Here’s Hair In Your Eye!

Robins sing and vacuums roar!

Ahhh, Springtime!! Robins are singing, the grass is growing and vacuum cleaners are working overtime to keep ahead of the dog and cat hair. The annual spring shedding of hairy coats has begun.

Except for those who choose special critters like reptiles, birds, or poodles, everyone who has housepets does constant battle with hair. Although most dogs and nearly all cats lose hair continuously throughout the year, seasonal changes trigger accelerated shedding.  It’s actually the change in length of daylight that drives the process, not rising temperatures. Right now, most of our pets are changing their winter coats for lighter summerwear and they’ll switch them again come Fall.  The only exceptions are hairless breeds like Sphinx cats and Chinese Crested dogs. As well, Poodles, Bichons, Shih Tzus and other similar breeds don’t shed any more than you or I although they present their own types of grooming challenges.

Aside from the stress on our sanity trying to keep ahead of the spring shed, the abundance of loose hair at this time of year can cause problems such as hairballs in cats and severe matting in animals with long hair or “double” coats like Collie breeds and Huskies. The healthiest approach to the spring shed for any pet is to step up grooming schedules. Daily brushing is a necessity! For cats who normally spend at least 10 per cent of their day grooming themselves, ten-minutes of brushing daily decreases hair ingestion significantly.  Since hairballs can cause serious disease, that’s ten minutes well spent. For dogs, daily brushing helps distribute oils, improving the health of skin and coat and, just as importantly, it’s a great time for bonding and training.

I hear a few snorts out there from those of you with brush-phobic pets. “Ya right, Snookie will be hiding with the dust bunnies under the bed if he even hears the brush drawer open.” Or worse, “TRex has eaten the last two brushes we bought.” Better the brushes than your fingers, I suppose. These grooming-grump dogs and cats are real problems to themselves and sometimes they are brought to Hillcrest Animal Hospital for sedated grooming. For the most part, all we can do is anesthetize them and shave off their matted coats. Often the process has been delayed too long and the underlying skin is sore and infected. We wouldn’t win any prizes for beautiful clipping jobs either!

Teaching a pet to accept grooming is a big task if the animal has years of brush battles behind him, but taking baby steps using rewards and gentle hands can help. That’s why teaching puppies and kittens to allow all grooming activities is so vital. Introduce grooming tools like brushes, combs and nail trimmers immediately after the pet is adopted. Make grooming time fun and use food rewards to bump up the stakes. If one brush gets shunned despite patient efforts, try a different type of bristles. Once fully vaccinated, puppies who are going to be professionally groomed should be introduced to their “stylist”.  Good experiences with the groomer from the start will make your pet much happier with handling all of his life.

Whether done at home or by a professional, baths help loosen hairs and can be safely done once a month, using products specifically made for cats or dogs. Never bath a pet before combing or clipping out all the matts or things can get really nasty.

As mentioned above, the so-called non-shedding breeds such as poodles almost always need to  be clipped regularly, unless you are devoted enough to brush loads of long hair every single day forever…almost makes vacuuming sound recreational.

For more information, try these web articles:

Grooming How it affects your dogs’ behaviour

Dogs shed a lot in the Fall too

Grooming for health

Grooming cats made easy

The science of pet hair

Neither the author nor Hillcrest Animal Hospital are endorsing products promoted on the above websites. Use your own discretion or ask your veterinarian for advice.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist, DVM