Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The Catskills region of upstate New York is renowned for being a winter wonderland during the cold months. But along with the seasonal pros—including snow sports and blazing wood fires—come a few cons: bone-chilling dampness and dry, itchy skin in both people and pets. Which can make pet grooming a real hassle.
Pets with long hair are especially prone to health problems caused by cold dry air and matted fur, as Ulysses Rosenzweig, DVM, of Argos Animal Hospital in Catskill State Park, knows all too well. “It’s important to keep pets well-groomed all year-round,” he says. Otherwise, coats will become matted, resulting in skin infections and other issues that require veterinary intervention. A good pet grooming regimen can prevent the development of serious health issues.
Vets and groomers agree that pet owners should perform basic grooming duties at least two or three times weekly.
That said, cold weather in any region of the world presents special challenges to proper pet grooming. “Grooming in winter is even more important than at any other time of year,” says Jodi Judson of All Groomed Up, a pet grooming service based in Saugerties, N.Y. “The snow and overall wetness wreak havoc on animals’ skin. And if the coat becomes matted, the skin stays moist underneath, creating a breeding ground for bacterial infection—but you’d never know it under all that hair.”
Until, that is, the situation gets so painful that pets can’t tolerate being touched. That’s when it’s time to see a veterinarian. Vets and groomers agree that pet owners should perform basic grooming duties at least two or three times weekly—ideally daily—to prevent the need for a drastic shave-down, antibiotics, and medicated shampoos.
1. Treat Cat and Dog Winter Dry Skin
Indoor pets of all stripes develop seasonal dry skin from winter’s hyper-heated interiors. Combined with the mats that plague long-haired animals, this is a formula for wintertime woes.
If you have a long-coated cat or a dog with a thick, double coat, an expert groomer can be just as important as your trusted vet.
Keep feline skin moisturized from within (which helps prevent excess shedding) by supplementing your cat’s diet with fish oil formulated for pets. And brush your cat’s coat daily. After brushing, rub a spoonful of coconut oil between your palms and massage with your hands; this will encourage a glossy coat and remove any shedded hair your brush missed, so it can’t start forming new mats.
2. Trim Long Hair
Wintertime terrain cramps long-haired pets’ style. Dry branches, briars, and burrs all conspire to create chaos, catching on the coats of long-haired animals, especially their tails. If not de-tangled, pets soon sprout tight mats, like small nests, sometimes accented with ice balls. Those mats are not only uncomfortable for your pet, they also prevent you from noticing potential trouble areas on your pet’s skin, such as a rash or lump.
If a burr is the source of a knot, use your fingertips and the end of a metal comb to gently remove fur from the burr-knot until it’s loosened enough to be removed without causing a yelp. Run your hands along your pet’s coat after your cat or dog spends time outdoors, and use a wide-tooth metal comb to detangle any clumps. Pay extra attention to the area around the collar, where friction promotes matted fur and chafed skin.
3. Brush Winter Coats
Once the big knots are out, it’s time for a brushing. For pets with thick, double coats (including most cats), an undercoat rake is the best way to remove dead hair, stimulate the skin, and encourage healthy regrowth.
Next, use a slicker brush (a brush with fine, short wires) to distribute your pet’s own oils across the coat. If your pet needs extra conditioning—on the elbows or tail, for instance—apply a dab of coconut oil wherever the skin or hair feels dry, and brush it in.
Use neem oil to moisturize paw-pads; this will prevent cracking from dry, indoor heat or exposure to the icy ground outside (don’t use tasty coconut oil for this application, as your pet will just lick it right off). And take this time to examine your pet’s toenails: too-long nails make it difficult for pets to gain footing on icy ground, which could cause orthopedic injury.
Keep Calm and Groom On
When gearing up for at-home grooming, take care to assume a comfortable position that doesn’t put knots in your back and neck. If your pet protests or seems anxious, encourage compliance by offering treats and/or a mild, calming sedative (such as a valerian capsule formulated for pets cloaked in peanut butter). A spoonful of coconut oil makes a tasty bribe—plus, ingesting this emollient, antibacterial superfood helps skin and hair gleam with radiance—especially important for maintaining short-coated pets’ insulation against the cold.