Coat Care Reminders

by Joyce Johanson

I was recently contacted by a reader who had concerns about the lack of length of her two-year old show male Lhasa's coat. She asked if I could give her any hints about things she should or should not be doing. It's difficult to evaluate coat without being able to see or feel it, but I do have some hints that may help those of you with similar concerns. Consider the dog's health, his environment, the products used on his coat , the amount and type of grooming he receives, and his heredity.

Fleas or internal parasites are obvious deterrents to healthy coat growth. Fleas cause the dog to scratch and break coat. Internal parasites cause a dry, lusterless coat that tends to be brittle and break easily. Dry skin can also cause scratching and coat damage. Solutions are flea control and prevention, which often is easier said than done; a visit to the vet to determine if parasites are present followed by medication to get rid of them if they are; and a vitamin-mineral coat supplement which adds fatty acids to the dog's diet. If you feed your dog a balanced diet, his coat should be healthy, and no supplement should be necessary. However, Lhasas often need extra fat in their diets to aid skin and coat condition, so you might consider adding a supplement designed to aid healthy coat growth. A poor coat is often a sign of a thyroid problem, so if you have tried everything else and nothing works, ask your vet to check the thyroid.

Environment includes not only where the dog is housed but also where he is exercised and allowed to play. If your aim is to grow a nice show coat, the sad fact is that you can't treat your Lhasa as if he were "just a pet." If you allow him to constantly run and play on carpet, resulting static electricity causes coat ends to snap off. If he's allowed to roll on carpet or on the bed or sofa, the same thing happens. If you let him exercise in the back yard so grass and dry leaves can catch his coat, you risk coat damage. Now, I am not an advocate of show dogs living atop a grooming table for the sake of a lengthy coat, but I do advocate being careful with coat and avoiding situations that can cause damage to the coat. A cemented or graveled exercise area is not only easier to clean than a grassy one, but also easier on coat. There is also less of a chance for flea infestation if the dog exercises on cement. Try to keep your dog on vinyl or wood floors while he is spending time in the house with you. If you keep a pillow in your dog's crate or sleeping area, cover it with a fabric that will not catch coat or cause static electricity.

Clean coats grow better than dirty ones. Well conditioned coats grow better than those in poor condition. Numerous products are marketed which make keeping a coat well conditioned an easy task. Choose a shampoo and conditioner for your dog's coat type. You may choose products marketed for dogs or choose from the variety of human products. In most cases, the results are the same. What works for one dog's coat type may not work for another's so you often have to experiment. If a Lhasa's coat is in very poor condition, you may want to use hot oil treatments on a regular basis to begin controlling the damage and making the hair more resilient. If matting is a problem, often keeping the dog in a conditioning oil between baths is recommended. These conditioning oils come in either aerosol or liquid concentrate forms. Either type is effective when used on a clean coat on a regular basis. The aerosol conditioner is sprayed on a dry coat. Spray it layer by layer as you brush through the coat. The concentrate is diluted with water and poured over a wet dog after his bath. The coat is then blow dried as usual. The oil reduces matting and cuts grooming time. The dog should be bathed weekly. If he's being shown, put him back "in oil" after the weekend. If he is not being shown, put the oil back on his coat right after his weekly bath.

Sometimes a Lhasa's lack of coat caused by abusive brushing and/or over-brushing. Unless your Lhasa is going through a coat change and seems to be matting constantly, there is no need to brush him daily. A thorough brushing once or twice weekly, with spot checks of troublesome areas throughout the week, should suffice in most cases. The logic behind this is that if you are grooming your Lhasa incorrectly, you are causing the damage to the coat. The more often you groom him, the more damage you cause.

Here are some things to keep in mind about grooming your Lhasa:
1) Brush the coat in layers.
2) Lightly spray each layer with a detangler or conditioner before you brush through it. This will lubricate the hairs, cut down on static, and make removing tangles easier.
3) Turn your wrist down and toward you when you reach the coat ends. Don't flick the brush upward. That practice tends to break coat ends.
4) Avoid using a comb on the ends of the coat. Use the comb to loosen mats and to work loose hair through the coat, but when you get it near the ends, use a brush. It's easier on the coat.
5) Avoid using a slicker brush. It's too easy to abuse the coat with one if you don't know how to use it correctly.
6) Brush the coat gently. If you rip through it, you'll rip it out.
7) Don't brush a dirty coat. Rinse any dirty or sticky areas with water or wash them with a rinseless shampoo before you groom them. Such areas include the mustache, the loin area on a male, and the rear end if there are particles from a stool stuck to the hairs. A male often gets urine on his side coat in the loin area. Never comb or brush through it without rinsing it. It's sticky and breaks easily.
8)If your Lhasa gets a stuck stool, don't think, "I'll just wait til it dries and then brush it out." You'll wind up brushing it out along with coat you can't afford to lose. Shampoo the offending piece(s) from the coat and condition as necessary.

Of course, it is possible that your Lhasa comes from a line that produces slow coat growers or poor coats. Some investigation into his background should tell you if that's the case with your Lhasa. If it is, others who have Lhasas from the same lines may be able to provide strategies for you to help you grow coat. Sometimes you have to wait for the dog to mature before his coat comes in nicely. In some cases, you may have to give up your plans for your dog's show career. While a sound Lhasa that has great movement may win single points with a poor coat, you cannot expect him to be competitive when it comes to majors unless his coat is in good condition. All other things being equal, the judges are bound to select the dog that is in the best condition.

Of all the possible conditions that may cause your Lhasa's coat problems, heredity is the one that is most difficult to overcome. You can affect some control over his nutrition and health, his environment, and his coat care, but if a poor coat is his heritage, you may be fighting a losing battle.

Please note: Permission to reproduce and/or circulate information in this article is granted. However, the article must be disseminated in its entirety and credit must be given to Joyce Johanson, Joyslyn's Lhasa Apsos. Thanks!

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