Hot spots, infections and discomfort are often preventable through basic grooming techniques that pet owners can address with relative ease. One of the most important considerations for prospective pet owners is a frank determination of their dedication to grooming needs. No matter the breed, all pets need some level of brushing, ear cleaning and nail trimming - usually about once a month.
Short hair pets can be well cared for by taking loose fur off with a rubber curry brush. It's natural to assume that short hair pets like beagles, pugs, Dalmatians and boxers don't shed much; however, they actually shed more than longer haired breeds. The reason is that the shorter the hair, the shorter the life of the hair. When hair dies, it falls off or packs into the coat.
Proper brushing for medium to long hair breeds is a bit of an art. It requires enough patience that adult care or adult+child partnership is necessary to go through the entire coat.
Many people start off with the best of intentions when they recruit their pet with brush in hand, only to be 'fired' by their pet when they become fed up with the process. Dogs and cats frustrate owners with athleticism of Olympic proportions: bucking, twitching, jerking and generally balking at the whole idea. Commands to relax, stop and stay go unheeded - as does baby talk, grappling and bribes. What to do!
A good way to go about the business of removing old fur and keeping a pet's coat tangle-free is to have a set up that is comfortable for both pet and owner. You'll want a place to secure the dog with a leash, and have soothing music on. A rubber curry brush with cone shaped probes is so comfortable to animals that it's the preferred tool if effective. It works very well using light to moderate pressure. With bristle or wire brushes, the technique is to start near the back of the pet, pushing some fur forward with one hand and bushing slowly and methodically with the other hand going in the direction of the lay of the coat. Going through the coat inch-by-inch is called line brushing. Dogs prefer this method because they can predict where they will be touched. Avoid the very real discomfort of scraping into a pet's skin with de-shedding tools and stiff-bristled brushes. When tangles are encountered, they can be ever so gently worked out by using a comb to bounce (not pull) into the matted hair and then dust off whatever has come free; this takes time. Reassurance and praise will help. Successfully coaching dogs to relax through the process is a direct result of how calm the owner is.
Many breeds like Shih Tzus, Poodles, and Yorkies have undetermined hair growth. This means that their fur will continue to grow if it is not cut, much like our own hair. The fur on these dogs will mat up quite easily when it gets wet and is left to dry on its own. These dogs need careful brushing following bathing to ensure a nice flowing coat. Mats are always uncomfortable for animals and cannot be worked out without professional-level work. If owners want to remove mats with scissors, the proper method is to position the scissors at a 90 degree angle from the dog's body, with the tip carefully in the mat, and to cut it out away from the dog or cat.
Today's better-quality pet shampoos are mild enough that there is no harm in frequent washing as long as the shampoo is completely rinsed out. Dogs have an innate fear of water around their heads; therefore, leave this area for last when bathing the animal, and ensure that water doesn't flow into the dog's ears, eyes or nose.
Ears that smell, or collect wax or accumulate general 'yuck' need regular attention. Alcohol-free ear cleaner put on a cotton ball is used to gently work around the outer ear. Ears that appear pink or red are probably infected and should be attended to by a vet. (Prescription ear drops usually remedy the condition quickly.) Many companion breeds collect fur in their ear that needs to be removed by a groomer.
Nail trimming is a skill. Think of a dog's nail as being much like your own: nail cutting is painless if the cut does not go into the 'quick' portion of the nail. To attempt a dog manicure, have some styptic powder on hand to apply if a cut goes too far and 'quicks' the dog, causing bleeding. This powder helps to clot the blood and has analgesic and antiseptic properties. Start with the nails on the back legs, even though these nails tend to be shorter than the front ones. Cut off the part of the nail that looks hollow, and then use the clippers to scrape away the nail until the "tootsie role" center is visible. The dark spot in the center of the nail is the dog's quick, and it will bleed if cut. Many dogs have their dewclaws removed as tiny puppies; if they are not, these nails can grow especially long because they don't wear down from walking.
Washington State University, College of Veterinary Medicine "Pet Health Topics" Clipping a Dog's Claws, Unattributed
"Hot Spots: Acute Moist Dermatitis," by Marty Smith, DVM of Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc. and Joe Bodewes DVM of Drs. Foster and Smith, Inc. Veterinary Services Department
"Good Grooming: A Matter of Life and Health...Avoid problems - - keep your pet clean and groomed," By Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM
Dr. Pitcairn's New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn and Susan Hubble Pitcairn, pages 119-134
"How to Clean a Dog's Ears" Animal Sheltering, May/June 2001, The Humane Society of the United States