Dog Getting Groomed
Unless you’re really sick, or have been in an accident, I bet you don’t go to your doctor’s office without hopping in the shower first. At the least, you probably put on clean underwear. I bet you do, or rather I hope you do.

But the same can’t be said at the veterinary office. When I lift up a pet’s tail, chances are pretty good I’ll find stinky mats, and not new ones, either. Double-coated dogs like Collies will have an uncomfortable layer of felt-like mats where their soft undercoat should be. Spaniels will have mats behind their ears, and longhaired cats will have mats … well, everywhere.

Dirty Pets Can Be in Pain

Mats can be very painful. If you’ve ever had your hair in a too-tight ponytail (or just had someone pull on your hair), you have an idea of what your pet is going through. And mats can hide things like wounds (or worse, wounds with maggots), and it’s not until you clear the matted fur away that you can see how bad things are at the skin level. I’ve written before about how I like to use my nose as a diagnostic aid, but the masking stench of some filthy coats makes that a challenge.

In other words, grooming isn’t just about looking and smelling good — it’s part of your pet’s overall wellness. And it’s the part that is all up to you.

Easy Steps to a Well-Groomed Pet

Get on a schedule. Forget that old saw about bathing dogs every six months (or even annually). You can bathe your dog weekly with no problems at all. In fact, frequent bathing can help some skin conditions as much as medication in some cases, and in many cases will work with medication to calm troubled skin. When it comes to your own allergies, weekly bathing of your pets (yes, cats, too, although just a rinse in clean water works fine) will help by removing the pet dander, dust and pollen your four-legged Swiffer picks up. As for brushing, a couple of times each week works well for most dogs and cats. You should check daily for mats and burrs, though; they’re easier to manage if you catch them as soon as you can. And while you’re feeling for mats and burrs, be sure to check for ticks, too.

Use the right products and tools. Talk to your veterinarian about a recommendation for shampoo, and not just when your pet needs a medicated product. As for grooming tools, let the breed type be your guide. If your dog’s a purebred, you should be able to get tips on tools and how to use them from your breeder or from an Internet search. For most pets, a slicker brush and a wide-toothed comb are a good place to start. I’m also a big, big fan of the Furminator, a tool that de-mats and removes extra hair with ease. If you want to keep your longhaired dog neat and clean, invest in a decent pair of clippers. Your pet won’t be embarrassed by the results as you learn how to use them. And remember: Always use treats and praise for cooperation from your pet and keep grooming sessions short enough to not try anyone’s patience.

Know when to go for a pro. A good groomer is worth her weight in gold. If you have a Poodle, Terrier, Spaniel, Persian or any other hard-to-keep-neat cat or dog, you may find it far easier to have a groomer handle monthly bathing and clipping. And if you’re starting with a badly matted dog or cat, you’ll definitely want the help of a professional. Don’t expect miracles, however: A year’s worth of matting isn’t going to turn into a long, silky coat in a day. Frankly, it’s not fair to your pet (or the groomer) to even try. Start fresh by having the pet clipped short, and if you want those long, silky locks, commit to grooming regularly at home.

Mat-Busting: The Secret Is …

Cornstarch. Honestly. If your pet is small enough to fit on your lap, put a towel down and settle into a comfortable position for you both. For a larger pet, put the towel on the floor and settle in beside your pet. You’ll need cornstarch, blunt-nosed scissors and a comb. Work the cornstarch into the mat to “lubricate” it, then work the blade of the scissors between the mat and skin, sharp side pointing out. Cut the mat down the middle, perpendicular to your pet’s skin. Repeat a couple of more times. You should then be able to pick the mat apart pretty easily. If your pet has a lot of mats, or is basically one big mat, it’s truly better to start fresh with a short clip.

While your veterinarian will enjoy seeing your pet cleaner when you go in, the bigger benefit is really for you: A huggable, clean-smelling pet is a pleasure to live with.