When was the last time you bathed? Brushed your teeth? (Speaking for the rest of humanity, I hope it was within the last twelve hours.) What about your pet? If you can’t remember the last time your dog got a bath or cat got a brushing, then your pet is overdue. Whether you do it yourself or take your pet to a professional, here’s how regular pet grooming keeps your best friend healthy, from top to tail.
Benefits of Grooming
A fresh-smelling pet is nice, but it’s not the only reason to bathe and brush regularly. Pets can pick up all kinds of pollutants while outside - pollen, dust, fleas, and ticks can all hitch a ride on your pet and end up in your house. They can also cause allergic reactions in some pets, resulting in severe itching and hair loss. If your pet is hypersensitive (which is not uncommon), a simple flea bite or some pollen can lead to skin dermatitis and other secondary skin infections. Pets who are not regularly brushed can also develop knots in their fur, causing painful pinching of their skin. They may try to pull the knots out with their teeth, which can damage delicate tissue and leave bald spots or sores.
Prevention: Bathe your pet regularly with a mild shampoo specially formulated for cats or dogs. Use lukewarm (not hot) water and gently work the shampoo into their coat with your hands or a soft cloth. Be extra careful around their eyes, and don’t forget to scrub their undercarriage, the tops of their paws, and their tail. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water, and dry them off with a soft towel.
Dogs, in particular, may enjoy the drying process. If they do, take your time and make this a nice reward for them having endured the indignity of the bath. Make sure to dry the insides of your pet’s ears, too, as a moist ear is an infection’s best friend.
If you have a pet with longer hair, or if their hair tends to be unruly, you can go over them with a brush while they’re still damp. Once they’re completely dry, give them a good brushing to eliminate stray hairs. Depending on the breed of your pet and the length of its hair, follow up with brushing daily or weekly to prevent knots and keep their shedding in check.
This would be a good time to apply a monthly flea prevention treatment as well. Calendar the date so you stay on schedule with it every month.
A warm, inviting environment for blight, ears can harbor all kinds of pestilence - sometimes more than one at a time. Mites, fungus, and bacteria all thrive in an unclean ear and left untreated can lead to permanent damage and hearing loss.
Prevention: Check and clean ears weekly with a cotton ball or tissue and a solution specifically formulated for the job. Do not use anything smaller than your finger to clean your pet’s ears (no Q-Tips!) and do not extend into the ear canal.
If you see a substance that looks like coffee grounds, brown discharge, pus, and/or the ears smell foul, your pet has an infection and needs to go to the vet. Depending on the organism, your pet may require oral as well as a topical medication, so don’t wait or attempt to cure this at home.
Like humans, dogs and cats require regular professional teeth cleaning, usually once a year. If neglected, dirty teeth can build tartar, gingivitis, and periodontal disease leading to abscesses, tooth loss and damage to other organs in the body.
Prevention: In between yearly dental visits, brush your pet’s teeth daily at home. All you need is the proper-sized toothbrush, toothpaste specially formulated for dogs or cats (do not use human toothpaste as it could contain chemicals toxic to pets) and a little patience.
Overgrown nails can be painful and interfere with your pet’s ability to walk. They can also snag or catch on fabric, break off at the quick causing pain and bleeding, grow into the pads of the paw causing infection, and contribute to the development of arthritis.
Prevention: Keep your pet’s nails trimmed to the proper length. Most pets are not enthusiastic about the nail-cutting process, so if you’re going to do this yourself, approach your pet after a long walk or a vigorous play session when they’re tired and relaxed.
Your pet has two anal glands (or sacs) located on either side of its anus. These glands secrete fluid which functions primarily to mark territory and identify your pet to other pets. When working properly, the glands express themselves during defecation or territorial marking. When not working properly, the anal glands fill up, causing irritation. If this happens, you will notice your pet scoot, drag, or bite and scratch at the area. Caught in time, full glands can be expressed with no ill effect. If not, the glands can impact, abscess and rupture.
Prevention: Some pets will need their glands regularly expressed for their lifetime. Others will only need help at certain times. The luckiest will never need gland expression at all. Figure out which category fits your pet. If you have a “lifer,” calendar a schedule (this could vary from weeks to months) and be diligent about maintenance. If you’re not sure when your pet needs expression, make note each time they start scooting and try to preempt the next scooting incident by a few weeks’ time.
It’s worth noting that anal expression by a veterinary technician costs less than $30 in most areas, but for the truly brave:
We know that a lack of physical touch adversely affects pets. Dogs and cats who suffer a lack of kind human contact can be fearful, aggressive and have other behavioral problems. Pets who are not regularly groomed can suffer resulting health issues that affect their mood and behavior as well. For example, an ingrown nail or an abscessed tooth can make an otherwise friendly pet reclusive or surly.
Prevention: A well-cared-for pet is a happy pet. Regular brushing/touching of your pet will familiarize you with your pet’s body and what is “normal,” so you will more easily notice abnormalities (cuts, growths, sore limbs) and can get your pet to the vet early while the issue is treatable (and less expensive!). Besides keeping your pet healthy, the physical act of caring for your furry loved one builds an emotional bond between you and your pet. In fact, some veterinarians encourage adopters to bathe their new pet as a bonding experience, effectively “washing away” the pet’s “old” scent, and replacing it with your scent, claiming that pet as part of your “pack.”
Keeping your pet clean and healthy doesn’t have to be a chore. Make bath time and brushing an enjoyable ritual by keeping a calm, upbeat energy, praising excessively, and spending extra time scrubbing or massaging those areas you know hit your pet’s “spot.” Over time, your pet may even grow to enjoy this time spent together. For the less pleasant tasks on this list, a heavy dose of patience, praise and treats should help. Or do as I do: let the groomer handle the rest.
The Michelson Found Animals Foundation's mission of saving pets and enriching lives is made possible by the generous contributions of Dr. Gary Michelson and Alya Michelson.