently place them in it, or take a cup of water and slowly pour it on them,” she explains. “Always use a tearless shampoo on the head; some animals also prefer to be towel dried.”
“Managing animals who are scared or otherwise not cooperating is a huge challenge,” says Lauren, who has clipped breeds ranging from Yorkshire terriers and miniature Poodles to large-breed dogs and cats. Breeds like Schnauzers, Airedales and Scottish terriers, whose coats have patterns or skirts, may require professional grooming.
There are ways to prevent trips to groomers or veterinarians to treat matted hair. Brushing your pet on a regular basis at home can help prevent injury and save money too since groomers often charge extra for mats. Doing so may also help your pet get used to being handled and brushed, which will hopefully make it less stressful when it’s time to visit a groomer.
Other important hygienic responsibilities include cleaning your pet’s ears regularly, and starting oral hygiene at an early age so pets can get used to the routine. But owners should ask a vet or groomer to show them how to do so first, Tanika says.
At whatever point a professional groomer seems necessary, owners should do their research and choose one carefully, says Kris Lindsay, technical operations manager for the ARC team. She recommends asking for groomer referrals from veterinarians, friends or relatives.
Grooming your pets isn’t just for show; it’s a responsibility all owners should take seriously to keep their pets healthy, clean, and protected from what could be a very hairy situation.
To find out more about keeping your pet’s coat, teeth, ears, paws and nails in top shape, please visit our Dog Grooming Tips page or our Cat Grooming Tips page.