Check out the photo to the left. Believe it or not, that is a dog we recently had to shave down. On the right side of the photo is the dog, on the left side is his coat coming off in one piece. His hair had become "felt"...basically his body hair tangled together into one big blanket surrounding his entire body.
Why is this dangerous to the health of your pet? Well, here are a few reasons:
1) The matted hair can trap moisture, bugs, fleas, bacteria and other nasty things. Who knows what's festering underneath that "living" blanket. You won't find out until he is groomed. Sores may have developed under the mats, and these may be aggravated and ripped by the clipper blade.
2) When hair is this matted, groomers have to use a very low blade in order to get underneath the hair and cut it off. This puts a sharp, fast moving, hot piece of metal (the blade) right against the skin of your pet. This may result in razor burn or serious skin irritation, at best, and if your dog moves or jumps at the wrong moment, may result in a nick or serious cut.
Many grooming shops, including the big box ones, won't accept matted dogs for this very reason...too much liability. Many of these "rejected" dogs come to our shop. We accept most of them, and haven't had any serious problems (except for razor burn/irritation), but we have rejected a few, and sent them to the veterinary practice down the street from us (Girard Veterinary Clinical, 2806 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19130). The vet can sedate the dog, then shave it down with surgical blades.
3) Bloody ear tips, or what we call "hematomas". This happens when a dog comes in with severely matted ears. Basically, the hair on the outside of the ears has matted into one solid mass of hair, making it hard to even identify the ear. The tightness of the mats can cause the very delicate blood vessels in the tips of the ears to burst, causing blood to pool under the hair at the tips of the ears. When we shave off the matted hair, the blood starts seeping through the tips of the ears. We have NOT cut the ears, but with the removal of the tightly bound hair, the pooling blood is now free to leak out through the ear flaps. Once the hair has been shaved off, the dog's natural instinct is to shake his head, causing the ears to whip around and blood to going flying. We recommend cutting the end off of a sock and pulling it over the dog's head....sort of like a hoodie. It should be tight enough to remain on the dog's head and keep his ears from flapping, but loose enough, so the dog can move his head comfortably.
As always, have your vet check out your dog's ears, but please be honest and explain why his ears are bleeding. Don't blame the groomer and say the groomer cut your dog's ears (as some of our customers have done).
4) Finally, it's very uncomfortable for your pet to have his hair matted (try going without washing your hair or combing it for 3 or 4 months, then see how comfortable you are), it doesn't look good, reflects poorly on you - the owner - and will greatly inflate your grooming costs (we charge more for matted animals), plus expose your pet to possible grooming accidents.
Bottom line - comb out and brush out your dog or cat several times per week. Use a metal comb and/or a slicker brush (ask your local pet retailer for a slicker brush); use treats to bribe your pet, if necessary. And, get your dog or long hair cat groomed on a regular basis. For long hair dog breeds, we recommend every 5 to 8 weeks. Cats don't need to be groomed that often, but need to be brushed frequently, by the owner.
REMEMBER, IF YOU CAN PULL A METAL COMB THROUGH YOUR DOG'S HAIR WITHOUT IT CATCHING OR SNAGGING, HIS HAIR IS IN GREAT CONDITION. IF THE COMB GETS STUCK AND THE HAIR CANNOT BE COMBED OUT WITHOUT GREAT PAIN TO YOUR DOG (AND POSSIBLY BITES TO YOU), YOU'RE IN TROUBLE! CALL YOUR GROOMER IMMEDIATELY.
Good luck, and happy brushing.