Matting: When You Just Can't Keep It Fluffy
When I was eighteen years old I adopted my first dog. His name was Harpo and he was a five year old Shih Tzu. I thought a Shih Tzu would be the best option for me because at eighteen I was not the best at cleaning and I had heard they did not shed, so I would not have to clean up after him as much. What I did not know was that this also meant that his hair would grow long and he would require regular grooming. Next thing I knew my poor baby was matted from his nose to his toes and I had to pay well over $100 to get him back to a healthy length. I quickly realized that I was not yet personally or financially responsible enough to have a dog with these particular needs and re-homed him with my very dear friend who could make sure all of his needs were met.
Why would I possibly want to admit these things in a blog about grooming? What kind of professional wants to let the public know that she once did the exact thing that her job is to prevent? I want to let you know that if your dog is matted because you are uneducated on the subject it is not the end of the world and it is nothing we at Bark Ave Dog will shame you for. The important thing is to learn from the mistake and understand the risks and health implications associated with matting and why it is important to let your groomer do what she needs to do in these situations to keep your dog safe and healthy.
Structure Of A Mat
There are a few different types of mats we commonly see in our practice. The most common are the “nuggets”, impacted undercoat and spiderweb mats. Nuggets appear like dreadlocks hanging off of the dog. These can be simply cut away if they are not too close to the skin. Impacted undercoat is exactly as it sounds. A double-coated dog will occasionally be unable to shed away its undercoat and it becomes tangled into the topcoat causing matting. A frequent deshedding treatment will usually prevent this from happening, but in some cases these mats do need to be shaved out. The spiderweb mat is the most insidious of the three. A spiderweb mat usually begins very near the skin and spreads throughout the coat causing the hair to become a solid sheet over the dog rather than individual hairs. These tend to progress quickly because the longer hair at the tips may not appear visibly matted. The only way to safely remove a spiderweb mat is to use clippers with a short blade to safely get underneath the web and cut the hair away from the skin.
But It Looks Fine...
I have had many clients ask me, “if the hair looks fine why can’t you just shape it up and leave the matting underneath?”
There are many reasons we are unable to leave mats on dogs. Tangles are an ideal home for pests. Fleas will move right into these little parasite condominiums, causing severe irritation and, in extreme cases, anemia. Ticks can also hide under the hair unseen for extended periods greatly increasing the risk of lyme disease and other intravascular illnesses.
Why Is Matting Bad For My Dog?
In addition to pests unseen injuries may be hidden under the hair, which holds in moisture and increases the risk of infection. These injuries could be caused by something as simple as a twig getting wrapped into the coat and scratching the skin, or could be caused by the hair itself. That’s right, even your dog’s own hair could cause risk of injury. As the hair begins to twist and tangle it causes tension on the skin. It is extremely common to find tiny pin sized bruises all over a matted dog. These are called petechiae and are caused by the blood vessels under the skin breaking and causing bruising. When these severe mats are found on a dog’s ears they can cause hematomas or blood blisters on the ear which may require draining by a vet.
In more extreme cases the tension caused by the hair can actually tear the skin open. I have personally found infected wounds on dogs caused by this. In the worst of the worst situations the tension of the cair can cut off circulation causing loss of limbs.
Not only can the hair tear the skin and hide infected wounds, but it can also trap moisture near the skin causing irritation known as hot spots. Removing the excess hair allows the skin to breathe and speeds up the healing process of these spots.
Beyond the clear risk to the animal’s health, we as groomers also want to provide the most attractive haircut we possibly can. If we were to try to groom a dog without properly removing matting our clipper combs could not evenly get through the coat. This would cause not only a choppy, uneven cut, but also increase the risk of injury during the groom. As the clipper blade reaches a point of resistance in a mat, it attempts to pull its way through the obstruction. This means it will not only pull through the hair, but it could also pull the skin of the animal into the blade causing lacerations.
How Can We Help?
There is absolutely nothing more upsetting to a groomer than the thought of injuring a dog. We do not want to put ourselves or your pet in any situation which will knowingly cause your dog any level of pain or discomfort. While some smaller mats can be brushed out with gentle effort, not all are going to be able to be removed safely. We feel whole heartedly that no hairstyle is worth injuring or traumatizing a dog in the process. If a client has a dog they would like to keep longer, but feel unable to maintain a proper brushing schedule at home, we here at Bark Ave Dog offer a “bath and brush” package which will keep your dog's coat, nails and ears maintained in between regular haircuts.