Critter Buzz: Proper grooming can prevent a hairy situation

It is finally spring, and pets are shedding. In fact, Monday is Hairball Awareness Day. It may not be a real holiday, but it does serve as an important reminder that good grooming is as important to your pet’s health as regular bathing is to yours and mine.

When your pet sheds, large clumps of hair will fall out, making your pet’s coat look moth-eaten. If their skin appears normal underneath the hair, then they may just be shedding in preparation for warmer months (this is called “blowing the coat”).

When this happens, get a good grooming brush and brush the excess hair out. Not only will this will make your pet more comfortable, but it will reduce the amount of hair lying around your house.

If your pet is shedding excessively and has problem skin or is scratching a lot, then it may be time for a trip to the vet.

Long-haired animals can have trouble keeping their coat in good condition, and may not be able to groom sufficiently enough to prevent matting. Matting pulls on the skin and causes discomfort when the mats become large. Some mats become so large that they cannot be brushed out and must be removed with scissors or electric clippers. Even small mats can be painful to brush out.

Mats also trap moisture under the skin where a variety of pests can thrive and cause skin infections. These infections can be itchy and can lead to scratching and biting at the skin, often worsening the problem. Fleas and other parasites can hide under mats, blocking the effectiveness of products designed to kill them.

Hair can also end up in strange places. If left unattended, dogs that have long facial hair can inadvertently get it caught inside their mouths, where it can become embedded between the teeth and gums, trapping food and bacteria and causing dental infections. In addition, long hair around the eyes can limit visibility and irritate the eyes. (Trimming this hair can be a challenge, so getting dogs used to having the hair around the face trimmed is important.)

Cats that have longer hair often end up with hairballs. This hair is ingested during grooming and regurgitated in a large clump. Giving your cat a product called Laxatone can help ease hair through the digestive tract, but regular grooming can reduce the amount of hair they ingest in the first place.

While grooming your pets may seem like a chore, just remember that it can increase the amount of time you are spending touching your pet and may help alert you to any lumps or bumps that may develop on the skin, especially in older animals. It can also be a great bonding experience for you and your furry friends. Many pets love being brushed, and it is a great activity to do while watching TV or just relaxing with your pets.

— Jennifer Stone is the
medical director and staff veterinarian at the Lawrence Humane Society.