Losing The Winter Coat

Although it’s still officially winter, in many places we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Temperatures here in London are staying above zero for longer, the days are lengthening, and the sun is making an appearance more often. For many of us, spring is a time to come out of a semi-hibernation, shedding the multiple winter layers we have been wearing and showing a bit more (pasty, white) skin. For our pets it can be the same. Dogs, cats, and horses all tend to develop a winter coat when days become shorter and they are exposed to the colder, winter temperatures, and they shed this when the days become longer and temperatures warm.

Grooming and brushing out your pet’s coat will help this process along, and often makes the animal more comfortable as shedding winter hair can be an itchy business. For some animals, grooming is an absolutely vital part of their well-being. One of the many physical characteristics that we have bred into specific dog and cat breeds is their coat type. For example, the thick, long coat of a Persian cat and the woolly coat of poodles have been selectively bred into these breeds. In the case of poodles the coat was selected for on the basis of the work that the breed was developed for. As working water dogs, they would be required to jump into cold lakes and many believe this is why the traditional poodle cut is such that the pattern provides warmth to protect the dog’s major organs and joints while allowing it freedom to swim. Without humans to groom the animal, the Persian and the poodle would have a terrible time of it in the wild, as their coats would just grow into a snarled, matted mess.

If we choose a pet that requires regular grooming to be comfortable, it is our responsibility to keep this up. While I was in clinical practice as a “real vet” it was a regular occurrence to have cats in to be clipped. This would usually entail a complete number 3 or 4 all over (except maybe the face and tail) under general anaesthetic. The vet nurses would quite often play practical jokes on the vets with the fur coat that was quite often so matted it would come off in one big knot. They would usually pretend that the cat-sized clump of fur was another cat that required the attention of the vet that we were pranking, leading the vet to rush over with a stethoscope much like the short-sighted vet on the Specsavers ad! The poor newly clipped cats would usually have angry-looking, red and flaky skin under the knots though, frequently along with evidence of fleas, and we could only imagine how uncomfortable it was to not be able to groom themselves properly through the matts.

In some cases, it is the best option to have regular, complete clips for cats, but preferably before the coat gets to the point where it is completely matted. A high maintenance breed such as a Persian or Birman should have regular grooming, if not from their owner then from a professional groomer. Luckily, dogs usually tolerate an all over clip or grooming session quite well without needing a general anaesthetic, but again should be seen regularly by a professional if the owners cannot commit the time. Ideally, pet owners should introduce their pet to grooming at a very young age. This should include not only brushing and combing the coat but handling paws, claws, ears and checking teeth. Getting your pet used to regular handling of all of these sensitive areas makes life a lot easier for you, your groomer if you choose to have one, and for your vet.

And don’t forget if there is a cold spell after pets are clipped, any pet should have a lovely jersey or coat to wear to protect their newly shorn hairstyle!

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