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8 at-home pet grooming tips

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Some pets never learn. Despite your best efforts, they’ll wallow in every mud puddle, roll on roadkill and dart after skunks time and time again. If you can’t afford a regular grooming appointment, you’ll need to master the dog bath (or the cat bath, as the case may be). And since pets can’t use emery boards, it pays to brush up on your pet nail clipping skills, too. Here are some tips to help with at-home grooming.

  1. Stay calm and bring on the treats. The goal is to make grooming a positive, stress-free experience for both you and your pet. Start with short sessions and reward your pet for staying calm with praise or high-value treats. To help your dog or cat feel relaxed, try to restrain them as little as possible. You may have to stop and try again the next day if your pet shows signs of discomfort or stress.

  2. Brush your pet regularly. Just a few minutes of brushing helps remove dirt, excess hair, tangles and mats while distributing oils that help keep the skin and coat healthy. Some pets may need more brushing than others, especially those with long hair and double-coated pets that “blow coat,” or shed their undercoats seasonally. Regular brushing means there’s less hair to vacuum, fewer lint rollers needed for your wardrobe and less chance of stepping on a soggy hairball in your bare feet.

  3. Stay on top of hair mats. Matted hair can pull at the skin, causing pain and irritation. Mats can occur more often in older, arthritic pets who can no longer stretch to groom hard-to-reach places. Matted hair also provides less insulation, making it harder for pets to stay warm in the colder months.When removing mats, avoid using scissors because it can be easy to accidentally cut your pet’s skin. If the mats are small, hold the hair between the skin and mat to prevent pulling at the skin. With a metal comb, start on the outside of the mat and gently pick it apart, working your way to the center. For larger mats, leave it to your groomer or veterinarian (if your pet needs sedation).

  4. Schedule regular baths. Some pets need baths more often than others. Cats, for the most part, are usually pretty good at preening themselves. But other pets, especially those with skin problems, may benefit from regular baths.

  5. Choose a shampoo made for pets. Human shampoo has a different pH than dog and cat skin requires, but pet shampoos are designed to be a perfect match. If your pet has a greasy coat, is extremely itchy or has other skin conditions, your veterinarian may recommend a therapeutic shampoo that can help.

  6. Don’t go for the tomato juice when skunked. A more effective alternative for that skunk-scented pet is to bathe your pet in a mixture of 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon mild dishwashing soap.

  7. Trim nails regularly. Regular walks on cement roads and sidewalks can help wear down your dog’s nails. And scratching posts can help your cat remove the dead outer sheath on their claws. But most pets will need your help with their nails at some point. Without regular trimming, cat nails can curl back and pierce the paw pads, which can be painful and lead to infection. And when you can hear your dog’s nail clicking on the hardwood floor, it’s time for a trim. Start by handling each paw and rewarding your pet with treats or praise when they remain calm. Then begin to touch the paw with the nail trimmer and follow with a reward. Work you way up to trimming a single nail. Then gradually trim more nails as your pet allows. Although you can trim nails with a Dremel, a clipper makes less noise and is usually faster.

  8. Avoid the quick. You’ll want to avoid cutting the quick, the pink area visible in the middle of white nails that contains nerves and blood vessels. If your pet has dark nails, trim the very tip of each nail and continue making small cuts until you see a black dot in the center of the nail. That’s your cue that you’re nearing the quick. If you accidentally cut the quick and the nail starts bleeding, pat the area with styptic powder or cornstarch. Your groomer will be happy to preform the nail trimming for you.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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