Creature comforts

PHOTO PROVIDED Animals can drag in all manner of debris from outdoors. Leaves, sticks, pine needles and branches, burdocks and grass are commonplace, but fluffy or shaggy coats are difficult to maintain and sometimes require daily brushing, combing and sometimes carefully using scissors to remove matted hair.

Animals typically don’t wear pants. That said, some animals have thick fur on the extremities (known as “feathers” in some dog breeds) that could be considered akin to puffy shirt sleeves and furry pants. And as anyone who’s worn pants knows: sometimes accidents happen … and when an accident involves one’s pants, there is ordinarily some degree of suffering involved. When you drag your sleeve in something gross, it’s an annoyance, but when you SIT in something gross, it’s often an embarrassing crisis.

After 23-years as a veterinarian, I have seen a thing or two. Oh, sure, the Sombrero-wearing Basset hound, and the babydoll-clothes-sporting cat were pretty memorable, but things get pretty interesting when considering all the things animals can hide in their coats, pants, or sleeves (depending on the fluffiness factor of the individual.) Mind you, the things we find adhering to, entangled in, soaked into, or hidden under their fur usually are acquired through a “wrong place, wrong time” or simple “bad luck” scenario. One exception is the outrageously muddy dog — the result of having one heck of a good time.

Aside from the expected dirt and mud, animals can drag in all manner of detritus from the great outdoors. Leaves, sticks, pine needles and branches, burdocks, and grass are commonplace and not terribly interesting unless they, say, wind themselves in so deeply as to cause the animal to walk funny. Most owners are greatly relieved to hear that no x-ray pictures, surgery or splints are required, once the offending stick or burdock is removed and the pet happily resumes normal ambulation and postures.

External parasites make it their business to reside surreptitiously in animals’ coats. Fleas, ticks, mites, lice, all can be tricky for the uninitiated owner to find, and especially if these critters are in small numbers. Fortunately, there are some very effective topical medications for the prevention and treatment of most external parasites, making infestations easier to manage (or even better — to AVOID.)

I have been called upon to examine animals with mysterious, sudden discomforts and lesions on the skin that turned out to be not-so-mysterious after all. Tumor? Chewing gum. Bleeding wound? Nail polish. Horrible weepy sore with pus? Vanilla pudding. Fungus? White paint spatter. Broken leg? Hopelessly-stuck-to-the “pants” lollipop. You name it, my patients have sat in it: Glue, tree sap, candle wax, axle grease, motor oil, gasoline, glitter, stickers, tape (scotch, packing and duct). And the hairier the animal, the more challenging the cleanup.

Fluffy or shaggy coats are difficult to maintain, and typically require regular, sometimes daily, interventions of the pet owner. Brushing, combing, sometimes employing scissors (CAREFULLY!) to remove matted hair is a regular feature for some animals. In hopelessly matted cases, a complete shave-down may be in order. We call it a “lion cut” for cats, as we usually shave the whole body, but leave the fluffy head, feet and tip of the tail. It’s adorable, and most long-haired cats that have this done are more active, more interactive and seem more contented afterward.

Matted hair can hide ugly, weepy sores, or, if the animal gets wet frequently, matted hair can CAUSE the skin to become diseased — much like a person who is wearing wet clothing for days on end. So, when mats are found, they must be dealt with as soon as possible.

And, folks, if you’ve ever uttered the statement, “I always wanted to be a veterinarian,” I leave you with the most common item we find hidden in animals’ “pants”: dingleberries.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a dingleberry as:

1. A stupid or foolish person

2. (Slang) a piece of dried fecal matter clinging to the hair around the anus of an animal.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary adds that a dingleberry can also be:

3. A shrub (Vaccinium erythrocarpus) of the southeastern U.S.

4. The globose dark red edible berry of the dingleberry plant (also known as the southern mountain cranberry.)

And Wikipedia adds further:

5. Reference to Dingleberry Lake, in Inyo County, CA — so named for the dingleberries hanging on sheep in the locale. This information corroborates with that in Google Maps. It does not explain which type of dingleberry (actual berry or the yucky kind) were adhering to the sheep, but, knowing sheep, we can assume the worst.

No furry animal is immune to the occasional dingleberry (definition 2) and I’ve become an expert of sorts at diagnosing and remedying this malady. It’s all in a day’s work, and nobody promised this job would be glamorous — or that I’d stay clean to the end of a work day. That said, if I must find something hidden in an animal’s “pants,” I’d much rather lift the tail to find a wad of taffy.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at