Summer Grooming Pitfalls

By: Elsebeth DeBiase ICMG, FFCP, LSHC-S

Summer in Maine is freedom, full of possibilities, anticipated adventure, nostalgia, and enjoying nature. What better way to experience Maine outdoors than summer romps in the woods or long walks on the beach with a favorite canine companion? Unfortunately, these pastimes can provide additional grooming challenges for your pup such as removing tree sap and burdocks.&lt/p&gt
&ltp&gtIf you enjoy hiking in the wooded areas of Maine, you will inevitably encounter tree sap, most commonly from pine, spruce, and fir trees. This viscous yellow substance carries nutrients throughout the tree and is essential for survival. However, the lifeblood of Maine's beautiful trees can be a literal pain for our active outdoor pooches. The sticky sap and its gummier form pitch become glued and practically fused to the pet's hair, skin, and paws. Rocks and debris will adhere to sap and pitch stuck between paw pads, causing discomfort and irritation if left in contact with skin.

Finding tree sap on your pet can be distressing; fortunately, removing it is a straightforward process using the following steps:

  • Locate any clumps of sap contacting the skin and paw pads and remove these first to reduce skin irritation.
  • If the sap has hardened, use a hairdryer to soften it. For safety, use the lowest heat setting and test the temperature on your hand before applying heat to the pet.
  • Various oily household items, such as creamy peanut butter, olive oil, butter, and mayonnaise, will help loosen the gluey substance. Massage the oil into the affected area and allow it to sit for a few minutes.
  • Work the oil through the tree sap with a wide-toothed comb wiping the excess on a paper towel.
  • Sap not near the skin can be removed with scissors or clippers. For wiggly pets, consult your professional groomer for additional help.
  • More stubborn areas may require treatment with alcohol. Alcohols are known for dissolving adhesive materials. Dr. Marty Becker recommends using vodka or bourbon for difficult to remove areas of tree sap because there is less risk to the pet if they lick table alcohol vs. isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Use caution with this step. Pets should also not consume drinking alcohol. It would be best to place an Elizabethan collar on your dog or have a helper distract them while removing the sap.
  • After removing the tree sap, bathe the pet in a pet-safe degreasing shampoo.
  • If the pet consumed tree sap, contact your veterinarian.
Maine's second summer grooming nemesis is burdock seed. The burdock plant is a thistle-like plant that produces round prickly burrs. Burdocks prefer to grow anywhere the soil has been disturbed, such as roadside ditches and fields. They grow through the summer months and go to seed in September using an unsuspecting pet or animal to transport them to a new growing location. Pets that encounter burdocks are in for a bristly experience, and owners should remove the burrs promptly to prevent injury. Burrs remaining on pets can cause damage to the skin. Additionally, pets may try to remove burdock seeds from their fur by chewing them out, resulting in oral injuries known as burr tongue requiring treatment by a licensed veterinarian. Luckily, burdocks can quickly and easily be removed from pet hair using the following steps:
  • Examine the pet, locate, and remove any loose burdocks by hand.
  • Treat areas heavily clumped with burdocks with a lubricating substance such as a silicone-based pet grooming spray or propellant-free olive oil spray.
  • Carefully pull the hair away from the burdocks and gently comb through the pet to remove any remaining barbed pieces. If the pet is too sensitive for this step, it may be necessary to trim these areas with clippers or scissors.
  • After removing all burdocks, bathe the pet in a pet-safe degreasing shampoo.

Warm summer days invite and inspire us to be active and spend more time outside with our pets. Scheduling regular grooming appointments and brushing or combing through your pets after outdoor activities will go a long way in keeping them safe.

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