Pets have very different types and lengths of hair, which means they have different grooming requirements. All pets – especially the long-haired, wire-haired, and woolly-coated breeds – should be groomed regularly, otherwise their hair can become tangled, knotted and accumulate foreign bodies such as grass awns, dirt and small pieces of gravel. Grass awns can penetrate through the skin and cause serious infection and form abscesses. Gravel picked up into the paws can be very painful and lead to local ulceration, self-trauma and lameness.
Grooming also removes other accumulated debris, such as skin cells, glandular secretions, inflammatory cells, bacteria and their breakdown products, pollen, mould spores etc.
Neglected animals develop an unkempt appearance and look uncared for. Long standing neglect can lead to irritation, self-trauma and bacterial infections. It is particularly important to remove shed undercoat hairs so that thermoregulation (control of body temperature) can take place. Regular grooming to remove this hair also reduces the amount shed into the animal's environment.
Excessive hair loss could indicate an underlying disease and you should consult your veterinarian about this.
Generally speaking, you should groom your pet for 15-30 minutes every week – it helps if your pet enjoys the experience – so start the process early on and make it a regular event.
Many different combs, brushes and clippers are available and it is important to choose the 'tools' best suited to your pet's coat type. Very fine toothed combs are unsuitable for thick, coarse coats.
Combs should have rounded ends – not sharp edged ends otherwise they can scratch the skin. The comb depth needs to be long enough to get to the base of the hairs. Stripping combs are designed to remove dead hair – but care is needed when hair is tangled because the skin can become twisted into it – and rough stripping can bruise or even tear the skin.
Gloves with teeth
A carder – flat board with thin bent metal teeth, is useful to remove small hair mats and dead hair. Gloves with built-in teeth are also popular.
Brushes should be used with the lay of the hair in smooth-coated animals, and against the lay of the hair in animals whose coat is meant to stand up.
Electric clippers are essential for busy kennels or veterinary practices, as they make trimming so much easier. They are particularly helpful for trimming long hair between the toes and pads, and behind the ears. Care still needs to be taken not to scratch the surface of the skin, causing "clipper rash" or even small cuts.
If you use scissors, always use them with closed blades to tease matted hair apart. Never use them to cut hair because of the danger of cutting skin twisted up into the matted coat.
"Plucking" is a technique used by groomers to pull out dead hair, using their thumb and forefinger. Excessive hair is also "plucked" out of the ears in some dogs.
Washing with a shampoo should always be carried out after an animal has become soiled or has been swimming because all sorts of chemicals, organisms and other products can accumulate in the coat. If left, they may cause local irritation and lead to infection, as well as adversely affecting the natural sheen and appearance of the coat.
A wide variety of mild shampoos are available for bathing cats, dogs and other pets. Only use soap shampoos in soft water because they leave a mineral film on the coat if used in hard water areas. Detergent-based shampoos can be used in hard water but they are harsher on the coat. Medicated shampoos, e.g. flea preparations can also be used. The benefits of conditioners, pH control and other human preparations have not been fully evaluated in pets.
Never use paint stripper or other solvents to remove paint, tar, creosote or another noxious substance that has dried on the coat because the solvents are themselves potentially toxic and can cause chemical burns on the skin. Cut or clip the hair instead.