Springtime is just around the corner, which means its time for groomers to start seeing another crop of very matted dogs.
I've used this column many times to emphasize the importance of wintertime grooming, stressing that a dog with a short, well maintained coat can be a lot warmer than a dog with longer fur.
I know this sounds counter intuitive, but just because a dog has long fur does not mean that fur is doing it's job well. If the fur has matts (clumps of knotted hair), those matts can cause issues for the health and warmth of the dog. Matted fur traps moisture in it, and doesn't dry easily. So, if it gets wet, it can still be wet the next time you and the dog go outside.
Have you ever gone outside with a damp shirt on? Even the best down coat can't keep you warm if you are wet underneath. Cold just cuts through you. Worse yet, those matts may trap moisture underneath them as well, creating a place for bacteria and other problems to multiply.
Many people brush long coated dogs in winter, and think that they are maintaining the coat well. The dog may look fine, but under the nicely brushed out top coat, there can be a pelt of matted fur, which lies tight against the skin. Unless you use a comb and run that through the fur right down to the skin, you can't be sure that the dog has no mats.
When a matted dog arrives at the groomer, there are two ways of dealing with the mats. If they aren't terrible, some groomers can remove them, but it is a slow, painful and costly procedure. While many groomers may agree to doing this, many will not want to put the dog through what can be a painful and traumatizing process, especially since they have to deal with the dog next time, and believe me, the dogs remember.
The other option is to shave them off, or at least the areas where they are matted (main areas for matting is where clothing or collars/harnesses may rub the hairs together, or where the animal may lick). If the mats are loose enough, the animal can be bathed first, and then shaved. But if the mats are extensive, it may require a dry shave. This service will cost extra, because the groomer has to use a sharp clipper blade to do it, and the dirt in the coat will dull it quite quickly, requiring it to be re-sharpened, a $15 or so charge the groomer has to pay.
Shaving off a dog can reveal problems that were concealed under the fur. Sometimes, these will require vet attention and treatment. Infections and open sores are not uncommon in "pelted" dogs. Also, like releasing a tight ponytail, blood rushes back into the skin, and can be uncomfortable, causing the dog to scratch or bite at it until it gets raw or worse. If the ears were matted, it can cause the dog to shake its head a lot, and cause hematomas and bruising in the ear tips. Your groomer will be happy provide you with tips on how to prevent the dog from damaging itself due to discomfort after grooming.
Most groomers have your pets best interest at heart. Their recommendations for a grooming schedule aren't to line their pockets, but to make sure your dog not only looks great, but can have a regular grooming visit that does not include the pain of removing mats.