Thursday, June 16, 2016

Brushing Your Pet at Home Between Professional Groomings

Nothing beats a professional grooming to get your pet clean, conditioned, and styled. But without some at-home grooming between appointments, you may not be giving your groomer the chance to do his or her finest work. While the best grooming is an art form that pampers your pet, excessive dirt and tangles can turn Fluffy's spa session into a bathing marathon followed by disaster recovery.

Fortunately, there are simple grooming techniques you can practice at home to keep your pet in reasonable shape in between visits. And remember, even if your pet's coat doesn't require monthly visits to the groomer, his nails still need trimming and his ears may need cleaning. Most groomers offer these services à la carte.

For most short, medium, and long coats, you'll need:

For smooth coats, you'll want:

For extra long, dense coats, you may want:

For long, delicate coats, you'll also want:

For extra detangling power and damage protection, you may want:

I'll talk more about these tools and how to use them in Part II.

Part I. Understanding your pet's coat

Coat maintenance has two main goals:
  1. Preventing tangles from forming mats

  2. Matting pulls at the skin, causing pain and loss of circulation. Because mats trap dirt and moisture, they can contribute to skin infections. While minor tangles can be brushed out, more severe matting can't be removed without breaking and/or cutting the hair. Large, tight mats or diffuse matting that covers a significant portion of the coat must be removed by shaving underneath the problem areas, usually fairly close to the skin.

  3. Removing loose hair

  4. Shed hairs are meant to fall out of the coat, but often they get trapped. Too many trapped hairs can prevent the coat from regulating body temperature efficiently, meaning your pet will be less cool in the heat and less warm in cold temperatures. Loose hairs also speed up the matting process and, if left unchecked for too long, can hopelessly tangle even a lower-maintenance coat.
 The amount of care your pet's coat needs and the brushing techniques that work best for it depend on a number of factors.

Coat type and texture:
There are three genes that separately control length, coat furnishings, and curl [1]. They, along with the presence or absence of undercoat, interact to create a coat's overall texture. Hairs can be silky or wiry, straight or curly. Many coats are made up of multiple types of hair mixed together.

A coat may be a double or a single-coat. A double-coat is made up of a topcoat over a dense, fuzzy undercoat. Undercoat falls out and regrows frequently, while topcoat hairs shed slowly.

As a general rule:
  • The thicker a coat is, the more quickly it will tangle.
  • Softer coats mat faster and more tightly than coarser coats.
  • Wavier coats are more prone to matting than straighter coats.
  • Continuously growing coats tend to tangle faster than coats that stop growing at a set length. 
  • When comparing coats with similar length and texture, single-coats mat more quickly than double-coats.
Coat condition:
Damaged coats tangle faster and tighter than healthy coats. Dirt, debris, oil, and water all contribute to faster, tighter matting. Constant rubbing or scratching helps mats form and solidify quickly. Common friction points are:
  • Armpits
  • Under collars
  • Between toes
  • In the pads on the bottom of the feet
  • Behind the ears
  • Around the genitals
Coat length:
In general, a growing coat will tend to tangle faster and more tightly the longer it gets.

Cats and most dog breeds have coat that grows to a certain length and then stops. It may be long, medium, short, or a mix of lengths, but it doesn't ever get longer than its set point. Trimming the hair is optional to keep it neat, manageable, and attractive.

But there are also a handful of dog breeds with coats that grow continuously and require regular trimming:
  • Australian Silky Terrier (straight wire, double-coat)
  • Bedlington Terrier (curly wire, single-coat)
  • Bichon Fris√© (mixed straight and curly, single-coat)
  • Maltese (straight, single-coat)
  • Poodle (curly, single-coat)
  • Skye Terrier (straight wire, double-coat)
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier (mixed straight and curly, single-coat)
  • Yorkshire Terrier (straight wire, single-coat)
  • Shih Tzu (straight, double-coat)
  • Lhasa Apso (straight, double-coat)
  • Coton de tulear (straight, double-coat)
  • Tibetan terrier (straight, double-coat)
Dogs of the same breed may have vastly different coats. For example, dachshunds may be smooth-coated, long-haired, or wire-haired. Many golden retrievers have medium-length coats while others have long, flowing coats. While the breed standard calls for a double-coat, some shih-tzus have a single-coat. A "straight" coat may be very straight or wavy. And mixed breed dogs may display coat traits from either parent, a combination of both, or something completely different, depending on its genes.

This means that it's difficult to say how much maintenance your pet's coat needs based on breed. You must factor in your pet's actual coat type, individual hair thickness, coat density, texture, length, and condition. Luckily, groomers work with many different types of coats and can help you develop a plan that includes both full-service and do-it-yourself grooming to keep your pet tangle-free.

Part II. Grooming Techniques

Surface De-shedding:
For fixed-length, short-haired, double-coated pets
(ie. short-haired cats, beagles, pugs, labrador retrievers, boxers)

Smooth-coated and short-coated pets require the least amount of maintenance. Curry combs and other styles of rubber brushes are great for regular coat care. Rub with or against the lay of the coat to pull out shedding hairs, distribute natural oils, and remove dirt from the coat. For all but the shortest coats, a comb with a rubber band interwoven through its teeth is a great tool for collecting loose hair as well.

Deep De-shedding:
For fixed-length, medium to long-haired, double-coated pets
(ie. short and medium-hair cats, corgis, german shepherd dogs, shorter-haired golden retrievers)

For coat that sheds seasonal tufts of hair but isn't prone to matting, regular de-shedding will help keep the coat healthy, balanced, and reduce the tumbleweeds in your home. Use a greyhound comb or a rake to comb through the hairs from root to tip being careful not to scrape the teeth against the skin. Comb through all the fuzzy areas of the coat and then use a rubber brush (see surface de-shedding) to remove loose hairs from shorter areas, like the front of the legs and around the face.

Mat checking:
For any mattable areas of a pet's coat
(ie. medium to long-haired cats, medium to long-haired continuously growing coats, long furnishings on fixed-length coats)

Pets who are clipped short may still have long ears and tails that need periodic checking for mats. Some medium-length cats never get mats anywhere except in their armpits. Golden retrievers may mat only behind their ears and in their "pants." Other pets may develop mats anywhere at any time.

Checking for mats is a simple procedure: just run a comb or rake through the hair, from root to tip. If it snags, use the line brushing technique to remove the tangle.

Line brushing:
For any mattable areas of a pet's coat
(ie. medium to long-haired cats, medium to long-haired continuously growing coats, long furnishings on fixed-length coats)

Make a part in the coat so you can see the skin. Put the ends of the greyhound comb’s teeth in the part and comb the hair from root to tip. Be careful not to drag the teeth of the comb against the skin. If the
comb snags, gently tap and release to work the tangles out.

If knots or undercoat don’t loosen easily, switch to the slicker brush using the same tapping technique. A light spritz of conditioning spray may also help tangles release. Work in small sections until your comb slides easily through every part of the coat.

To ensure your pet's coat stays in good shape between grooming appointments, it's important to go through the coat frequently enough that light tangling doesn't get the chance to form mats. Line brush daily for 2”+ coats, weekly for 1”+ coats, and as needed for shorter coats.

If your pet is too matted to comb out, consult your groomer to adjust your grooming schedule.

For long-haired double-coated dogs, you can use a rake instead of a comb. They work the same way, but the handle is perpendicular to the teeth, which makes it more ergonomic for some. For drop-coated and curly-coated dogs, a comb is usually the better choice, but ultimately, the best tool is the tone that works for you.

To prevent future tangles, it’s important to minimize damage to the coat during brushing. Extra long hair can be fragile and should be handled with care. A light spritz of water or diluted conditioning spray can help protect against breakage and damage to the hair shaft. Ask your groomer for product recommendations. For delicate coats, use a pin brush whenever possible in lieu of a slicker brush.


1. Cadieu E., Neff M.W., Quignon P., Walsh K., Chase K., Parker H.G., Vonholdt B.M., Rhue A., Boyko A., Byers A., et al. Coat variation in the domestic dog is governed by variants in three genes. Science.2009;326:150–153. doi: 10.1126/science.1177808.

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