Fifi comes prancing out of the groomer’s, one delicate paw in front of the next. Blue ribbons tied to his ears, his tail cut into a tidy little pompom. He’s perfectly pretty-maybe too perfect to be playing fetch in the backyard, you worry.
Grooming your pets doesn’t mean that they have to be made-up and untouchable; it simply means that you’re taking good care of their health by keeping a watchful eye on their hygiene. Pets, like humans, are more likely to remain healthy when they are clean and well groomed. Contrary to popular belief, dogs and cats are not wild animals; they require regular grooming attention to keep them healthy in their domestic environments. One of the major benefits of a regular grooming regimen is that you will become familiar with your pet’s body. This allows you to quickly recognize problems with his health, so you can bring them to your veterinarian’s attention sooner. Remember that you should seek help from your veterinarian if you think that your pet will be difficult to groom alone.
Brushing your furred friend removes dead hair and skin, spreads out natural oils in their coat, and helps keep them from developing an odor. It is one of the simplest things you can do for your dog or cat, but it is also one of the most necessary. A variety of brushes and combs are available-make sure that you use one appropriate for your pet’s coat. How often you brush them depends on whether they have long or short hair. For animals with short hair, a weekly brushing may be enough to keep their coat in good order. Critters with longer locks require more frequent sessions with the brush. And some breeds require daily attention to keep their tresses in good condition.
Cats are well known for their exemplary grooming habits, but even they need a weekly brushing. In fact, brushing your kitty is great for his health because it helps prevent hairballs, keeping his digestive track healthy. During shedding seasons, increase your brushing frequency as needed to remove the excess dead hair.
Ears are a prime place for infection-keeping your little buddy’s ears clean is a great way to prevent illness. Regularly pick up his ear flaps and examine the inside. Make sure that they are a healthy pink color. If everything looks good, wipe the outer flap of the ear with a cotton ball, being careful not to touch any part of the ear that you cannot easily see. If you notice any symptoms (sensitivity to touch; brown, black, or yellow discharge; foul odor; shaking or continuously tilting head; or circling in one direction) take your pet to the veterinarian to have his ears examined. Another option for cleaning the ears is to use a liquid ear cleanser. But never use an ear cleanser on your pet if you have noticed what could be a problem. The cleansers could cause severe damage if your pet has an inner ear infection or if something has damaged his ear drum.
Routine dental care is essential to your pet’s overall good health. Approximately 80 percent of all three-year-old cats and dogs show some sign of periodontal disease, characterized by a build-up of plaque and tarter on their teeth above and below the gum line. This disease can lead to gum infection and tooth loss. Your pet’s poor dental hygiene is much more serious than his embarrassingly bad breath-infected gums and dirty teeth have been linked to kidney and secondary heart disease in pets. For information on cleaning your pet’s teeth, consult your veterinarian. In addition to your home care, your veterinarian should perform yearly dental check-ups on your pal; she will let you know when you need to have your pet’s teeth professionally cleaned.
Many of our four-legged friends prefer not to have their paws handled, making nail trimming especially traumatic for them. Like it or not, it still must be done. Try touching his ears or paws when you praise him, and before you know it, your little buddy will love to be handled in those sensitive spots.
Indoor cats should have their nails trimmed occasionally whether they use a scratching post or not. Your dog’s claws should not ever extend so far that his nails come in contact with the ground when he’s standing normally on a flat surface. Nails this long place unneeded stress on your pooch’s paws, which in turn can lead to foot problems. Be careful not to trim your critter’s nails too far down; you could cut into the quick (the part of their nail which contains the blood). If you should cut their nails too close, apply pressure or use clotting powder to stop the bleeding. Make sure you use nail clippers designed especially for animals. Cats, for example, have brittle nails that can shatter easily, so it is best to use tools that are designed for them. Here’s an excellent strategy for those who hate the clippers: only cut a nail or two in one sitting. Who said you have to do it all at once? Spread it out over a few days and you’ll lower the stress level immensely.
Examine your pet’s baby blues often to make sure that everything looks good. You want to ensure that any abnormal conditions are noticed as soon as possible so that your veterinarian can begin treatment immediately. Be extremely careful with your pet’s eyes during all parts of the grooming process. You might consider applying protection, like sterile ophthalmic ointment or drops, to your little buddy’s eyes before bathing. Dogs and cats have very sensitive eyes, and soap-even "tearless" soap-can damage their corneas. Also, trim away any hair that is falling into your animal’s eyes so that it doesn’t inflict damage. Make sure to use blunt scissors (children’s safety scissors are great) when trimming the hair close to their eyes to minimize the chance of injury. If tear staining is a problem, you might consider looking at some of the products available commercially to help you care for your pet, or ask your veterinarian or groomer for advice.
The ever-popular "B" word-few animals feel that bath time is something to celebrate. In fact, the majority of our pets probably dread a bath more than anything else. Nevertheless, sometimes it is a necessary evil. On the bright side, the more often you brush your friend, the less often you will have to subject him to the dreaded bath-time experience. Here are some basics to cover before putting your pet in the water. First, always brush your critter thoroughly before bathing him. Any mats and tangles that your pet may have will only get worse during the bathing process, so take care of those problems in the beginning. Second, protect your pal’s ears by placing cotton inside them. This will avoid getting soap in his ears which could be painful to him. Make sure you have everything you need where you can reach it. After your pal is wet and unhappy, it will be much more difficult to leave him to retrieve the shampoo. And finally, close off all escape routes. This will help you avoid chasing a wet pet around the couch. You may consider putting a towel or screen on the bottom of the tub or sink-if your furred friend has a secured footing he will not be so upset.
Now you’re ready to let the fun begin! Always use shampoo designed especially for your animal. Human shampoo is not made for dogs and cats; it can be harmful to their skin, drying it out and destroying their natural oils. Lather him thoroughly, leaving his face until the end. After you have washed him well, make sure that you rinse him just as well, as leaving soap in his fur can irritate his skin. Towel your little buddy off and rub him down. If he’ll accept it, you can blow dry him. And then finish him off with a good brushing.
Though it might sometimes be a struggle to keep your furry pal in clean condition, it’s well worth it. Not only are you improving his health, you’re bonding with him in the process. He’ll appreciate the attention he’s getting, and you’ll appreciate the lack of fur stuck in your ice cube trays. Good grooming habits are a must for any happy household!
Copyright © 2009, American Animal Hospital AssociationReprinted with permission from the American Animal Hospital Association.