Good grooming is about more than just having a pretty pet. You're also tackling potential health conditions, says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, a veterinarian at Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Hills, Calif. Here's how to care for your pet before any problems crop up.
Fur. Brush your cat or dog several times a week, Cruz says, even if it has short hair. This will cut down on hairballs, which cats almost always vomit or eliminate in the litter box. Sometimes, though, a severe hairball can cause stomach or intestinal blockages. Hairballs aren't as big a problem for dogs, but they do occur.
Eyes and ears. When your pet gazes up at you with adoring eyes, they should be "nice and clear, and shiny and moist-looking," Cruz says. Tell your veterinarian if you see any redness or irritation, or a cloudy eye.
Ears need routine checks, too. Once a week, "flip the ears, take a look, take a sniff," Cruz says. "They should smell like absolutely nothing. If they're red or inflamed, if you see a lot of debris, or if they just smell like a pair of tennis shoes you should have thrown away about a week ago, you've got a problem."
To help prevent infections and other complications, try liquid ear cleaners designed for pets. Simply fill the ear canal with the cleaner, massage the base of the ear, let your pet shake out the liquid, and wipe away the excess.
Nails. Active dogs that wear down their claws may not need nail trimming, but cats and indoor dogs usually do, Cruz says. Long nails, including the dewclaws on the inner paw, can grow into toe pads and skin, causing pain and infection. Trim dog nails a sliver at a time to avoid cutting into the quick, the area within the nail that contains blood vessels. If you cut into the quick, styptic powder will stop bleeding. If trimming intimidates you, visit a pet groomer or veterinarian.
Cats' claws are easier, Cruz says. Just clip off the sharp hook at the end.