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Daily Grooming and Your Dog's Health

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by Deborah Shores, DVM

The old saying goes, “cleanliness is next to Godliness” and this can go for dogs as well! We humans pride ourselves on our hygiene but often our dogs could care less. We must be diligent in ensuring that our dog’s coat, skin and cuticles are in top-notch shape for optimal health. Here is a short breakdown from a veterinarian of what you need to check off your daily dog grooming to-do list in order to keep your pet away from emergency vet visits while looking and feeling their best.

Tackle their Teeth

80% of our dogs experience dental disease in their lifetime. This is due to a lack of oral hygiene, as dogs cannot “brush and floss” themselves. Dogs build up dental tartar and plaque just like we do and can suffer from gingivitis and periodontal disease. “Doggie breath” can also be caused by dirty or diseased teeth.

Owners can improve their dog’s oral health and breath by improving their diet and caring for their dog’s teeth on a daily basis. It is easiest to start this routine while your dog is still a puppy. He or she can get used to the procedure and you can make it a habit together. As you brush your teeth in the evening – brush your dog’s as well while you are in the bathroom together.

Pet specific toothpaste is available online and through pet stores. Many contain natural enzymes and abrasives that help to break down tartar and prevent calculus buildup. A number of different flavors are available, such as poultry, beef and mint. Toothbrush kits can be purchased for dogs and cats, making getting started easy!

If you are introducing any dog to tooth brushing, be sure to start slow and make it a good experience. Let the dog lick a little tooth paste off of your finger. You can use a small cloth or finger toothbrush and gently massage the outsides of the dog’s teeth. It is not as important to brush the insides of the teeth near the tongue, as these surfaces are not as prone to buildup. Once your pup gets used to you massaging the teeth with the cloth and toothpaste, work your way around the mouth once a day. If you can’t brush your dog’s teeth once a day, try for every other day. If you brush less frequently than that, the benefit is significantly reduced.

Maintain their Healthy Coat and Skin

Many dog owners select a shorthaired dog breed, as they require less coat maintenance than longhaired breeds. This is true, but shorthaired breeds can benefit from a similar amount of coat maintenance. Brushing your shorthaired dog daily will help stimulate the skin, promoting healthy skin cell turnover and hair follicle health. Daily brushing will also help your dog shed excess hair during “shedding seasons” that occur in the fall and spring.

Daily brushing will help you to identify problems before they become major problems. If you discover “flea debris” on your dog, it is time to treat with a flea preventative before he becomes uncomfortable or suffers from flea bite allergy. “Hot spots” or itchy areas of inflamed or infected skin can be identified quickly and your veterinarian can show you how to treat them at home. Matted hair can be quickly combed out when you brush your longhaired dog daily. Brushing can also give you more time between professional grooming appointments – saving you time and money.

Trim their Nails

Just like humans, dog nails are continuously growing. It is best to teach your puppy to tolerate nail trimming and foot handling at a very young age. Checking your dog’s nails daily will help identify problems such as dry, splitting nails or a broken nail. Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed short will prevent them from getting hung on carpet, breaking and painful bleeding. Most veterinarians recommend regular nail trims at home, and at the veterinarian or groomer every 4 to 6 weeks.

Clean their Ears

Ear cleaning is not required daily for the majority of dogs, but a quick check every day can help you identify problems early. Also, take a quick sniff of your dog’s ears. If they smell foul or “yeasty” or if there is discharge present – he or she may have a bacterial or yeast infection. Excessive ear wax can also build up quickly, requiring some owners to wipe out the ear canals and ear flap daily with a moist wipe or soft cloth—your veterinarian can show you how to do this safely. Some breeds, like Poodles, grow hair around and inside of the ear canal. If this hair becomes too dense or too long, it can trap moisture and microbes, predisposing ear infections. Identifying too much ear hair can get you to the grooming salon before it’s too late!

Bathe them Regularly

Daily bathing is almost never recommended for dogs. Every 2 to 4 weeks is sufficient for indoor dogs that are brushed daily. Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors or get wet frequently can benefit from once weekly baths with a mild moisturizing oatmeal-based, soap free shampoo. Dogs with seasonal allergies develop itchy skin symptoms when allergens like pollen come in contact with the skin. If your dog suffers from seasonal allergies, wiping off his fur and paws after going outdoors can reduce his symptoms. Keep a box of hypoallergenic, aloe baby wipes in your car and by your door for a quick wipe down multiple times a day. Don’t forget to wipe between your dog’s toes and between the paw pads!

If your dog isn’t too keen on daily brushing, ear checks and tooth brushing – make it a good experience by incorporating “reward based training.” Basically, this means that when you brush or perform checks on the feet or ears and your pet sits still, give a small treat as a reward. He or she will soon associate the new daily grooming routine with good things (food!) and will relax. Following these handy tips only takes a few minutes out of your day. Your dog will appreciate the extra attention and is a great way to catch any problems early on!

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