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Golden puppy in a metal tub full of soap suds, puppy has soap beard

After so many weeks of social distancing we all might be looking a little ragged. Maybe your hair is too long. Maybe you haven’t gotten that root touchup or the mani pedi you were planning on. Maybe you aren’t sure when you last shaved your legs. We are all going through it, achieving that perfect that quarantine cave person look. But your pets don’t need to!

Grooming salons and vet offices are closed or have reduced hours, but that doesn’t mean that your pet won’t require brushing, baths, nail trims, and hair cuts. Many of us pet owners rely on the professionals to keep our fur babies looking neat and clean. What do we do when we don’t have access to those professionals? How do we perform the routine maintenance that our pets need to stay healthy and comfortable?

Here are some home grooming tips to help keep your pet looking and feeling good:

1. Brushing:

Many pups don’t love grooming time. Some turn into the raging wiggle monster when the brush comes out. But regular brushing is necessary to keep your pet’s coat and skin healthy. It helps keep mats from growing and painfully pulling on skin. Brushing regularly keeps shedding to minimum because you are removing the dead hair that would otherwise end up on your clothes or couch. It brings the natural oils released in the skin through the coat, keeping it shiny and healthy. Brushing also gives you a chance to observe your pet for new lumps, bumps, or sores on their body. And believe it or not it, if introduced gently and slowly, brushing helps build your bond with your pet! Preventativevet.com has a good list of the appropriate brushes for your pet’s coat type and DogTime has some tips on how to brush your pup to be sure you are brushing down to the skin without hurting your pup, but if you have questions or want more information contact your local groomer for suggestions!

  • How often should I brush? Most short haired dogs need minimal grooming. According to DogTime.com many are fine with a brushing anywhere from 2 times per week to 2-3 times per month. For short haired double coated dogs (like Huskies) be prepared to groom more often during the 2-4 times per year that they “blow” their coat, or shed their undercoat to make room for the new undercoat. Long haired breeds need more consistent brushing. Dogs like Collies may only need a full brushing 2-4 times per week but Poodles, Doodles, and other high maintenance breeds need daily brushing.
  • How long should brushing sessions be? If your dog does not like to be brushed or is not used to it yet keep sessions short, 10-15 minutes, and then work your way up to longer sessions slowly. If you brush one leg or one ear or half of a side and you notice that your pooch is getting restless and uncomfortable call it quits for the day. Even if you get one leg per day and then the head and then body in future sessions, that means that in 6 days you’ve completely brushed your dog and it’s time to start back on that first leg! Be very careful to not do more than your pup can tolerate at any time. That’s when they start to dread the sight of the comb. Positive associations with the brush and brushing can take a while to establish, so be sure to go at their pace and provide lots of good treats and praise to build happy associations with brushing time.
  • How do I keep him/her from wiggling, leaving, biting, etc? Remember when you were little and your parent would brush your hair? They didn’t know where the knots were and brushing could be painful! The same goes for your pet. Brushing can be uncomfortable if they have knots, mats, or sensitive skin. In the beginning be ready to keep sessions short and include lots and lots of praise and treats. Make brushing a fun time with very high value treats that they only get when they are calm during brushing. I’ve had great success with licking mats to keep my pooches occupied as they got accustomed to grooming. Time your sessions correctly as well. Don’t expect to get a good brushing session in first thing in the morning when your pup is full of energy. Try to wear your dog out before a session so that they are more able to relax and stay quiet. Keep in mind that the more time you commit to associating brushing with happiness, calmness, and treats in your pet’s mind, the easier brushing will be for the remainder of their life. It’s never too late to teach old dogs new tricks! Check out this training video for some more tips:

Make sure you are setting up a consistent grooming routine. Regular maintenance brushing is important for all dogs and will help keep them healthier. Plus it will help you manage that quarantine time until you can get back to the groomer!

2. Baths:

Baths are recommended every 1-3 months for most dogs. However if your dog has skin issues or frequently spends time outdoors you may need to bathe more often. Before you bathe your dog make sure to give him or her a complete brushing to remove debris or matting. Mats that get wet get tighter and much more difficult to remove. Once your pet is ready and in the tub or sink, use a hose or a cup to completely wet your dog’s body. Never spray water directly in your dog’s ears, eyes, or nose. Gently massage the shampoo into your dog’s coat and then rinse completely. If you use conditioner, consider letting it sit on your dog’s coat for a couple of minutes before rinsing to get the full effect. Use only pet shampoos and conditioners. Do not use human shampoos as they can have ingredients that can irritate the dog’s skin. When washing your pet’s face use a small amount of water or drizzle from a cup to not get any in their eyes and nose. You can tip their head up to help prevent that. Or use a washcloth to negate the need for water all together! Make sure to dry your pet completely and give them lots of praise!

Golden retriever licking peanut butter off a blue lickimat suctioned to a white tile wall

For those pups who are squirmy or fussy, those licking mats can come in handy here too. You can freeze the peanut butter in the mat ahead of time so that it takes your pup longer to lick all of it out. There are even mats that suction to the tub wall for easier access for your pet! Or if you don’t have one of those you can smear the peanut butter directly on the tub wall, just make sure the wall is clean and dry first!

 

3. Trims:

Most of us don’t cut our own hair and we wouldn’t even consider cutting our pet’s hair! If you are maintaining a regular grooming schedule and your pet does not have any mats or tangles then you won’t need to do any major trimming. This is why completely brushing your long-haired dog or cat is so important. But as this quarantine drags on, you may notice that your pup has grown a little too shaggy in places or in a month when it finally warms up you notice your dog is panting a lot while outside on your walks. Many of our pets are going to be ready for their spring and summer clips soon. But as long as you are consistently brushing and your pet’s coat is in good shape, then you may be able to just shrug your shoulders and say “quarantine hair don’t care!”

  • The 3 F’s: Even if you don’t decide to turn your spare bedroom or garage into a full grooming station, you may need to trim your pup’s 3 F’s as groomers call it: face, feet, and fanny.
    • Face: If your dog has hair hanging in his eyes so much that he can’t catch the frisbee you throw to him, maybe it’s time to get those scissors out to trim those long eyebrows. If you do so just make sure that you take your time and ask for help if your dog keeps moving his head. Make sure to keep your scissors parallel to his face so you don’t accidentally poke him.
    • Feet: It is important to keep your pup’s paws trimmed. Mats can easily occur between the toes or the pads and can be very uncomfortable for your dog. This may require some practice and training if your pet is uncomfortable with having his feet touched. To trim the paws use small, rounded tip scissors. Never cut downward in between the toes or pads, always keep your scissors parallel to your dog’s skin and be careful that you don’t have a fold of skin held between the scissors. (If you have clippers most groomers suggest using those because they are much safer than scissors.) Hold your dog’s paw securely and gently spread their toes. Clip the hair in between the pads until the paw hair is level with the dog’s pads. Don’t forget to trim the hair between the toes as well. TopDogTips.com has some good information and pictures for trimming feet.
    • Fanny: Also called a sanitary trim, this is unlikely to be as important for your pet as trimming the face and feet. Groomers will shave the dog’s belly and rear end to keep that area more sanitary. If you have a long-haired dog and notice them getting dirty back there contact your veterinarian or groomer. Unless you have prior experience, do not trim your pet’s sanitary area as you can do serious damage. And never trim that area with scissors! It’s much safer to use grooming wipes or baby wipes to clean up your pooch until you can get back to your regularly scheduled grooming appointments.
    • Just remember, hair grows back! Your pet would much rather be comfortable than beautiful. Be sure to be very careful and gentle when using scissors or clippers on your pet.
  • When not to clip your dog: Many people think that like humans, if you trim or shave your pup they’ll be cooler. That could be the case with some dogs. My doodles love to be trimmed short in the summertime. However, it is essential to know that you should never clip or shave a double coated dog. According to Five Points Animal Hospital double coated breeds have 2 layers to their coat: the fleecy undercoat and the longer guard hairs on the outside. In the cold temperatures those guard hairs protect the undercoat and keep the ice and snow out while the undercoat keeps the dog warm. However in the summer the dog sheds that undercoat and the guard hairs then protect against sunburn. Without the undercoat the air can circulate against the dog’s skin to keep them cooler. Double coated breeds include (but are not limited to) Huskies and Malamutes, Newfoundlands, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Australian Shepherds.

The most important thing to remember is to take your time. If you get 5 minutes of brushing on your dog who used to run when you pulled the brush out of the drawer or if your pup hops easily into the tub for a bath, this is a win! It doesn’t have to be perfection now, but working to maintain your pet’s coat, skin, and nails will keep them happy and healthy. This may seem like a lot to deal with while you are in quarantine, but your pet will thank you! Even a little bit every day will create positive associations for your pet, improve their ability to interact calmly with basic care tasks, and not only make your pet care easier but improve your bond with your pet at the same time!

And don’t forget to think about your local small businesses. Many grooming salons or home-based groomers are struggling during this time. Help their businesses with a review, a kind comment, or a reassurance that after this is over you and your overly hairy pup will be back to see them! Maybe even consider sending a tip to help tide them over or pay for a “virtual groom” with coat care and grooming tips for you to take care of so that your pet’s coat stays manageable until the professionals can get back to the job. Support local, be kind to one another, and we will come out the other side of this. Some of us may be a little extra fluffy, but we got this.

Small furry Shih Tzu walking along sidewalk carrying a scrub brush in it's mouth

 

After so many weeks of social distancing we all might be looking a little ragged. Maybe your hair is too long. Maybe you haven’t gotten that root touchup or the mani pedi you were planning on. Maybe you aren’t sure when you last shaved your legs. We are all going through it, achieving that perfect quarantine cave person look. But your pets don’t need to!

Grooming salons and vet offices are closed or have reduced hours, but that doesn’t mean that your pet won’t require brushing, baths, nail trims, and hair cuts. Many of us pet owners rely on the professionals to keep our fur babies looking neat and clean. What do we do when we don’t have access to those professionals? How do we perform the routine maintenance that our pets need to stay healthy and comfortable?

Here are some home grooming tips to help keep your pet looking and feeling good:

1. Nails:

Nail trims often equal stress, for both pets and their owners. Many owners haven’t learned how to properly clip their pet’s nails and are worried about cutting too short and damaging their pets. It can be an intimidating prospect! But even if you only get a small amount of nail trimmed, your dog will be better off. If nails are allowed to grow too long they can be painful to dogs and cats and cause joint and structural damage. It may take time to get your pet accustomed to the clippers. Use lots of treats and positive reinforcement to first get your pet used to the location where you will do the trimming (make sure its a calm quiet area with a non-slip mat for them to stabilize on), the clippers themselves, the clippers touching your pet, and finally a nail trim. There are plenty of YouTube videos and step by step instructions for clipping your pet’s nails. You may even ask your veterinarian or groomer if they have any resources for you to follow. Here are a few good videos to get you started: (The second video is a bit long but has some great information and explanations)

  • Types of Nail Clippers: There are 2 types of clippers people can use: scissors and guillotine. Chose the type that you and your pet are most comfortable with, you may need to try both to see which you prefer. Be sure to get the correct size as well. It can be dangerous to clip a kitten’s nails with dog scissors because they are too large and unwieldy on tiny nails. If your pet really doesn’t like the clippers you can also try a nail Dremel, which grinds their nails down. You may need to take time to get them accustomed to the noise and feel of the grinder and you still need to be careful not to trim too short or you will hit the quick.
  • What is the quick? The quick is the blood vessel in the nail and if you cut too close your pup could start to bleed, and nails bleed a lot! If that happens don’t panic. Use styptic powder (or cornstarch if you don’t have the powder) to stop the bleeding. Press the powder firmly on the nail that has been cut. Try to keep your pup still and make sure to stay calm and reward your pup for being calm.
  • Scratch Boards and Pads: Cats love their scratching pads! Many are made out of cardboard, sisal, twine, or tough fabric/carpetting. Cats use the scratching pads to both sharpen their claws and to leave scent traces. So if your cat uses their scratching pad frequently keep an eye on his/her claws because they may need a little trim more often. However, for dogs you can do the opposite! If trimming is just too stressful for your pup you can make your own scratching board that your dog can “dig” to file his/her nails! It may take a little while to train your pup to use it but it can be fun, stimulating, and much easier than a battle with the clippers! Check out this DIY Nail Board for your pooch.
  • How often should you trim? According to the ASPCA many dogs require weekly trimming, but pups who tend to walk frequently on sidewalks and paved roads can usually go longer between trimmings. You should trim your dog’s nails when they begin to touch the ground and you can hear them clicking as the pup walks, or if you notice them snagging on the ground or carpet. Cats should have their nails trimmed every 1-2 weeks or if you notice them getting snagged on carpets or blankets.
  • Paw Pads: Don’t forget your pup’s paw pads too. Their pads provide cushion for their joints as well as protection from weather and from rough ground. They can get chapped, dry, or burned just like our skin. Make sure you keep the hair between their pads trimmed and free of debris and dirt to prevent matting. Use a special paw moisturizer (do not use human moisturizer) like Musher’s Secret or Wild Saint Paw Therapy to keep pads healthy.

2. Ears:

Ear care are another task that your pet often does not want you to do but is essential for their health. Ear infections can be caused by debris or water caught in the ear canal and can be very uncomfortable for your pet. If an infection is left untreated it can cause hearing loss and loss of balance.

  • How to clean your dog’s ears: Training your dog to accept ear cleanings can also take a lot of time. Get your pet used to having their ears handled and then slowly acclimated them to the cotton balls and the smell of the cleaner, always using plenty of positive reinforcement. Once your pet is comfortable, gently fold their ear back over their head so the inner ear is exposed. Using a cotton ball with cleaning solution on it gently wipe dirt and earwax that you see on the underside of the ear flap and then very carefully clean the ear canal with the tip of your finger surrounded by the cotton ball or gauze. Watch this video for a good demonstration:

  • How often should you clean them? Depending on the type of ear your dog has, the amount of hair in the ear, or if they produce large amounts of wax, you may need to clean your pups ears every 2-4 weeks. Don’t clean too frequently and be sure not to clean too deeply, inserting anything (especially Q-tips) into the ear canal can cause damage or infection!

If your dog is prone to ear infections your veterinarian might recommend an ear drying solution. Usually containing witch hazel, these solutions can help any remaining water evaporate from the ear canal.

If your dog is a frequent swimmer or gets bathed often you may need to clean their ears more frequently. You can also put a cotton ball in their ear prior to a swim or a bath to help reduce the amount of water that gets trapped in the ear. Be sure to dry the ear thoroughly after a bath or swim.

3. Teeth:

We’ve all heard it. The veterinarian walks into the exam room and starts looking at your pet. She asks “do you brush Fido or Fluffy’s teeth?” And you hem and haw and say, “when I remember” or “she really hates it.” And it’s true. Many pets don’t like having you stick a foreign object into their face and rub it on their mouth. But keeping their mouth and teeth clean is essential for the overall health of your pet.

  • How often should I brush? Ideally you can brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth daily, but that’s sometimes difficult to manage. Aim to brush your pet’s teeth 2-3 times per week for good dental hygiene. Only use pet toothpaste, never human toothpaste. You also only need to clean the outside of the teeth and gums but make sure to get all the way to the back of their mouth on each side.
  • How can I teach my pet to accept tooth brushing? This will take some time and practice for both of you. You can start by gently rubbing your finger along his/her teeth and gums and providing tasty treats as a reward. You can also show the toothbrush or finger brush to your pet and give them treats so they associate good things with the toothbrush. Once they are comfortable with your finger then graduate slowly to the toothbrush. If they balk at this try holding the toothbrush near their face with one hand and rubbing your finger on their gums at the same time so they can start to get comfortable with being approached by the brush. Don’t push too quickly; take your time with each step so you don’t stress out or scare your pet.
  • But she eats Greenies, isn’t that enough? While some dental treats do help, they are not a replacement for brushing. The abrasive action of brushing is what helps fight plaque. If you do use treats be sure that they are the correct size for your pet and try to find treats with cleaning enzymes to be more effective.
  • Alternatives to brushing: Like I said above, nothing is as good as brushing, but if brushing is too stressful for you or your pet or if you cannot brush frequently enough try supplementing with these options from Fear Free Pets:
    • If the toothbrush is scary for your pet, but she will allow you to open her mouth, try using dental wipes that contain mild abrasives like bicarbonate of soda. You can also use a spray or a gel on your finger or a gauze pad but make sure they say safe for cats because not all of the dental sprays are.
    • There are additives to put in your pet’s water but make sure to only put it in a bowl. The additives cannot be used in fountains. You should be replacing the water and additives daily to make sure it stays fresh.
    • For your kitty, try dipping a Q-tip in tuna water and rubbing that on her teeth. The abrasive action will help remove plaque and the tuna flavor may help her enjoy the task!
    • For dogs there are specific dental toys that your pup can chew. Most are bones or similar shapes with rubber ridges that help to scrape plaque and food debris. Some have a place to put toothpaste so that your dog can “brush” his own teeth! Other people and pets prefer rope toys. Rope provides a “flossing” ability for your pet. Make sure the rope toy is in good shape and always supervise your pet with them. Once the rope toy gets ragged, make sure you take it away before your pup ends up getting strings stuck in his teeth.
Check out The Bucket Game, developed by Chirag Patel (an internationally renowned trainer and behaviorist) to help create positive associations with grooming tasks for your pup!

The most important thing to remember is to take your time. If you get your pup to tolerate one ear cleaned, if you can brush your pet’s teeth with your finger, or if you can get two nails on your cat clipped shorter, this is a win! It doesn’t have to be perfection now, but working to maintain your pet’s coat, skin, and nails will keep them happy and healthy. This may seem like a lot to deal with while you are in quarantine, but your pet will thank you! Even a little bit every day will create positive associations for your pet, improve their ability to interact calmly with basic care tasks, and not only make your pet care easier but improve your bond with your pet at the same time!