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Dog Grooming: The Importance, the Basics, and the Tools and Supplies

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Every dog needs to be groomed, no matter if it’s a short-haired dachshund, a Saint Bernard, or a poodle. Grooming is an extremely important part of maintaining your dog’s health—just as much as feeding the right diet, vaccinations, and heartworm prevention. However, different breeds of dogs have different grooming needs.

Here is the low-down of what grooming consists of, and why it’s important to maintain basic regular grooming habits for your dog, and professional grooms if applicable.

 

·         Nail trims: This is a basic need for any dog. Unless your dog is daily walking around on rock-hard ground or cement that wear the toenails down, any dog is going to need a nail trim. Nail trimming tools can be found at most pet stores. Be sure to also get styptic powder in case a nail gets cut back too far and hits the vein inside, called the quick, to stop the bleeding.

 

Important Health Reason: Toenails that grow too long begin to snag on things like carpet. The vein inside the nail (called the quick) begins to grow in length with the nail, making a nail trim pointless if the quick is too long because then you cannot cut much off the nail unless you get a vet to sedate the dog in order to cauterize the vein once it’s been cut back. This is very painful for the dog. Overgrown nails are at risk of getting ripped off the dog’s toes if the nail snags on something, and then the bleeding is difficult to stop, and infection can set in. Or if the nails grow too long, they begin to curl under into the paw pads or the sides of the other toes. Severely overgrown toenails can deform and cripple the dog’s feet and legs. Long, sharp toenails are also a danger to people and other pets, as an accidental scratch can break the skin.

 

·         Ear cleaning: A basic need for any dog. This is a very simple and quick task, and especially important for breeds with floppy, hairy ears like cocker spaniels, golden retrievers, and basset hounds—all prone to chronic ear infections. Get some cotton balls and ear-cleaning solution for dogs, which can be found at most retail petstores, and just swab the inside the ear canal opening and around the creases.

A healthy ear has little to no brownish-black wax residue, the skin is a light pink, the hair at the opening of the canal is thin or non-existent, and the ear has no odor. It may be necessary to pluck the hair out of the opening of the canal, which most dogs find slightly painful, but this is crucial for good ear health.

An infected ear is thick with wax, the skin is red, the canal opening and creases are swollen and hot, the hair at the opening of the canal is thick and matted not allowing for any air to enter the canal, and the ear will have a foul odor. The dog will often hang its head to one side, hold the head low, paw at its ears, shake its head, and sometimes yelp while shaking the head.

 

·         Teeth brushing/cleaning: Dogs should have their teeth cared for just like people. In an ideal world, a dog should get its teeth brushed each day like we do. You can buy dog toothpaste at your local pet store. Do not use human toothpaste. Dogs swallow the toothpaste, and human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed. It has fluoride in it and a pH balance that is meant for a human mouth, not a dog’s mouth.

If anything, let your dog chew on rawhide bones and rope toys that aid in flossing action if you cannot brush your dog’s teeth on a daily basis.

Get your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned by a veterinarian at least once a year.

 

Important Health Reason: Bad oral health care leads to bad breath, weak teeth that fall out, gum disease and heart disease. If the dog’s mouth is unhealthy, they ingest the bacteria into their system and can get very sick, or they may become malnourished because their teeth are too weak to chew and eat food properly.

 

·         Bathing: All dogs should be bathed every 4-8 weeks, depending on the breed and discretion of the owner, or unless directed by a veterinarian.

 

Important Health Reason: Bathing your dog keeps the skin healthy and clean, and the coat sleek and shiny. Use dog shampoo only, as human shampoo has pH set for human hair (and most people wash their hair far more often that every 4-8 weeks) and is harsher on a dog’s skin and coat than dog shampoo. Bathing the dog in warm water also aides in opening the porous hair follicles and loosens and releases dead hair that, after being blow dried, brushes out easier. A nice warm bath, massage, and blow dry (if possible) also enhances the bond between owner and dog.

 

·         Brushing short-coated dogs: While you may think it’s unnecessary to brush a short-haired dog, such as Jack Russell Terriers, boxers, greyhounds, or labs, regular brushing is a great health benefit for these breeds.

The best brushes (and the only necessary ones) to use on short-hair breeds are listed below and can be found at most retail pet stores.

 

·     rubber curry brushes (with short, triangular teeth)

·     shedding blades

 

Important Health Reason: Brushing your short-haired dog reduces shedding and stimulates blood flow to the surface of the skin. Regular brushing keeps the coat shiny and sleek and the skin healthy. It also is good quality bonding time to spend with your dog.

 

·         Brushing medium-coated dogs: Most medium coated dogs, such as Siberian huskies, collies, retrievers, and German shepherds, need the most brushing because of shedding undercoat. These are the dogs that do the bi-annual shed with clumps of soft hair that comes off them or sometimes gets matted around the ears, belly, and flanks.

The best brushes to use on medium-coated breeds are listed below and can be found at most retail pet stores.

 

·     undercoat rakes (short-pronged for shorter, coarser coats like those of huskies and shepherds, and long-pronged for longer, softer coats like those of collies and retrievers)

·     rubber curry brushes (with cone-shaped prongs)

·     shedding blades

·     slicker brushes

·     dematting tool

For small, tough mats that are not attached at the skin or “felted” into the fur, a dematting tool can be used, which breaks through the mat and cuts it from the fur with minimal coat loss. But for mats that are attached at the skin or felted into the fur, a clippers or thinning shears should be used for removal (it’s best to let a professional groomer do this unless you have the experience to do it).

 

Important Health Reason: Aside from keeping shedding under control, it’s important to regularly brush a medium-coated dog because it keeps the coat shiny and sleek and the skin healthy. The soft-coated dogs that have a tendency to mat can get skin infections if the mats are left unattended and attached to the skin, resulting in hot spots and dermatitis. Mats are most commonly found behind the ears, under the armpits, between the toes, on the belly, around the genitals, down the flanks and buttocks, and the tail. Regular brushing also enhances the bond between owner and dog.

 

Important Note: It is not a wise decision to shave a medium-coated dog, unless the coat is matted over the entire body or recommended by a veterinarian. It’s a common misconception that dogs need to be shaved to “cool off” in the summertime. This does not hold true as dogs do not sweat; they pant to cool off. They use their overcoat to regulate their body temperature, which is why it is SO important to maintain brushing out their undercoat during times of shedding, so the overcoat can properly function to let air to the skin. If the dog is shaved without brushing out the undercoat, undercoat is still left on the dog that affects the use of the overcoat function—therefore not helping to keep the dog that much cooler. The exception, as mentioned before, is if the dog’s coat is matted over the entire body. For example, a Great Pyrenees that is used in a stockyard and only gets groomed once a year by shaving it in the summer. But if a medium-coated dog is brushed regularly, that is enough to effectively keep the dog cool, and there is no need for shaving, which actually damages the coat growth and causes it to grow in coarser and mat easier. An effective shave technique, if used for peace of mind, is just to shave the belly, for when the dog lies down in cool grass or a tile floor.

 

·         Brushing fine-coated and coarse-coated dogs: Many fine-coated and coarse-coated dogs, like poodles, schnauzers, silky terriers, shih tzus, westies, and wirehaired fox terriers do not shed or have an undercoat. However, fine-coated breeds’ coats have the highest ability to mat in a very short period of time. It's important to keep these breeds on a regular professional groom schedule with a local groom shop or vet clinic.

The best brushes to use on fine-coated and coarse-coated breeds are listed below and can be found at most retail pet stores.

 

·     slicker brushes

·     combs

·     pin brushes

·     bristle brushes

·     dematting tool

 

Important Health Reason: Brushing fine-coated dogs keeps the coat sleek and shiny and the skin healthy. Oftentimes, if these dogs go for more than a couple of days without being brushed, their hair mats, and quickly mats to the skin, and if left unattended can result in hot spots, dermatitis, and conjunctivitis around the eyes. These breeds are much easier brushing maintenance if they are kept shaved, as they have no undercoat. Regular brushing also enhances the bond between owner and dog.

 

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