A place for me to share my experiences as a Groomer - both good and bad. I will also give advice to anyone who needs help with dogs and cats with grooming questions.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Got Mats?

If you - like me - have an animal that has anything more than short hair, more than likely you've run into a mat or two. And I'm here to tell you how to handle it.

You may not know this, but how you handle the mat has to do with what breed of dog you have. Or, more so, what type of hair your dog has. If you have a wire-haired dog (i.e. schnauzer; dachshund; fox, cairn, scottish, or west highland white terriers; mixed breeds that have dry, rough, wiry fur) then brushing will usually take care of the mat given the mat isn't too large or isn't right up against the skin. In those cases, the mat will more than likely need to either be removed with a special tool called a de-matter or might even have to be shaved, especially if the mat is located on the ear (it is a very sensitive area, and it is inhumane to force them to endure brushing there for the sake of looking "pretty"). How can you tell how bad it is? If you can't feel the skin under the mat, then it's too close and needs extra care. Dogs with soft, plush fur (e.g. Australian Shepards, Yorkshire Terriers, Shih Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, Maltese, etc.) can sometimes have mats removed by brushing, but more often than not, they need to be handled by a specialist. This type of hair tangles very easily, and if not brushed every day, those knots turn into mats very quickly. In the case of Australian Shepards and the like, they don't have long hair, but there is longer, fluffy fur behind their ears, on their legs and bellies, and sometimes on their tails. These are the areas that get knotted.
If you have a dog that doesn't need to be groomed, but has a mat that needs to be removed, some grooming shops will quickly shave it out, if you're OK with that. Otherwise, if you want to tackle it yourself, here's how to go about it: First, ALWAYS read the entire label on the package. Second, don't always believe everything you hear or see - there are many products out there that promise to detangle or demat your dog, but sometimes, it's just something that you will ultimately spend your money on with minimal results, and maximum stress on your animal. Third - employees don't always know everything. I used to work for PetsMart, and I can tell you that the employees are forced to learn as much as they can about the products in the store. But only groomers can tell you about grooming products. If you ask a stocker or cashier what the best shampoo for your dog is, you're probably not going to get the best answer. However, if you go into the grooming department and ask the manager, you're going to be asked detailed questions about your pet to get the best answer. If you go to a privately-owned salon, more than likely you're going to be told that whatever product they sell is the best for your furry friend... this is not always the truth, although sometimes it is.
If your mat is:
  1. not touching skin
  2. not bigger than a golf ball
  3. not thicker than your finger
  4. not in a sensitive area (ears, privates, face),
you can try brushing it out. You WILL need a slicker brush for this, no matter what type of hair. It must be stiff, or else it won't do anything. I recommend the Oscar Frank Universal Slicker Brush. It's also great for shedders. Only short-haired dogs shouldn't be brushed with one (Jack Russel Terriers, Weimeraners, Doberman Pinschers, Greyhounds) . Use the brush in quick, light strokes, bracing with your other hand against the dogs' body. You won't see results right away; it takes a good 10 minutes - and a great deal of stamina - to get a set mat out. If your dog starts to get irritated, don't force it to continue. Let it rest, then try again later. Mats hurt - they pull hair, and when you brush that mat, it pulls even more - and if left there long enough, will cause a sore. So if after a few attempts the mat isn't coming apart, you're going to have to try something else. A dematter is a comb/knife hybrid. You have to be VERY careful not to cut your dog, as the blades are very sharp. But if used properly, in conjunction with a slicker brush, it will get almost any mat out - again, not counting extremely large ones, or those that are in contact with skin. To use it, brace against dog with left hand (for righties) and with your right hand, put the bladed part under the mat, with the sharp edges touching the mat and the safe side towards the dog's skin. With a sawing motion, cut through the mat. It's like cutting a thick rope. Once you've cut through, the brush should take care of the rest. Always try to hold the hair under the mat so that it doesn't pull at the skin. The less pain your pet feels, the more it'll let you do. NEVER force your pet into something painful: it will end up not trusting you and eventually might lead to aggression. I recommend the Master Grooming Tools Ergonomic Dematting Rake. If your pet becomes aggressive, or if you're uncomfortable performing this dematting, or if your dog has more than three mats, please let a professional groomer handle it. Some dogs, if they allow it, can be shaved with a cheap, do-it-yourself clipper kit. But it will leave a spot, so if you don't care about that kind of thing, go for it. However, my rule of ALWAYS reading the full instructions applies: some areas are too risky to shave, like the ears.

These furry friends are trickier. As one of only a handful of groomers that would handle cats, I can tell you that the easiest way to handle matted cats is PREVENTION. Brush your cat, and it won't get matted. But, as an owner of a very large Maine Coon that doesn't like being brushed and has Very Large Claws (so large they get capitalized!), I can tell you that sometimes, it can't be helped. If you are, by chance, wondering why only a handful of groomers will groom cats, there are several reasons.
First, cats are very prone to stress. Their hearts beat - at a normal rate - four times faster than ours. Now imagine a cat that's freaking out. Second, dogs have one major defense - teeth. Cats have two - teeth and claws. Lots of claws. And a very flexible body with which to bend around and sink those claws into you. I in no way condone declawing - in fact, I abhor it - so clipping those nails are all we can do. And lets not forget how fast our feline friends are. Anyhow, with the teeth, claws, and flying fur, they're very cartoonish, in a "touch me with those clippers and I'm gonna maul you" kind of way. So, many groomers refuse to work on them. Third - and most important - cats have very, very thin skin (much thinner than a dogs'). It literally rips. I've seen tiny cuts turn into huge gashes with minimal pressure. And groomers know that accidents happen. We don't like it, we don't do it on purpose, but they happen. And when they do, the owners get - understandably - upset. To avoid this, they avoid cats. But I have a lot of experience with them, and know how to handle them; I also understand that with the small community of cat-groomers, there is an overwhelming need for those that will work on cats, despite any ire that may come my way. When I was working for Sky Lake Animal Hospital, I often had to shave anesthetized cats. Some cats will not be brushed, and when it comes time to shave them because they're a matted ball, they're too aggressive to handle. But this has drawbacks. Anesthesia is dangerous, and even the healthiest pet can die under it. Of course, I always had someone monitoring the cat I was working on, but it makes for a very rushed and nervous grooming. Also, anesthesia shortens your pet's life with every go. I truly understand the plight of the owner whose pet doesn't allow it to be brushed - this is why early education is key. When your pet is a kitten/puppy, teach it that brushing is good. However, if you adopted your pet after its' childhood, it can be tricky, but it's still possible. Let me tell you a secret: the groomer's, to a cat, is even more traumatizing than the veterinarian. Cats hate many things, including personal change (moving, a new addition to the family, etc.), water (not all, but most), and too much attention (especially when they're not in the mood for it). Unless undergoing surgery, most cats will get shecked over at the vet, and maybe shots. But at the groomers, they get brushed, clipped nails, the dreaded bath, and the even more dreaded blowdry. If they need a shaving, that's over the top. I used to have a rule in my shop at Sky Lake: if a bath wasn't absolutely necessary (urine, fleas, oil, etc.) I wouldn't do it. Sometimes even when it was needed, I wouldn't do it if it was too stressing. A shaved cat will have a much easier time cleaning itself, so fleas and dirt aren't a pressing need. Something like motor oil, however, can't be helped. In those cases, it's an all-day venture: the bath needs to be performed first, the drying will take longer because of the mats, and the mats will pull tighter with the wash-and-dry.
Your best bet is to try to remove any mats you feel yourself. Use the same methods I described above, except use a softer slicker brush (for the skin; it'll take longer, but it's not worth it to scratch up your cat's thin skin). I recommend the Oscar Frank Grand Deluxe Soft Slicker Brush. Never, EVER attempt to shave a cat yourself. They have many thin skin folds that you may not see, and will probably result in cutting your cat. I'd like to say I'm not trying to scare you, but I am. I've seen too many "I tried to do it myself" cases at the Vet's office. Once the animal was better, it came to me.
Let me leave you on these notes. There are always exceptions. This does not mean, in any way, that it's a rule. If your neighbor's cousin's friend tells you that his Himalayan lets him brush the mats out, that doesn't mean yours will, even if you have similar circumstances - cats and dogs have different personalities, just like people. And if your mom's best friends' Cocker Spaniel lets her shave out mats, that doesn't mean that yours will. Also, never EVER take a pair of scissors to your pet, whether it's a cat or dog. Animals can be unpredictable, and scissors will leave a wound that you will not be able to treat at home. A $500 vet visit is not worth a $50 grooming. So please err on the safe side.

You can ask me questions about any problems you're having. If you don't feel comfortable leaving it here, you may email me personally.