The condition of dogs’ and cats’ coats is affected by genetics, environmental conditions, nutrition, health issues and grooming. Dogs and cats come with a variety of coat lengths and textures that have developed from climatic conditions along with human intervention through selective breeding practices.
Dog breeds originating in cold harsh climates like Siberian Huskies and Samoyeds and cat breeds such as the Norwegian Forest and Persians developed thick double coats providing insulation. Warmer climates produced thinly coated dogs such as Greyhounds and Basenjis. Naturally short-haired cat breeds include Abyssinians and Siamese. Densely coated short-hair cats like British shorthairs and Russian Blues have acclimated to colder living conditions. The dense and almost waterproof coats found on some sporting dog breeds that retrieve waterfowl and other game are desired traits that breeders seek to perpetuate. Naturally occurring mutations in cats have produced uniquely textured coats in breeds such as the curly-coated Selkirk Rex, the wavy-coated Devon Rex and the hairless Sphinx.
Damage to a pet’s coat can be caused by environmental factors such as dry heat, sunburn, rough-textured bedding and sleeping on hard surfaces. Tight or choke chain collars may damage a dog’s neck hair. Poor or damaged coats can be caused by internal parasites like worms and by external parasites like fleas and ticks. Unbalanced or inadequate nutrition is another culprit for coat damage especially for pets fed only table scraps or nutritionally incomplete homemade diets because the diet lacks the essential dietary elements promoting healthy coat development. Health disorders such as hypothyroidism, bacterial or fungal infections like ringworm and Cushing’s disease may impact the condition and quality of a pet’s coat. Pets lacking regular coat care may be itchy, smelly, matted and the pet may feel miserable.
Pet owners commonly complain about common pet coat-related issues like shedding, matting or hairballs which may be prevalent in cats. Almost all dogs and cats shed with the exception of the hairless breeds like the hairless variety of the Chinese Crested dog and the Sphinx cat. Curly-coated dogs like poodles, poodle mixes, curly and rough-coated terriers do shed but that hair becomes entangled with the existing coat, causing mats and body sores. Shedding is usually seasonal, however, other factors can be hormonal conditions in female dogs and cats following the birth of litters or after a female has been in season. Illness and stress also contribute to excessive shedding.
Mats are the result of loose hair that gets twisted into the pet’s coat especially with poodles and poodle mixes. Debris like burrs can become imbedded into the coat causing pets to scratch themselves or when knots become wet and mesh in with the surrounding hair. Matting usually occurs in longer coated cats and can become a serious problem for a high-maintenance breeds like Persians. Obese, elderly and arthritic cats tend to develop mats due to their limited ability to turn their bodies to groom themselves. Dense mats may prevent air from reaching a pet’s skin surface and can lead to skin infections. Mats often occur under and on ears, in “armpits” and in the groin areas of dogs and cats. Heavily matted pets may express pain when trying to stretch or move.
Hairballs are messy wads of digested food, saliva and gastric secretions that develop when cats self-groom and their sandpaper-textured tongues catch loose hair that is swallowed. Most of the time the swallowed hair passes through the digestive tract without problems. However, heavily- coated and shedding cats may ingest large amounts of hair that irritate the lining of their stomachs and interferes with digestion. Hairballs can develop into potentially deadly obstructions requiring surgical removal.
Coat Care Tips
Before you start a grooming session, select a quiet area with a towel-covered non-slippery sturdy surface and have the below listed tools that are listed below. Be sure that your pet has relieved himself and is not stressed. Speak in a soft soothing voice. Play soothing music. Keep healthy treats easy for you to reach and periodically “pay” your pet for cooperating! Periodically massaging your pet’s favorite touch spots (like throat, chest, and shoulders) to enhance the bond between you and your furry companion.
• After an initial professional grooming session request coat care maintenance advice regarding tools, techniques, and products that can be used at home.
• Consult with your vet regarding coat quality changes that may indicate underlying health problems, before changing a pet’s diet or using coat-improving dietary supplements.
• Regular weekly grooming (more often for long or heavily coated pets) is the best method to control shedding and matting by using two basic tools: A slicker brush (small size for cats or small dogs) and a metal comb (“greyhound” style). Slicker brushes have bent wire teeth that are set close together and can aid with removal of mats and dead hair. These brushes come in different sizes and styles including ergonomic designs that provide a comfortable grip. A suitable metal comb that has coarsely spaced teeth on one end and closely spaced teeth on the other are a versatile coat tool that aids in mat removal and creates a smoother and “finished” appearance.
• Avoid using dog coat detangling products on cats because the cat will ingest the product when they lick themselves.
• A warning from veterinarians: never use scissors to remove mats! Scissoring mats has caused countless pets to require suturing for serious wounds and antibiotic treatment.
• Heavily matted pets may require professional grooming and shaving to prevent future mats from occurring.
• Remove small mats using the end of the metal comb by slowly separating the hairs from the bottom of the mat and working upward.
• Gently brush and comb pets in the direction the fur grows.
• Use smoothly woven fabric bedding instead of coarsely fabric which may catch and break hair.
Regular coat care improves your pet’s overall well-being and enhances their appearance. Remember that your pets will feel refreshed and can take pride in their appearance after a good grooming like we humans do!
Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.