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.
Brushing your pet's teeth might seem like an unlikely feat, but veterinarians say it's a great idea. "The gold standard is to brush your pet's teeth on a daily basis," Cruz says. Not realistic? Aim for once or twice a week.
At the pet store, pick up a cat or dog toothpaste and a toothbrush kit, which includes a special toothbrush or a small brush that fits over your finger and inserts easily into your pet's mouth. Avoid human toothpaste, which can upset pets' stomachs.
Go slowly, Cruz says. Start by massaging your pet's muzzle for a week. Later, dab the lips with pet toothpaste. Next, introduce your pet to the toothbrush. "Don't put them in a headlock," she says, "but let them chew, let them play with it." Then you can start brushing the teeth, as many as your pet will allow in one sitting.
With a cat or small dog, you can forgo the toothbrush. Simply apply toothpaste to a Q-tip, slide it under the lips, and rub the teeth. "Q-tips work well because they're very nonintimidating" for most pets, Cruz says.
"One of the first indications that all is not well inside is a change of hair coat and skin. Also check for lumps, bumps, and overall body condition." -- Bernadine Cruz, DVM