Vets sometimes need to be hairdressers too
As a vet, I am asked about many aspects of general pet care, from vaccinations to parasite control to nutrition, as well as dental care and dog training.
And of course, I'm also consulted about specific veterinary topics like spay/neutering and preventing common diseases like arthritis or ear disease.
This week, I was asked by owners of three different species of pet about a different topic: grooming.
The first was the owner of Lucy., a one year old Cavachon. This a so-called designer breed: a cross between a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and a Bichon Frise. These mixed breeds have unpredictable grooming needs, but Lucy's owner could see that her coat was growing longer and longer. She had been brushing her, but did she need to do more? Should the coat be trimmed? Or even clipped right down to the skin?
The right choice of grooming for every dog is an individual decision, based on many factors. The main difference between dogsis that most are so called "shedding" breeds: i.e. their fur grows to a certain length, then it falls out. Examples include Labrador Retrievers, Dobermans, German Shepherds and Collies. In fact, most dogs fall into this category. Some have longer hair (e.g. Golden Retrievers), but they shed in a similar way.
All of these breeds shed fur. Some just do it twice a year in the spring and the autumn, but many pets shed continually, all year round. Living indoors, with the combination of artificial lighting and heating means that animals are no longer exposed to the seasonality of a life lived in nature. As a result, a low-grade, steady trickle of fur happens all year round.
Moulting can be minimised by ensuring that a dog has as healthy a coat as possible:.The addition of omega 3 and 6 oils to the diet can make a dramatic difference, but you won't see any change until your pet has been taking the supplements (as part of the diet, or as separate capsules) for at least six weeks. Regular brushing is all that's needed to keep the coat healthy: for longer haired dogs, particular attention needs to be applied to prevent matted fur in areas of the body with finer hair, such as behind the ears and under the tail
Other breeds of dogs have a different pattern of hair growth: they are known as "low shedders". This includes Bichon Frise, Poodles and Yorkshire Terriers: their fur just keeps growing, rather than growing to a certain length and falling out. The down side, of course, is that these breeds need to be groomed and clipped frequently to keep their long coats comfortable, and this can be an expensive extra cost of pet ownership.
So what about Lucy the Cavachon? The Cavalier part is a shedding breed, while the Bichon Frise is "low shedding". So the outcome depends on how much of each breed's genes make up the dog's coat type. In Lucy's case, the Bichon part was obvious: she has a long curly coat. A regular clip (e.g. every three months) was the best answer.
The second pet with a grooming issue was a fourteen year old long haired black cat called Sassy. She was sassy by nature too, and that was the problem: she developed matted fur along her back and under her tail and any time her owner tried to brush it, Sassy hissed, scratched and bit. But the matted fur was getting worse by the way. What should she do?
Matted fur is common in long haired cats, especially as they grow older. Issues like dental disease and arthritis mean that geriatric cats aren't as good at grooming themselves. The best answer is to get long furred cats used to being brushed from an early age, and to do this regularly, so that large mats never develop. When there are significant areas of matting, then the only answer is to ask your vet to sedate the cat, then to use electric clippers to take them off. This works effectively, but to be safe, it's often necessary to do a pre-sedative work up, such as blood and urine tests and blood pressure measurement. These types of health checks should be done routinely in older cats in any case. But it does mean that a simple task like removing matted fur can become more complicated than you might expect.
The third pet with hairdressing questions was a one year old fine-furred Angora rabbit called Happy. His owner wanted to know if she should shampoo her pet's lustrous locks. I explained that washing her pet's hair would not be a good idea, but that regular brushing was essential. Angoras are used for commercial wool production, and even pets should be groomed regularly to remove excessive fur. A combination of a fine wire slicker brush should be used to remove the fluff, with a wide toothed comb to help. People who show their pet Angoras seriously use a groomer's blower (like an ultra-powerful hair drier) to make the fur as tangle free and fluffy as possible. It's up to Happy's owner to decide what she'd like to do, but shampooing was not on the list of jobs.
All furry pets need regular coat care: their precise needs depend on their individual details. It's best to start early in their lives, with a simple daily routine, maintaining their coats well rather than waiting for problems to develop.
If you're not sure what to do, talk to your vet. I bet you didn't know that vets give hairdressing advice on the side!