What’s All the Fuzz About?

Ask The Grooming Tutor

By Michell Evans

“I attended your seminar about handstripping in April at the NW Grooming Show. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you! I have been able to try more stripping since then. I also bought a carding knife at the show after you showed us one. I frequently come across dogs (Goldens, Long–haired dachshunds, Cavaliers, Poms, Setters…) that have very fine under–coat-looking fuzz extending out beyond the shiny outer coat. I’ve heard groomers referring to it as ‘spay coat’—is that really what it is?”

“I’m able to remove it from the dogs’ backs and upper sides with the fine deshedding rake and my new carding knife. But I am never able to get rid of it along the lower back legs and along the front legs. I think it would hurt to push the carding knife over the joints and bony areas. I’ve been removing the fuzz with thinning shears, chunkers, and straight and curved scissors, but never satisfactorily. Whenever I back brush, there seems to be wisps left over. Are my scissors not sharp enough? Is there a good technique to remove those hairs? Can you use extension combs on it? I don’t want to cut into the outer coat. Help!”

Thank you,
Monika

Hi Monika. Glad you came to the Northwest Grooming Show to learn some things and do some shopping. Hope to see you again this year!

All the breeds that you mentioned have a similar coat type with the exception of the Pomeranian. Pomeranians have a coat more like a Rough Collie or Shetland Sheepdog, among other breeds. Pomeranians in particular suffer from genetic alopecia issues. The definition of alopecia is the partial or complete absence of hair from areas of the body where it normally grows; baldness. They certainly can have a change in their coat due to alteration, but they may have additional factors involved with a change in coat. Pomeranians are not the only breeds with these genetic issues but the most commonly seen in grooming salons. 

As for the Golden Retrievers, Long–haired Dachshunds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and various types of Setters, they too have obvious changes in their coats due to alteration, among other breeds.

There is no doubt that hormones play a part in the appearance and texture of hair and skin in humans. Just think about the changes in our appearance as we age and our sex hormones lessen. Think about the changes that women go through after a complete hysterectomy, causing a complete and sudden loss of sex hormones. We don’t have very much experience with changes in men after castration as it is not a common practice in our current society. I am pretty sure we would see changes in their appearance as well.

I did a lot of research on this topic in order to explain the obvious changes in coat that pet groomers experience every day due to spaying and neutering. And yes, we all seem to use the slang term of “spay coat” or “neuter coat”. All I found was chats in forums and articles put out by breeders and breed clubs about their observations. I went to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) website and there were no articles on the topic that I could find. I also looked in the Merck Manual, which I personally use and refer my clients to quite often. Merck is a pharmaceutical company and they offer simple explanations of common health conditions in dogs and cats—kind of like WebMD for people.

As far as my research uncovered, there was little or no literature of scientific evidence of changes in the coat due to alteration. In my observation, spay coat does exist! I am sure there is a reluctance in the veterinarian community to offer any cons to the general public about spaying and neutering.

It is important to note that there are both minor and major medical issues that can cause changes to the coat, so be sure to send your client to the veterinarian if you see changes so that they can be tested for disorders like Addison’s disease, Cushing’s disease and thyroid issues, to name a few. Let’s not forget that simple things like changes in nutrition can also play a role in the appearance and texture of coat.

There are many theories about when to alter a pet. Some say to wait until they are a bit older and some say to do it straight away. In my personal observation, I do believe altering a bit later helps them develop normal sized genitalia, promotes better bone and muscle development, and improves coat quality. Because there is no way to know what the coat would have looked like in an early altered pet, there is no way to compare that to a pet that was altered later in life.

Some breeders who know their lines very well can observe these changes and make predictions. For example, if they breed several puppies with the same coat type and the only deviations are in the pets that were spayed or neutered, then it is probably the alteration that caused the variance.   

In my experience, changes due to spaying and neutering come in at least two forms. First is a general thickening of the coat. This is due to the development of more undercoat. It either sheds less efficiently or produces more undercoat per follicle, or both. Also, they tend to produce less guard–hairs and/or softer guard–hairs. The combination of these two things is assessed as being “softer”. The other form appears as if they grow longer undercoat. The undercoat is actually longer than the guard-hairs. This is opposite of the proper function of undercoat.

There are three types of removing coat by plucking. First is handstripping. Handstripping mainly refers to plucking the hard outer coat of wire coated breeds. This technique can be applied to the hard outer coat of other breeds as well, but it typically is not as natural of a removal technique. Second is carding, which mainly refers to plucking out the soft undercoat. This is usually done with tools that rake through the coat leaving the hard outer hairs and removing only the undercoat. And third is de–fuzzing. This method is all about removing the soft coat that is covering the hard outer coat. All three techniques can be with fingers, rakes, knives and/or stones. In your question, I believe the latter is the scenario you are explaining.

Getting the fuzz out of the coat can be a time–consuming challenge. I find grooming powder to be very helpful when de–fuzzing. Some call this chalk. Also ear powder will work in a pinch (No pun intended.) Ear powder is typically more expensive than grooming powder. Grooming powder puts a coating on the hair and makes it easier to grip. It also can add color and volume when used as a styling aid.

Apply powder and remove the fuzz before the bath. Use rakes, carding knives, pumice stones and fingers to remove as much fuzz as you can. Don’t worry about the direction in which you are pulling the fuzz, just get it out. Cutting the coat is only going to mask the problem and promote more fuzz to grow. After you pull as much as you can, it is ok to tidy with thinning shears. In all reality, you can cut the remaining fuzz with any tool you choose as long as it does not cut the now exposed, hard outer coat.

For areas that you might be concerned with that are bony, using your fingers with grooming powder, a latex glove with grooming powder or a pumice stone with grooming powder would all be nice alternatives to rakes and knives. It is possible to irritate the skin by going over and over an area with a tool. Sometimes good old fingers are your best bet. Also, be sure to hold the dog’s hide tightly, opposing each pull so as not to irritate the skin.

Be sure to charge extra for de-fuzzing. You are providing a service that others may lack the patience and skills to provide. Plucking the fuzzy coat instead of cutting it will last longer for the client. Lastly, the dog will look much younger and healthier without all that darn fuzz, so charge for your time!

I hope this helps. Thank you for such a great question.
Michell ✂

Have a question you want Michell to answer? Please send questions to
[email protected]