A dog or cat's normal day almost always includes a few vigorous rolls in the dirt, the carpet, or the grass. If there are interesting smells and places to investigate, the animal plunges right in, often bringing home some souvenirs. Expeditions into shrubbery and high grass add a few brambles and burrs to your pet's coat, and, more seriously, external parasites.
The Humane Society of Utah recommends that all pet owners inspect and handle each of their animals at least several times a week, if not daily, to make sure that problems don't exist -- or, if they do, to catch them before they develop into large, unmanageable situations.
An inspection should encompass all of the animal's body, including the eyes, ears, mouth, throat, neck, tail, underside, legs, and paws. Clip away excess hair on the underside of the ears to facilitate air circulation, prevent dirt and moisture accumulations, and ease removal of excessive wax deposits. Examine under the tail for dried fecal matter. Search the skin for ticks, fleas, rashes, or fungus.
Check the hair coat condition; a dry, brittle appearance or heavy hair loss can indicate serious problems, including poor diet, allergies, or hormonal imbalance. An animal's coat is, in fact, an accurate indicator of its general health and comfort. If your pet suddenly starts scratching and biting itself, it's a pretty sure sign of an existing problem(s).
Be sure your pet's environment are clean and keep your pet well-groomed. You can either rely on the services of a professional groomer or do it yourself, as long as you know what you're doing. Remember, never experiment with home remedies and never do anything that might harm the animal's skin.
TIPS FOR THE DO-IT-YOURSELFER
Daily home grooming reduces or temporarily eliminates body odor. It cuts down on shedding and improves the pet's aesthetic appearance. It enables you to check for skin problems, small cuts, and external parasites. A clean, well-groomed animal is a good reflection on its owner.
The most important part of a regular grooming routine, brushing, is required to keep the coat in good condition and stimulate the skin. In fact, a daily brushing is almost a necessity with longer-haired breeds. After brushing, comb a long-haired pet and stroke a short-haired one with a grooming glove to heighten the shine of the pet's coat.
Mats and tangles develop easily in long-haired coats. To remove them, loosen them with your fingers, working from the hair tips toward the skin; and follow up with a wide-toothed comb. If needed, cut through tangles with a mat-splitter, being careful not to nick your pet's skin. Extensive mats are best left to the care of a veterinarian or professional groomer.
PEDICURES, BATHS -- AND TRIPS TO THE VETERINARIAN
If a pet's activities don't keep its nails short, trim them every 4 to 5 weeks to limit splitting / breaking. Trim the claws if they are so long that they cause the animal to splay his feet out and walk awkwardly, or it they curve back into the pads of the feet. Examine the paws regularly to make sure that no fur balls or foreign bodies are embedded between the toes. Don't forget the dewclaws -- the little vestigial toes located on the inside of the leg, just above the paw. They need trimming, too.
Bathe your animal only when it gets obviously dirty; otherwise use proper grooming methods to maintain cleanliness. (Bathing a pet too often removes natural oils, dries the skin and encourages dermal inflammations.) A well-and frequently-groomed animal may not need a bath more than twice a year. Never use turpentine or solvents to remove grease or paint from a pet!
If, in your examinations and grooming of your animal, you notice any of the following, get the pet to a veterinarian at once: external parasites (fleas, ticks, ear mites, etc.); rashes, bald spots, cuts, material in the ears resembling dried blood, strong ear odor, swelling or sores in ears, teeth tartar, bluish gums, mouth swelling, runny or cloudy eyes, excessive eye discharge, nasal discharge or deep cracks in the nose 'leather', paw abscesses, or torn or ingrown nails.
CHOOSE A GOOD GROOMER
Increasing numbers of people are keeping pets, and more than ever, they are having pets professionally groomed, as owners are better educated than in the past. They are cautious and check on the positive and negative aspects of all pet services, including veterinarians, boarding kennels, and groomers.
Pet owners must assume responsibility for training their pets to allow others to handle them pet. This means accustoming them to being brushed, having their eyes and ears cleaned, their nails clipped, and having burrs removed. Pets should learn not to bite or growl at anyone performing these tasks, and if they know that you have always been gentle about doing these things, they will likely accept the same procedures from groomers, veterinarians, show judges, and others with whom they come into contact.
Nevertheless, The Humane Society of Utah has received complaints over the past few years regarding unsatisfactory experiences with professional groomers which cannot be blamed upon a nervous animal. These include burns from clipper blades, destruction of underlying chest tissue during mat removal, and tranquilizing animals without the owner's knowledge or permission. There have been instances of animals being hung from restraint nooses while left unattended and receiving head trauma from 'unknown causes.' There have been at least three reports of animals being overheated, burned, and dying from drying equipment.
Before entrusting your pet to any groomer do some preliminary checking. Call your Better Business Bureau to see if there have been prior complaints about the facility; ask the groomer for references from long-time clients; or ask your pet-owning friends for recommendations. Don't trust a pet to any groomer who uses tranquilizers without supervision of a licensed veterinarian and your permission, or one who refuses to allow you to inspect the working and holding areas or to watch them at work.
Most professional groomers, however, are conscientious, skilled, and well-trained. They sincerely care about their four-footed clients and are as concerned about their health and comfort as you are. They are an absolute blessing for those who don't feel able or willing to do a top-notch job of making a pet look and feel its best, and are an important part of the animal service community.
In any case, whether you do it yourself or have a professional handle the details, proper grooming is vital to your animal's well-being. It will feel better, look better, remain healthier, and make you feeling proud of it.