Cold-Weather Grooming Guide Chilly temperatures and thicker coats pose special challenges.
The Catskills region of upstate New York is renowned for being a winter wonderland during the cold months. But along with the seasonal pros—including snow sports and blazing wood fires—come a few cons: bone-chilling dampness and dry, itchy skin in both people and pets.
Pets with long hair are especially prone to health problems caused by cold dry air and matted fur, as Ulysses Rosenzweig, DVM, of Argos Animal Hospital in Boiceville, N.Y., in Catskill State Park, knows all too well. “It’s important to keep pets well-groomed all year-round,” he emphasizes. Otherwise, the vet cautions, coats will become matted, resulting in skin infections and other issues that require veterinary intervention. A good grooming regimen can prevent the development of serious health issues.
That said, cold weather in any region of the world presents special challenges to proper pet grooming. “Grooming in winter is even more important than at any other time of year,” contends Jodi Judson of All Groomed Up, a pet grooming service based in Saugerties, N.Y. “The snow and overall wetness wreak havoc on animals’ skin,” says Judson. “If the coat becomes matted, the skin stays moist underneath, creating a breeding ground for bacterial infection—but you’d never know it under all that hair.”
Until, that is, the situation gets so painful for the pet that he doesn’t tolerate being touched. That’s when it’s time to see a veterinarian. Vets and groomers agree that pet owners should perform basic grooming duties at least two or three times weekly—ideally daily—to prevent the need for a drastic shave-down, antibiotics, and medicated shampoos.
A WINTER’S TAIL
Indoor pets of all stripes develop seasonal dry skin from winter’s hyper-heated interiors; combined with the mats that plague long-haired animals, this is a formula for wintertime woes.
Keep feline skin moisturized from within (which helps prevent excess shedding). Supplement your cat’s diet with fish oil formulated for pets, and brush your cat’s coat daily. After brushing, rub a spoonful of coconut oil between your palms and massage with your hands; this will encourage a glossy coat and remove any shedded hair your brush missed, so it can’t start forming new mats. If you have a longcoated cat or a dog with a thick, double coat, an expert groomer is just as much a VIP as your trusted vet: use good, old-fashioned word of mouth to find the best ones.
Wintertime terrain cramps long-haired pets’ style. Dry branches, briars, and burrs all conspire to create chaos, catching on the coats of longhaired animals, especially their tails. If not de-tangled, pets soon sprout tight mats, like small nests, sometimes accented with ice balls. Those mats are
not only uncomfortable for your pet, they also prevent you from noticing potential trouble areas on your pet’s skin, such as a rash or lump.
If a burr is the source of a knot, use your fingertips and the end of a metal comb to gently remove fur from the burr-knot until it’s loosened enough to be removed without causing a yelp. Run your hands along your pet’s coat after your cat or dog spends time outdoors, and use a wide-tooth metal comb to detangle any clumps. Pay extra attention to the area around the collar, where friction promotes matted fur and chafed skin.
THE BIG BRUSH-OFF
Once the big knots are out, it’s time for a brushing. For pets with thick, double coats (including most cats), an undercoat rake is the best way to remove dead hair, stimulate the skin, and encourage healthy regrowth.
Next, use a slicker brush (a brush with ne, short wires) to distribute your pet’s own oils across the coat. If your pet needs extra conditioning—on the elbows or tail, for instance— apply a dab of coconut oil wherever the skin or hair feels dry, and brush it in.
Use neem oil to moisturize paw-pads; this will prevent cracking from dry, indoor heat or exposure to the icy ground outside (don’t use tasty coconut oil for this application, as your pet will just lick it right off ). And take this time to examine your pet’s toenails: too-long nails make it di cult for pets to gain footing on icy ground, which could cause orthopedic injury.
Julia Szabo is a journalist and healthy living advocate who’s passionate about maximizing the longevity of companion animals. She is the author of seven books, including her most recent, the medical memoir Medicine Dog.
healthy'tip! Vets and groomers agree that pet owners should perform basic grooming duties at least two or three times weekly.