Posted on 19th Nov, 2014: As first time pet parents most of us tend to overlook or are simply ignorant about the importance of grooming our pets and end up focusing most of our time and attention on feeding or playing with them. However regular grooming of your cat or dog is as important (if not more) as good nutritious diet and exercise. Unfortunately, while your pet would be more than happy having his food or playing with you – grooming is typically a tougher task (at least for most of the pet parents) unless the pet has been conditioned right from a very young age. Therefore, this article focuses on grooming basics and conditioning for first time pet parents.
But before we get into how to groom your pets, let’s also understand why grooming is so important and what are the benefits? First and foremost, just like humans a pet is also not happy when he is dirty – not because he doesn’t like what he sees in the mirror but because matted coat or hair blocking his vision restricts his activity and forces his energy on the cause of discomfort making pet lose his confidence and leaving him unhappy – and an unhappy pet is also unruly pet – so grooming ensures not only clean and healthy but also happy pets. Grooming also stimulates the lymphatic system of skin and hair and the blood flow to the skin and through the body, which helps keep the coat and skin healthy. Secondly, regular grooming (even something as basic as running your hand through the pet’s coat) allows you to physically examine your pet for lumps, bumps, infections, flea infestations and injuries which otherwise would remain hidden under the coat and would go undetected. It also provides an opportunity to closely examine their ears, eyes, teeth and nails to identify problems which otherwise may not be visible. Essentially, grooming sessions provides you with a reference point on pet’s current health status. Thirdly, regular grooming makes your pet much more comfortable with human touch and company and helps improve their social skills – such pets become more outgoing, friendly and less aggressive. Grooming sessions also becomes a special time that you share with your pet improving your emotional bond with them. Finally, some research also shows that humans who handle pets have fewer incidence of high blood pressure and fewer minor health problems – so pet grooming can be a win-win for both.
So what all does grooming entails? Contrary to popular perception, grooming is much more than simply brushing your pet and needs to include regular bathing, teeth cleaning and nail trimming as well. Here we give you a quick rundown on these essential grooming elements.
- Brushing – Regular brushing helps keep pet’s hair in good condition by helping remove dirt, spreading natural oils throughout the coat, untangling hair and keeping the skin clean. It also helps check for fleas and flea dirt – the black specks which indicate that your pet has a flea problem. Additionally, in case of cats regular brushing also reduces the hair ball instances. If pets are not brushed regularly their hair can get matted which are usually not visible but makes it difficult for skin to breathe and causes sores due to bacteria that develop under the mat. A matted coat becomes very painful to brush out even by professionals and usually requires shaving off the matted part. For pets with short hair you need to usually brush once a week (or at most 2-3 times a week) but do remember to run your hands over them daily (that’s it!) while for long haired pets (and especially the double–coated ones who have an undercoat beneath a layer of long-hair) daily brushing is a must. For short haired pets brush with the grain but for pets with long hair work with small sections at a time brushing from the skin outwards against the grain and then comb back into place with the grain. Also be systematic about brushing starting with either tail or head and working towards the other end – using firm gentle strokes and do not pull or tug through tangles and mats. Finally, be very careful when brushing sensitive areas like tail and bellies as it can be very painful for the pets.
- Bathing – For dogs, it is typically recommended to give them a bath every 3 months or so, however during summer times especially if you dog is outdoors a lot you may want to give a bath more frequently though remember too much of bathing can make your dog’s skin dry causing irritation. On the other hand cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves and usually do not require a bath but if her coat becomes greasy and oily or she is smelly or if she is too old or arthritic or chubby to groom herself properly then a bath would be beneficial. Before giving your pet a bath make sure to brush them to remove all dead hair and mats. Also use lukewarm water and make sure to apply the shampoo only after diluting it with water in the manufacturers recommended ratio otherwise it may be a bit strong (Do NOT use shampoo or soap meant for humans as it can be very damaging for their skin and hair). Take care not to spray your pet in the eye, nose or ears (cats hate sprays so better pour water on them). Gently massage shampoo from head to tail (again avoiding ears, nose and eyes) and then rinse thoroughly to ensure no shampoo is left on the body especially in areas like groin, toes and armpits. Finally, make sure they are properly dried using a towel or a blow dryer (in case you use a dryer watch the heat levels!). For long haired pets, squeeze out the excess water before drying and also after you have dried them make sure to comb them again to prevent tangles. Also, till the pets are not completely dried keep them indoors in a warm area away from air draft.
- Nail trimming – Nail trimming is also an important part of pet grooming for overgrown nails are prone to damage and can also severely affect your pets health in the long run (besides of course a higher risk for you getting pawed!). Overgrown nails make it painful for pets to walk as they overgrow and curl into a spiral shape putting pressure on their toes. Overgrown nails can lead to splaying of the pads which means that pets have to adjust their stance to compensate for the long nails and this unnatural posture in the long run can lead to arthritis in their legs and hips. These uncut nails may curl all the way to the paw pad piercing it and causing infection as well as extreme pain to the pet. If nails are not trimmed on a regular basis, the quick (a vein that runs into the nail – the pink area seen through the nail) will grow along with the nail making it impossible to trim properly later. Most pets are not used to their feet being handled till it comes to nail trimming and this can upset them, so it is a good idea to get your pet used to having their feet touched. Also while trimming a lot of praise and treats come in handy. Though it’s possible to trim nails at home if you can lay your hands on a good nail clipper but preferably avoid it till you are confident of trimming them properly as you can end up cutting the quick leading to bleeding and discomfort and making them more fearful of nail trimming. If you are doing it at home, make sure that the nail is trimmed to the quick (just before the point where the nails began to curve) to encourage proper growth. Once the nail is cut you can use an emery board to smooth any rough edges. Also, if you do accidently end up cutting the quick apply some styptic powder to stop the bleeding.
- Teeth cleaning – Surprising as it may sound, pets also need to have their teeth brushed regularly to avoid dental issues. As per experts, 85% of pets have a dental problem by age of 3 leading to bad breath, painful chewing and tooth loss. The gum infection can also affect major organs like heart, kidney and liver. Pet toothpaste and toothbrush are available at pet stores (in flavours such as chicken, seafood etc which they will like and Do NOT use human toothpaste as it may be toxic for them) but if you pet resist usage you can always start with your finger- the idea being to get them used to their lips being lifted and teeth handled. Wrap a piece of clean gauze on your finger and gently rub your pet’s teeth and gum with it – be sure to reach teeth at the back as they are more prone to tartar build-up. Foaming or rinsing is not necessary. Try cleaning your pet’s teeth 2-3 times a week. There are also dental diets and treats which can help you keep your pet’s teeth healthy.
Finally, how do we condition our pets to grooming? Firstly, start young! If you have a pup or a kitten – it’s the perfect stage to get them used to grooming. Run your hands all over your young pet’s body daily so that they get used to human touch – handle their feet and toes, lift and handle their nails, open their mouth and examine their teeth, check their ears and gently restrain them in your arms for a few seconds each time (this daily routine would also be useful in case you have an adult pet who is not properly conditioned). Immediately after touching or handling given them their favourite treat or play with them so that they get a positive association with it. In case when you restrain or handle your pet and he tries to get away just hold him gently (yet firmly) till they get pacified and then let him go (easier in case of pups or kittens - for adult pet this might get tricky so be careful). This would help them learn that struggling will not get them freedom. For pet of any age, before starting the grooming session be sure that they are relaxed and while you are grooming them if you see them getting restless just stop grooming for a while and allow them to calm down by gently stroking them and talking in a soft tone. During initial days try and keep the grooming sessions short especially if the pet gets restless very soon and gradually increase the time.
Grooming is a vital ingredient in keeping a pet healthy and while it may require the parent to spare few minutes every day – this time investment would go a long way in in avoiding unnecessary visits to vets – giving you more happy time and happy memories with your furry babies!
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- Aspca.org – Groom Your Cat
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- Vetstreet.com - Dental Cleaning for Dogs and Cats
- Aspca.org – Grooming Your Dog
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- Vetstreet.com – Dental Cleaning for Dogs and Cats