You know how good it feels when you get home from a camping trip or other grubby occupation, and how much you savor getting all clean again? Well, pets also appreciate being well-groomed. And just like any parent, you want your "fur-kids" to look and feel their best. Since there are some grooming chores that--like any kid--your pet can't take care of by himself, so of course you want to lend a hand.
"Staying on top of your pet's grooming needs will help them live happier, longer, healthier lives."
While grooming "how-to" information is widely available, what seems to be missing is the "why-to." Shifting the focus from simple grooming techniques to the real value of grooming your pet can help you get and stay motivated to give your pet's grooming and hygiene needs the attention they deserve. Staying on top of those needs will help pets live happier, longer, healthier lives.
Dental disease is the most common problem seen by veterinarians; about 80% of dogs and cats have some degree of dental problems by the age of three. The infections that bacteria can cause in pets' (and humans') mouths are known to cause heart disease, kidney damage, and liver problems, and they can even make inflammatory problems like arthritis worse.
"One of the most common myths about pet dental care is, dry food keeps pets' teeth clean. This isn't true, and never was."
Many myths abound about cats' and dogs' need for dental care, and one of the most common is the idea that dry food keeps pets' teeth clean. This isn't true, and never was. Many pets, especially cats, swallow dry food whole. Even when they do chew it, the kibbles shatter, so contact between the kibble and the teeth occurs only at the tips of the teeth. This is certainly not enough to make a difference in the formation of tartar and plaque, which most commonly builds up along (and underneath) the gum line at the base of the teeth. This causes the gums to become inflamed (gingivitis). Left untreated, bacteria can erode the connection between bone and teeth, and cause serious decay.
Keeping your cat's (or dog's) teeth and gums healthy requires a commitment on your part. Special "tartar control" diets and treats are not enough. Bacteria are always present in the mouth, and within hours of a professional cleaning, they are already hard at work creating plaque, a sticky deposit on the teeth. In 24 hours, the plaque starts to harden into tartar (or more accurately, calculus). Daily tooth brushing and regular veterinary checkups are essential. But don't use human toothpaste; get a toothbrush and paste designed for pets. Your vet can give you instructions on how to brush, along with tips for getting pets to accept the treatment.
There are also dental products that have been developed to help combat plaque build-up in pets' mouths. However, without daily brushing, your pet will probably need more dental care from your vet.
"Many subtle health issues can be caught early by vigilant guardians who groom their pets regularly; such as fleas, ticks, and abnormal lumps or bumps on or under the skin."
Regular combing and brushing is a must for many breeds of dogs and cats. Brushing is fine for short-coated animals, but for the overly-furred, only a comb or sturdy metal-toothed slicker brush will get down to the skin and pull out the dead hair. It is especially important to be vigilant about grooming during the spring and fall shedding seasons.
Longhaired cats are more prone to hairballs, and often become matted, especially behind the ears and around the tummy and hind end. Longhaired dogs are also victims of matting. Mats start out as small tangles but can rapidly grow to monumental proportions; and as they do, they tighten up and pull on the skin. This is uncomfortable because it pulls when the animal moves, and can't feel too good when they lay down. Even worse, mats can eventually tear the skin, causing an open wound that may become infected. In extreme cases, the wound will attract flies, which lay their eggs there, which hatch into maggots.
It's not a good idea to try removing mats with scissors--it's very easy to accidentally cut the skin. Serious mats should be removed with grooming clippers, a task best left to professionals like groomers or vet assistants. But preventing mats by regular inspection and combing is really the best way to go!
Shorter haired breeds also benefit from regular brushing (as does our furniture!), and it gives each pet parent the opportunity to keep a good eye on their cat's or dog's state of overall health. Many subtle health issues can be caught early by vigilant guardians who groom their pets regularly; such as fleas, ticks, and abnormal lumps or bumps on or under the skin. Good grooming tools will make the job easier!
"Cats scratch objects to pull off the claws' dead outer layers and keep the tips sharp. Regular nail-trimming will dull the claws and minimize potential damage to people and furniture."
Pads, Paws, and Claws
Dogs and cats need regular manicures--but don't worry, it's a much easier process than it is for us humans! You just have to take a look every week or so, and trim where needed.
Cats scratch objects to pull off the claws' dead outer layers and keep the tips sharp. Regular nail-trimming will dull the claws and minimize potential damage to people and furniture. The easiest tools to use are human nail clippers or scissors-type pet trimmers. Cats' claws are curved, and can actually grow in a circle and back into the paw pad, causing a painful abscess. So check your cats' paws regularly.
It's important to provide a suitable scratching surface, such as a horizontal cardboard scratcher or sturdy vertical scratching post. If you don't, your cat will pick a surface for itself…such as an expensive rug or your favorite chair. Nearly all cats can easily be trained to use the object of your choice. For those who are more persistent in their unwanted behavior, furniture protection like Sticky Paws will do the trick.
"Unfortunately, some people still take the lazy [nail grooming] way out by declawing their cats. They don't understand that "declawing" is actually amputation of 1/3 of the cats' paws."
Unfortunately, some people still take the lazy way out by declawing their cats. They don't understand that "declawing" is actually amputation of 1/3 of the cats' paws. To prevent nail regrowth, it is necessary to amputate each toe at the last joint because (unlike humans) the claw grows directly from the bone. Declawing is extremely painful, and is considered cruel in most civilized nations. Medical complications are common, and long-term chronic pain affects many cats. In addition, one in three guardians will discover too late that declawing causes even more serious behavior problems, such as aggression and biting, or failing to use the litter box. Common sense, and a little time and effort, will resolve scratching problems and avoid a needless and inhumane surgery.
For dogs, nail trimming is equally important. There's a common myth that says that dogs naturally wear their claws down, so there's nothing to worry about. This isn't true. Even dogs that walk or hike regularly still need to have their toes attended to, because:
If you are willing to do the nail clipping yourself, you'll need a toenail clipper and good instructions on how to clip without hurting your pet. Your vet's staff should be able to show you how to do this. If you're not comfortable with the procedure, let a professional take care of this important grooming need at least every 4 weeks.
Removing Potential Toxins
If your cat gets into something yucky, like oil, antifreeze, trash, tree sap, or paint, don't let her groom it off herself; use a non-toxic pet wipe to prevent her from ingesting potentially dangerous chemicals.
Dogs, of course, can get into similar problems, and are also frequent victims of skunks and porcupines. If you're in an area known for skunks, you might want to keep a special cleaner on hand.
Sometimes it's impossible to avoid walking your dog on dirty wet streets or through road salt or other chemical de-icing products on sidewalks and other paved areas. In addition to using grooming wipes for dogs' paws, using a good paw balm can protect them from ice and help reduce absorption of toxic residue when used before outdoor outings.
Dogs, and in particular the floppy eared breeds, need regular attention. Our pets' ears provide a natural sanctuary for bacteria and yeast, which thrive in the warm, moist environment of our pets' ear canals. Dogs that swim or are bathed regularly need a gentle antimicrobial ear wash used after the swim or bath. Regular ear cleaning with this type of product for dogs and cats can help reduce the buildup of wax, which when it accumulates, further enhances the likelihood that a yeast infection may develop.
Cats don't typically have many ear problems, so always take red or itchy ears seriously. Ear mites are microscopic, but the debris they leave behind can often be seen; it looks something like coffee grounds. Ear mites are common in kittens, strays, and feral cats, so if you adopt or foster, keep resident felines separated until the newbie gets a clean bill of health. We have articles on ear and eye care on our website, so be sure to check out our links below and visit our Holistic Healthcare Library for more details.
One thing to remember: be careful when swabbing the ears. You can go too deep and rupture the ear drum. Have your vet or tech show you how to clean the ears safely and effectively.
"There are important differences between our skin and that of our pets (different glands, to name just one) Many products that are safe for human skin can be quite irritating to our pets."
Cats rarely need baths, but dogs more often do. If a bath is needed, never use human products on pets. There are important differences between our skin and that of our pets (different glands, to name just one) Many products that are safe for human skin can be quite irritating to our pets. Many quality natural bath products for pets like shampoos, conditioners, grooming sprays and wipes are available, so be sure you get one that's just made for pets if you bathe or use clean-up products on your pet at home. Be sure to rinse thoroughly; any residue can be irritating. As well, chlorine and other processing chemicals in tap water may be drying, especially when pets are exposed more often than necessary. In general, cats don't need bathing, and dogs don't need it more than every 1-2 months. However, they may be bathed more frequently if fleas, certain skin conditions, or allergies are a problem. Your vet can advise you on products and timing.
Think About Using a Pro
Don't overlook the benefits of a professional groomer. Some breeds have skin and coat requirements that are better handled by a qualified groomer. A groomer who sees your pet regularly may be the first to notice a cyst, lump, or other potential problem. Even though a groomer's services cost more, the savings in time and stress may be well worth it!
If you're looking for more great information on pet health care topics touched upon in this article, please use the links below to explore these topics in more detail through these articles from our Holistic Healthcare Library.
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