Best grooming practices for winter weather

Published 2:31 pm Tuesday, January 1, 2019


K9 Corner

January! The coldest month of the year unless we have a freak mild winter (I can always hope for such, can’t I?) Still, pet owners need to plan ahead and be ready for whatever temperatures and precipitation are headed our way.

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There are some breeds that relish the cold and the snow. Not only the northern sled dogs, my first standard schnauzer would race out the door on a snowy day and circle the backyard throwing up clouds of hard frozen snow. After her first race, she would lie down in a snow drift and rub and wiggle in pure joy. Unfortunately, schnauzers (all three sizes) have beards and long hair on their legs, so what happened when she rolled? Ice balls formed on her beard and legs and feet.

There are a number of breeds whose fur attracts ice balls. The best thing to do when the dogs finally come in is to wrap warm towels around each leg and break up the ice balls as they melt. Don’t try to comb the hard ice out as it will just pull painfully on the dog’s hair. I found the best way to melt the ice that had packed into the pads of the feet, was to have a cylinder of warm water and lower each foot into it. The ice melts fairly quickly and the handy towel mopped up the excess water as you dry the foot.

One reader, years ago, complained about her Lhasa apso getting mats on her legs and underbelly. Again, the ice balls need to be softened before being combed out. This brings up a grooming technique. When combing ice or mats out, start at the tips of the hairs and work your way down to the skin. The ends of the hair are usually separated and the mat – or ice ball- starts further down the hair shaft. When you come to the mat, use the end tooth on your comb to pick at the mat and break it up before finally combing it out.

It is not advisable to let your dog try to lick and chew the ice balls because the ice may contain chemicals such as salt that will make your dog sick. Besides, the licking will help form more mats since a dog’s tongue is not rough like a cat’s and doesn’t have the same “combing” quality.

Dogs with matted coats will not only be uncomfortable from the constant pulling of the hairs, but will usually end up with skin problems from bacteria or fungus growing in the warm, moist environment. Larger mats may need to be broken up with thinning shears before being picked apart. Don’t try to cut large mats off unless you don’t mind a dog with “holes” in his coat.

Some breeds, like the German shepherd dog, sheds undercoat throughout the winter. These loose hairs need to be combed out several times a week throughout the winter. Use a wide toothed comb or this job. Teach your dog to lie quietly on its side to make the combing easier.