"All-Natural Grooming": More Than Just Products | Groomer to Groomer

Derm Connection

“All-Natural Grooming”: More Than Just Products

 If you have adopted the all–natural philosophy, then what is your stance on shaving down Pugs or Labs? Do you consider that natural?

All–natural” is a term commonly used by groomers and shampoo companies to describe products, but what does that really tell us? One can assume it means that an ingredient or product was derived from nature at one point; but the question is, does it match their grooming style or is it just a cool buzz word? 

We are always looking for more biodegradable or “greener” products to protect our environment and our pets. And it is easy to understand that, as groomers, we want to do what is best for the pets in our care. But does all–natural meet that criteria? 

Here is some food for thought. Does your all–natural philosophy carry over to other aspects of your grooming? Many times, the idea of all–natural only applies to the products that we put on our pets. But what about the other details of our grooming behaviors? If you have adopted the all–natural philosophy, then what is your stance on shaving down Pugs or Labs? Do you consider that natural? 

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Often we give mixed messages whether we realize it or not. In an ideal world, we should consider letting most of our pets stay in their natural state by preserving the hair that protects them from the elements. I say most because various coat types have distinct needs and react differently. 

Two major classifications that need to be put forth are the difference of the pets that have a genetically predetermined coat length and those that are continuously growing (long coat type). The genetically predetermined coat types can further be broken down into short– and medium–coated dogs.

When we compare these coat types, they have quite different growth patterns, hair types and, therefore, needs. When we take a look at the genetically predetermined hair type, the coat grows out to a specific length and consistency, and then stops. As long as it is not compromised by shaving, skin disease or hormonal issues, it will stay at that length for the duration of the pet’s life. We often will see in dogs like Aussies, Shelties, Goldens and Collies that shave–downs will affect the coat’s future length and texture. 

One of the other significant differences for the genetically predetermined hair coats and the long or continuously growing coats is how they function. In short and medium coats, the primary or guard hairs function very differently from the secondary hairs. The primary hairs are the main color and the protection of the skin and of the secondary hairs (this is why they are called “guard” hairs). Primary hairs tend to be more rigid and less porous than their secondary hair counterparts. They are designed to shed water, toxins and microbes. Secondary hairs lack structure and often retain water and toxins because they are more porous. 

Short coats have different needs from the medium coats because of their lack of density. They really need all the hair they can get for protection. These breeds actually produce more oils or sebum as another layer of protection. Shaving them down makes them extremely vulnerable to skin issues. This group is way overrepresented in the veterinary clinic because of practices like shave–downs and degreasing products, which both go against the natural protections mechanisms, thus increasing the chances of problems.

In medium–coated breeds, the “fluff” is much more prevalent, thus the reason they are called double–coated. The secondary hairs are more the insulation (or “fluff”) to the coat. The primary hairs are the structure of the coat and should extend past the point of the secondary hairs.

The issue when shaving or clipping double–coated pets is that when you cut the primary hair shorter, you lose the structure and the secondary hair springs up, leaving the coat uneven in some breeds (artic and similar breeds). By destroying this structure, we have eliminated the pet’s natural protection, which leaves the hair and skin more vulnerable to moisture, toxins and microbes. 

These coats need a lot of minerals and nutrients to grow strong and healthy. Sufficient nutrition, good conditioning (not degreasing) and avoiding products that decalcify (like vinegar) are important to maintain these coats. Breeds like Chows and Pomeranians tend to be very susceptible to shave–downs. Whether it be due to their hormonal makeup, changes with age or long, dormant cycles to the hair, it is not uncommon to have total hair loss and black skin disease or Alopecia X as a secondary issue to the shave–downs.

In contrast, drop–coats, or continuously growing coats of the long–hair type, are favorable to trimming and shave–downs because the primary and secondary hairs are similar. This similarity provides the ability for us to be able to cut them down without the secondary consequences that we see in the short– and medium–coated breeds. It is important that we don’t shave them down too far though. It is always best to leave an inch or more so that the skin still has protection. 

And then there are the doodles…They are really in a class by themselves because they are a grab–bag of possibilities. As a groomer, you have to use your best estimation of the hair type of the dog in your care. Some cats also fit into these categories due to their mixed backgrounds. Most will fit into the medium–length category, but if they are purebred, they are much easier to predict.

So, if we are concerned with being an “all–natural” groomer, perhaps we should focus on our technique as well as purchasing high–quality products. All–natural doesn’t have a sufficient definition for products, but I think we can all agree that by leaving the coat of an animal the way that nature intended it to be, we are truly practicing an “all–natural” grooming lifestyle! &

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Dr. Cliff Faver

Dr. Cliff Faver graduated with a BS in Biology/BA in Chemistry before getting a Veterinary degree in 1987. He is the past owner of Animal Health Services in Cave Creek, Arizona and now the US distributor for Iv San Bernard products, teaches the ISB Pet Aesthetician Certification program, and speaks internationally on hair and skin. His passion is to merge groomers and veterinarians to aid in helping and healing pets. He is also a member of AVMA, AAHA, AZVMA, Board member with Burbank Kennel Club, and has served on Novartis Lead Committee, Hill’s International Global Veterinary Board, and a Veterinary Management Group.

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