Dr. Bethany Innis, DVM, CVA, CCRT, CVCHM, CVSMT
I grew up with little rugged terriers with hair and few grooming needs other than to get professionally “plucked” so they could carry on with their shenanigans. Other than collecting snow balls during winter storms, they seemed self-sufficient and I thought their coats were pretty utilitarian.
In my young adulthood, when I was a baby vet, I adopted an adorable little schnauzer, Liesel. Even as a young gun, she would mat up if we didn’t brush those locks regularly. I noticed when she went to get groomed, she practically floated out of there, she felt so good! I attributed it to her vanity over her completely gorgeous looks and didn’t give it too much thought.
Over the years, as my practice has grown to include more and more of our elder statesmen (dogs and cats alike), it is more and more clear that their hair coat matters a lot more than we always perceive.
Let’s start with the cats. How much of a young cat’s day is devoted to grooming? I mean, consider the acrobatics! They do some pretty intense yoga moves to keep themselves spic and span and ready for strutting around their house! I was always amazed how quickly my cat, Roosevelt, could clean himself up into his pristine white self after an afternoon of hunting in the dusty basement. Now, fast forward to age seventeen, when the poor guy couldn’t reach more than his fore feet due to arthritic changes. So we gave the guy some help getting clean and it certainly made him feel better.
When it comes to dogs, there is a lot of variety in breeds and who needs grooming and who doesn’t. Terrier and poodle types need regular maintenance, labs and pittie types can have short coats, and some get smelly without baths, others don’t. While a Chesapeake Bay may take regular swims and need more of a rinse or wash now and then, a pug might not. As they age, however, things change a bit. Some have hair that grows in their ears, their eyes, into their mouths. Some get hot, some get cold, some experience circulation changes and some lose hair. Some get yucky behinds and that is just embarrassing for everyone, amirite?
I don’t know if animals feel pride, I suspect if Liesel and Roosevelt weighed in, there might be some. They were the babies of the family, and they kind of played those diva roles (I can say that because I’m a baby of a family). Seriously, though the practicalities are now blazingly clear to me as I observe my patients:
no one likes to have hair in their eyes, especially if they are struggling to see or its irritating their eyes
hair in the mouth is a drag, especially if you ask your animal chiropractor, it can truly be a pain in the neck to keep chomping on it
mats (those knots that form when the fur tangles) HURT! I always liken it to having a pony tail that is way too tight pulling on your scalp
when mats get too thick, the skin cannot breath and can really suffer - with infection, with lack of blood supply.
if you are hot, there is nothing like a good, short hair cut
if you have a heightened sense of smell, like our pets do, I suspect its really irritating to not be smelling your best
the act of grooming itself is helpful for older muscles - brushing and the massage of a bath helps increase good blood supply
Here are some pictures of Gracie to demonstrate. I’m sad to say I didn’t take any videos as her mobility was even improved after - not only could she see and move better, but she was bounding around with a new little lease on life.
So while our older pets may need more time to groom, and more frequent breaks so that they don’t stress their joints or their bodies, the time and the efforts really seem well worth it. Perhaps what we need is more frequent and gentle grooming for the best results for these best friends of ours.