Keeping your dog healthy means paying regular attention to bathing, grooming, and brushing. Even dogs with short hair will benefit from this often overlooked aspect of his health. For longhaired dogs, owner grooming is essential if matting is to be avoided. In general, grooming helps to remove flakes of dry skin, dirt, and debris from the hair coat. It also removes shed hairs and helps to stimulate sebaceous glands that condition the dog’s coat.
Grooming is an important aspect of your pet’s health care throughout his life. As your pet ages, taking an active role in grooming becomes even more important. Older pets often groom less, may have trouble cleaning those “hard to reach places,” or may develop skin conditions that require extra attention. You will have to take a more active role in keeping your pet clean and monitoring for any changes in skin and coat that may signal medical problems.
Whether he’s a puppy or a senior citizen, grooming does more than just make your dog look and smell nice. Regular grooming will also help your dog stay healthy and feel better. Now that you know why to groom, here are some tips on how to groom.
The Right Shampoo
You’ve probably seen that expensive dog shampoo at the store and wondered, “Why can’t I just wash my dog with the same shampoo I use?” Quite simply, human shampoos and dog shampoos are not created equal, as dog skin and human skin are not alike.
People skin is more acidic than dog skin, and people have sweat glands and dogs don’t have them on their haired skin. Thus, a shampoo that’s too acidic (because it’s pH-balanced for humans) and/or too harsh (because it’s designed for those with moister skin) can lead to dryness and irritation, the most often observed outcomes of an inappropriate shampoo selection.
But there are more perils than just these. The skin is, after all, a major organ that plays a huge role in immunological defense. By drying the skin we’re stripping the oils and the top layers from an animal’s skin, thereby compromising the body’s natural barrier against infection. And when these defenses are disrupted, the skin — indeed, the entire dog — can become predisposed to infections (usually by the yeast and bacteria that live on the surface of the skin).
The Right Brush
Consider your dog’s hair coat before selecting any grooming tool. Short-coated breeds are best groomed with a soft bristle brush. The brush will pull up any dead hair or skin and distribute natural oils throughout your dog’s coat. The soft bristles are also gentle on the underside of dogs, where the hair coat may be thin and in some areas may even be bare. Brushes range in size, type of handle, and bristle. Choose one appropriate to your dog’s size and coat and one that fits in your hand comfortably.
Medium-coated dogs require a bit more than just brushing. Coats of medium length should be first groomed with a slicker or wire brush to pull up dead hair or undercoat. A slicker brush contains small metal pins set into a rubber backing. They may have a plastic coating on the tip for comfort. A wire brush has small thin wires that are angled at the tip and do an excellent job of combing out loose hair and undercoat. Comb your dog first, and then finish with a good brushing to distribute oil. Some grooming tools are double-sided containing both brush and comb.
Long-coated dogs need the most grooming attention to keep their coats beautiful and healthy. These pets should be brushed every day, just as you would your own hair. If you are attempting to groom a neglected coat, you may want to begin with a mat rake. Mat rakes and shedding combs are designed for loosening matted hair and removing it comfortably, provided it is not matted down to the skin.
Dealing with Mud
Does rainy weather have you cringing in anticipation of your dog dragging in mud? First, take a look at the areas your dog frequents; is there any ground cover? Is there anything you can use to cover the mud? Straw can be messy in and of itself, but it can also cover the mud, is inexpensive, and is biodegradable. Another more expensive, but permanent, solution is to build a patio between the yard and the back door. Ten feet or so of flagstones or concrete can make a huge difference, especially when you top it with outdoor matting made specifically for messy situations. These carpet-type mats (as compared to small welcome mats) have stiff bristles or rubber teeth that are made to get the mud off of shoes or boots and do just as good a job on paws.
Preventing the worst of the mud from making it into the house in the first place is the best idea, but, inevitably, your dog will still get some on him and it will make it indoors. Keep old towels on hand to wipe paws and bellies. Even if the dogs are still damp afterwards, by toweling them off you can keep the dirt to a minimum. Some dog owners have a pail of clean water handy so that each paw can be dipped into it, cleaned, and then dried.
If you allow your dogs access to the furniture, be sure to keep attractive but easily washed blankets on chairs, couches, and beds during muddy seasons. Some dog owners use slip covers for their furniture and this is a great idea too, as long as they go on and come off easily. The slip covers also need to be washable. If you don’t allow your dogs on the furniture, have some dog beds strategically placed so that, when your dog is cold and damp, they’re available. A thick towel over the top of the dog bed can catch most of the dirt.
Dealing with Tear Stains
Tear staining refers to the browning of hairs near the inner corner of the eye. We see tear staining most often in white and light-colored dogs. Most of the time tear staining is normal and not of concern (other than perhaps making the dog appear “less cute” to his owner). Tear staining occurs when a chemical called porphyrin, a breakdown product of blood in the tears, interacts with the light and is oxidized. This causes a brownish stain of the hair at the inner aspect of the eye.
Over-the-counter medications aimed at treating tear staining are a dime a dozen. These products contain the antibiotic tylosin. The problem with this is two-fold. The first issue is that the exact amount of antibiotic in the product is not specified on the label, which means your dog is ingesting an unknown amount of the drug every day. The second problem with these OTC tear-staining medications is the central issue itself: is it even appropriate to use an antibiotic daily for a cosmetic problem? Overuse of antibiotics is responsible for antibiotic-resistance of bacteria in the environment and, in general, bacteria that becomes resistant to tylosin also becomes resistant to other bigger antibiotics.
With the overwhelming majority of tear-staining cases being simply a cosmetic issue, perhaps non-antibiotic treatment could be used instead, though it is admittedly less effective. The simplest treatment is gentle daily washing of this area of your pet’s fur. All you need is warm water and a paper towel, cotton ball, or washcloth.
Shiny Coat Essentials
No matter what breed of dog you have, coat type, or color, the first essential for good skin and coat appearance is proper nutrition. The proper balance of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals is crucial. Even if they seem to be more economical, generic brand or store label pet foods are often not made from the quality ingredients your pet needs to stay healthy. Talk to your veterinarian about pet food recommendations; everyone has their favorites and there are many quality brands. If you are formulating your own home-made diet, be sure you have the proper balance of nutrients. Conversely, if your dog is on a balanced diet, overloading with vitamin and mineral supplements may be harmful.
Keeping your pet’s coat at its best means keeping a regular check on internal parasites. Worms can sap essential nutrients from your dog, which would cause the hair coat to lose its luster and quality, not to mention causing other serious health problems. Your veterinarian will recommend a fecal exam during wellness exams to check for parasites. Watch for fleas and ticks too. These creatures can make your pet feel miserable and cause severe scratching, which could damage the coat.
As previously discussed, the right shampoos, combs, and brushes are vital to good grooming. You may also want to consider a finishing spray. Finishing sprays that make the coat slick and shiny are designed for application when your pet is still wet. Most of these sprays contain silicone and function to seal the hair shaft, make it lay down flat, and make combing and brushing easier between baths. Use it sparingly; a little goes a long way.
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