Everyone has bad hair days sometimes, even our canine pals! It’s important to remember that our dogs, especially long- and curly-haired breeds, need frequent hair care to keep them feeling their best.
Grooming isn’t just important for looks; keeping fur clean and well-brushed is important to prevent matting, which can cause significant problems if left untreated.
Read on to learn why it’s necessary to keep up with routine hair care in your fluffy pal, and what you can do to help when issues arise.
What are Mats and How Do They Form?
Mats are thick clumps of extremely knotted hair and debris that are most commonly seen in long- and curly-haired dogs.
Mats form when patches of hair become permanently entangled, often from lack of regular brushing or bathing, or when burrs or other objects get caught in the fur.
Different from the small knots that frequently occur in these breeds, mats are usually thick enough that they cannot be easily combed or brushed out.
Mats often form in high motion areas, such as between the toes, behind the ears, around the neck, in the armpits, between the hind legs, and under the tail, but can occur anywhere if a dog does not receive its necessary grooming.
In severe cases, a dog’s entire body can be covered in very large, thick mats that make it impossible to see the underlying skin.
Risks For Matted Hair Infections in Dogs
If mats are not removed in a timely manner, they can cause multiple issues. First, mats often cause discomfort and even pain to an affected dog.
Mats pull and pinch the skin when a dog moves, possibly making even walking uncomfortable in severe cases.
Additionally, the ongoing skin irritation in these areas may lead to skin infections. When infected, the skin becomes red and raw, possibly with overlying pus and a bad smell. If you notice signs of matted hair infections, please see your vet.
Skin infections are especially common in areas exposed to lots of moisture, such as around the eyes, mouth, ears, hind end, and feet, as moisture promotes the growth of bacteria and yeast on the skin surface.
Severely affected dogs may need to be completely shaved, bathed, and treated with medicated shampoos or oral antibiotics to treat their infections.
Lastly, mats can hide parasites such as fleas and ticks, especially in dogs that are not given regular and reliable parasite prevention.
What Should I Do if I Notice Mats on My Dog?
If you notice that your dog is starting to accumulate mats, you should make an appointment with a dog groomer to have the issue addressed safely and as soon as possible.
Groomers have specialized training and tools that allow them to remove mats without irritating or cutting the underlying skin.
If a groomer does not feel they can safely remove the mats, they may suggest seeing a veterinarian instead. In severe cases, dogs may require sedation and full-body shaving to remove all mats and treat any underlying skin disease.
It is not recommended to try removing your dog’s mats at home, and it is ESPECIALLY important not to use scissors if attempting this. Mats often extend down to the skin surface, and dog skin can be very thin and fragile.
Owners may lacerate their dog’s skin while trying to cut mats out, which necessitates a trip to the veterinarian and possible stitches, bandaging, pain medications, or antibiotics.
If you are not able to work mats out through gentle combing, allowing trained groomers or veterinary staff to address them is the best course of action.
Preventing Mats and Matted Hair Infections in Dogs
Long- and curly-haired dog breeds should be professionally groomed every 4 to 6 weeks. While small mats are sometimes unavoidable and must be combed or trimmed out by groomers, you can also take action at home to prevent matting in your furry friend.
Regular brushing of the coat is the most important preventative for stopping mat formation. Try to brush the entire body at least every few days in long-haired breeds, especially focusing on high-motion areas.
In thick-coated breeds like the Samoyed, a brush reaching the undercoat, such as a FURminator brush, is usually necessary for complete grooming.
In dogs with long, thinner hair like the Maltese, a slicker brushing with use of a large-toothed comb to gently work out knots is usually effective.
In dogs with curly hair like the poodle, a slicker brushing going in the direction of the fur and a subsequent combing is often most successful.
Keeping dogs clean with regular bathing is also important, as dirt and debris can cause hair to clump more easily.
Hypoallergenic or oatmeal-based dog shampoos are best; do not use human hair products on dogs.
Usually, bathing is not recommended more frequently than once every two weeks unless the dog becomes dirty, as too-frequent washing can cause dry skin over time.
What Else Should I Know About Dog Grooming?
It is important to get long- or curly-haired puppies accustomed to regular grooming, including bathing, brushing, and nail trimming, as they will require this care on a regular basis for life.
Making grooming a positive experience by incorporating treats (kibbles, small pieces of chicken, and peanut butter work well), praise, and favorite toys is very important to help your puppy learn that grooming is something to be enjoyed.
Dog breeds with long or curly hair require a large amount of time, attention, and monetary investment in grooming services.
It is important to keep this in mind when considering adopting one of these breeds, and to understand that this care is vital to keep the dog healthy and must continue for the duration of the dog’s life.