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  • Writer's pictureNupur

Caring for your dog's coat: 02 Mats

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

A cute dog groom after it was shaved to remove mats
A cute dog groom after it was shaved to remove mats

"Can you believe the groomer did this to my friend's dog? She was SO upset - he's been shaved right down to the skin. He looks ridiculous. She's NEVER taking him back there again. Why do groomers do this?"

Quote from a conversation with one of my dog-owning friends about one of her dog-owning friends.

Let me dispel a myth: Groomers don't shave dogs' coats because we want to. We do it out of necessity, not by choice. We have an obligation, laid down in the Animal Welfare Act of 2006, to protect animals from unnecessary pain, suffering or injury. And a matted coat can cause everything from discomfort to severe pain and suffering. i.e. this is about more than just appearances.

Did you know?
  • Mats sit close to the skin. They are heavy, they can pull on the dog’s skin and cause considerable pain

  • Mats can cut off air supply to the skin; they can hinder blood circulation or pull so much that old wounds reopen

  • Mats also trap moisture, causing irritation, attracting parasites and becoming rather smelly

  • Mats prevent you from seeing all the way down to your dog's skin, and can hide any manner of cuts, wounds, sores, bites, rashes, infections and so on.

The state of a coat isn't always obvious on first look. It's is often when groomers dry the coat after a bath that the state of matting becomes apparent. Here you can see lots of knots in the hair (where the dryer isn't able to separate the strands). By itself, a knot is nothing to worry about, but the coat you see here has too many and will require either a few sessions of de-matting or a shave-off.

Grooming a matted coat is not as simple as you may think
  • Since mats sit close to the dog's skin, they are painful to brush out. I call it 'the point of no return' when attempts to remove mats at home with a brush become futile.

  • There are tangles, knots and mats. These are on a 'severity spectrum' from simple-to-deal-with (a few tangles) to oh-my-dog-we-have-a-problem (lots of mats). However, the quantity is also important. I have been asked to groom toy poodles whose owners did not realise they had loads of tiny tangles in their undercoat. An individual tangle is easy and quick to get out by hand, but multiply that by a few hundred, and it becomes painfully problematic. A single, small mat in a coat is easier to groom than a host of tangles.

  • Sometimes individual mats, knots or tangles can be trimmed or scissored out. This is called de-matting. If there are only a few this can be done in minutes, as long as they are not too stubborn. If there are lots of mats, the de-matting process is painstaking and can take hours. This adds unfair stress on the dog, and can also cause pain or discomfort. If the coat is too knotty to de-mat, the only sensible and caring option for the dog is to shave the coat.

  • The coat type also makes a difference. If the dog is double-coated, like a Pomeranian, then removing mats - which has to be done for the welfare of the dog - carries additional risk if the two separate layers of hair, the topcoat and undercoat, cannot be retained. Shaving a double-coated dog can affect its ability to regulate it's own temperature, and can also result in a condition called 'coat funk' which is a colloquial term to describe a ruined coat. You can read more about it here.

But why do groomers shave the dog so short?
  • Another little understood fact is that a dog's coat has to be 100% knot-free in order for the hair to be clipped to any length over ca. 5mm. Otherwise the clippers will keep jamming on the tangles. If this happens repeatedly, it hurts your dog and also means they spend longer on the grooming table. (Less time = better for the dog).

  • The only alternative is to use a blade that is short enough to slide between the roots of the matted coat and the dog's skin, aka the dreaded shave-off.

  • The blade lengths used will typically leave a hair length of between 3.2mm and 6.4mm, depending on the severity of the mats. They can be shorter or longer too - every case is different.

What to do if your dog is matted

I NEVER judge an owner who brings in a matted dog. I do recognise that many owners are extremely anxious at the prospect of shaving off the coat. So to that I say:

  • Please bring your dog to see me sooner rather than later. If you are struggling with just a few small mats (e.g. 5 or fewer), we can protect the rest of the coat by quickly trimming them out in 15-30minutes. I'll do everything I can to find some time for you as soon as poss, all you need to do is wash and brush the coat thoroughly at home beforehand.

  • A shave-off means you can re-start caring for your dog’s coat with regular brushing and combing (I will happily show you the correct techniques) and a trip to the groomers every 4-6 weeks!

  • Hair GROWS BACK. Your dog doesn’t care what s/he looks like; they simply need you to protect them, to love them and to care for them.

And lastly, a note on my charges for de-matting by hand

I do understand that dog owners often want to preserve the length of their dog's coat. If this is the case with you, and the knots aren't too numerous or severe, I will manually de-mat your dog's coat at an additional hourly rate. The clock starts if I cannot fully brush and comb your dog out in 15 minutes after the blow-dry. For the welfare of the dog, the maximum amount of de-matting time I will do in any one session is 30 minutes and then only if the dog will tolerate it. If your dog's coat is still knotted after this point you can book them in for another de-matting session, and as soon as the coat is tangle-free I can style it. Alternatively, I can shave the coat off, which also comes at a cost as there is a surcharge on top of the price for a full groom. The surcharge accounts for the extra wear and tear on the equipment that a matted coat causes; for the cost of resharpening clippers blades that are quickly dulled by matted coats; and for the skill and concentration involved in doing a physically and emotionally draining task.

So the best thing to do is, please, train your dog to accept being brushed everywhere. This includes the trouble spots such as ears, cheeks, neck, chest, armpits, legpits, tummy, tail, the base of the tail, knees, elbows and legs. (It's not lost on me, either, that the jacket is the only part of the dog remaining that isn't deemed a trouble spot). And then, brush your dog daily.

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