Pets - Grooming and Health

By Sissy Christofidou (in Notopolis magazine)

The responsibilities arising from owning a household pet are many and multiform. Just like with any other dependent family member, we have to provide them with the necessities for living well; namely a roof, food, veterinary care and, of course, lots of love. It is just as important, however, to consistently provide them with grooming and care for their hygiene.

The right grooming for our pet is not just choice; it is a pressing need. It is important not only for its physical health but also for its physiology and mental well-being. Just as a clean, well groomed person with shiny hair reflects health, energy and a high degree of self-confidence, in the same way, a well looked after pet with a shiny coat, has the same characteristics.

Pets that have a greater need for grooming are cats and most of all, dogs. A full grooming set includes: Checking and cleaning ears; checking and cleaning eyes; checking and cleaning teeth; checking genitals area for anything unnatural; Checking paws, between "pads" and clipping nails. Checking skin and coat for any skin complaints or parasites (flees, ticks etc). Brushing and combing. Bathing and cutting hair, if necessary.

Many people believe that caring for a pet's hygiene is a dirty and undesirable job. This is far from being true. Grooming is an activity that brings man very close to his four-legged friend, helping to cement their relationship, and is a great opportunity to share time and love with one another.

The cat

The thing that is the strongest testimony to a cat's independence is its irrefutable capability to keep itself clean. Watching a cat groom itself, twisting and turning with the grace of a ballerina to get to the hardest-to-reach spots, makes a wonderful picture. It is true that cats are made to care for their hygiene themselves, because their saliva contains substances that are capable of cleaning them. This is why all the majority of owners do, is give them a good, regular brushing, to get rid of the dead hair.

There are, however, cases where a bath may be deemed necessary, either for medical reasons or due to extraordinary circumstances, such as their hair being soiled by a dangerous substance. For obvious reasons, long-haired breeds, such as Persian cats, may have to have an occasional bath. Given the cat's dislike of water, it is a fact that this may become an unforgettable experience for its owner.

The best way for a cat to get used to bathing, is to start when it is still a kitten. To avoid us ending up with a scared animal in our arms, which may hurt us badly in panic, we must make some preparations. First of all a good nail clipping, will reduce the risk. Then, we must try to familiarize the kitten with the water through playing. Our ally in this is the kitten's natural curiosity. We let the, always lukewarm, water run for a while and wait for the kitten to go and play with it. We don't forget to praise it, so that it relates water with positive feelings.  

After it has become used to the water, we may proceed with the bath. If the kitten has long hair, we first brush and comb it, because if it has knots, it will be much harder to unravel them after the bath. Under no circumstances are we to leave the animal on its own until we are finished, so everything we need must be within reach. We fill the washbasin or the tub with lukewarm water, no higher than half the height of the legs; we then lightly hold the kitten with one hand so that it will not slip and softly wet it with the other hand or a sponge, from the neck down. We hold it securely so that it may feel safe and not afraid of drowning. The head must not get wet under any circumstances and no water should enter the ears and nose. Afterwards, gently massage a small quantity of (strictly) cat shampoo into the hair and then carefully rinse with water. During the entire procedure, speak gently to the kitten, so that it may remain calm.

Dry by wrapping in a towel and gently patting most of the water off. We can't dry the kitten off completely, so there is no point in annoying it by roughly rubbing it down. It is also a good idea to avoid hair dryers, which will scare it with the noise and hot air. The best we can do is to keep the kitten for the next few hours in a warm place with a steady temperature, where it will not run the risk of catching a cold, and let it do what nature has taught it to do, namely lick its coat until it dries.

Exactly the same applies for a puppy that comes in contact with the bathing procedure for the first time. The only difference is that as the puppy cannot dry itself, we must wipe it well and then use the hairdryer to dry it off. Both pets must not be bathed until they have attained their seventh month. If they must be cleaned at a younger age, we use a wet cloth, baby wipes, or the special dry foam shampoo.

The dog

As one can easily understand, the dog is a pet that is completely dependent on us, and therefore needs all the more our active participation in its grooming and care. We must treat our dog as responsibly as we would treat a small child. The checks and grooming we have mentioned above must be conducted diligently and as often as possible, so that we may ensure its good appearance and health, as well as the timely visit to the vet, should something worrisome occur.

We start by checking the ears and remove the hairs in the canal, pulling rather than cutting them. Then, using some cotton wool and the special solution sold in stores, we clean any dirt and wax. If there is an unpleasant smell, we visit the vet, to see if he may diagnose an ear infection. We then check the eyes and clean them with the special solution, especially for breeds with persistent tear flow. We check and brush teeth with dogs' dental cream; if we see tartar buildup, we visit the vet. We also visit the vet if we see something unusual or suspect in the area of the genitals. We end with the paws, checking for any wounds or thorns or pebbles between the pads. Then we clip the nails, using special nail clippers for dogs.

The dog's beautiful, shiny coat is its hallmark. It proves its good health and its owner's love and interest. We start by checking the skin for suspicious spots or eczema. At the same time we check the hair for any parasites (fleas, ticks etc). As a rule, these checks are conducted while we brush and comb the dog. This is a very important procedure. Depending on the breed and the length of its hair, (short, medium or long hair, curly or double hair etc), we use the appropriate brushes and combs or other tools. The longer the hair of the dog is, the more often it needs to be brushed. For some breeds, this is a daily requirement.

Grooming is rounded off with a bath at regular intervals, or a haircut as the need arises. Bathing a dog is not easy and requires a calm atmosphere and the above instructions to be followed in order to have a pleasant outcome. Special attention must be paid to the fact that dogs' hair has a different PH to that of man, therefore only special dog shampoos must be used. The same applies to conditioners that are necessary for long haired breeds. Hair cutting and its frequency depends on the breed and the type of hair. Dogs must have their hair cut (not shaved) according to the breed's lines and the only person trained for this, is an experienced, professional dog groomer.

Our dog's grooming must not be a chore; on the contrary, it should be carried out with love and tenderness. We all have the nightmare picture in our head of a wet dog, covered in soap suds, running through the house in a panic. Our boredom and haste leads to jerky moves, while love and patience make the process pleasant and fun.

The professional dog groomer

Sooner or later after getting a dog, we will require the services and advice of a professional dog groomer. It is a fact that the high level grooming and hygiene care provided in a specialized place cannot be provided at home. The dog groomer is the best person to take care of our dog and to provide advice on how to care for it, depending on its breed and type of hair, what tools, shampoo or other products to use, and how often it will need to be bathed and have its hair cut. But, as all these, and especially hair cutting require knowledge and specialization, we have the responsibility to find the appropriate professional, with the same seriousness that we would apply in finding a hairdresser for our own hair.

First of all, we can ask our vet or the pet shop where we do out shopping, if they have a groomer they trust whom they can recommend. There is another way, which can be very successful. If while taking a walk we see a dog with beautifully cut hair, we can simply ask its owner where this was done and visit the place. When we visit a dog groomer, we do not hesitate requesting to see the facility and ask for details of the services he offers, and the training he has had on the subject. More importantly, we must check his knowledge on how or dog's breed is trimmed. If we are happy with the answers and having seen a sample of his work, we have entrust our dog to them.

A professional dog groomer will not hesitate to advise you and will not be afraid to share the secrets of his work with you. It is in his interest to have an informed customer, who will bring him a dog for grooming in the best possible condition.  

Some advice in brief

  • We avoid using cotton sticks for the ears, because special care is needed not to go too deep.
  • Nails must be clipped every 2-3 weeks.
  • We don't buy brushes, combs and care products without careful consideration. We make sure they are appropriate for the breed and of good quality.
  • Brushing and combing distributes the natural oils in the coat and give it strength and shine.
  • A groomed, healthy coat of hair protects the dog's skin, providing insulation from the rain, cold and high temperatures.
  • A correctly maintained coat of hair allows the flow of air to the skin, which dries any moisture that may cause rashes.
  • Any knots in the coat must be unraveled prior to bathing; otherwise they result in the familiar, unpleasant "hairballs".
  • There is no specific frequency for bathing a dog. It depends on how dirty or smelly it gets. It is usually repeated every 3-4 weeks for dogs living indoors and every 2 months for dogs living out of doors.
  • If the dog is bathed in the bathtub, it's a good idea to use a bath mat to prevent slipping.
  • Bathing the dog in the yard with the hose in cold water should be avoided, because it exposes the animal to cold and damp and puts its health at risk.

So if we want to have a happy, healthy dog, with a wet nose, a cheery wagging tail and shiny coat, we must care for its grooming and hygiene. Scientific research has proven that the right grooming increases pet longevity and is a valuable social passport for them and their owners.

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