Have you ever heard the saying, “Everything tastes better with dog hair in it?” Sometimes it feels like my pets think that should be my motto.
While you probably can’t stop every last pet hair from ending up in your food, managing your furry friend’s shedding is possible without pulling out your own hair.
Every pet should see a professional groomer at least twice a year for a thorough, deep cleaning and brushing — as well as for the socialization, but pet owners can groom at home in between visits. Here are some grooming practices you should be able to manage at home.
In my experience, most dogs and cats can get by with a thorough brushing a couple times a week, though long-haired breeds might require daily brushing. This will help loosen dead hair, prevent mats and evenly distribute natural skin oils for a healthy shine.
Erin Hennen from Madra Pet Styling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says that using the appropriate brush for your pet is important. My cats adore a small rubber massage brush. For longer-coated dogs, Hennen recommends a slicker brush.
“Slickers are the brushes with slightly bent metal pins,” she says. “Short or smooth coated dogs can benefit from a de-shedding tool.”
Always make sure you are checking your pet’s skin as you brush, too. If you see any redness, stop immediately.
“This is what is called brush burn, and it is very uncomfortable for your pet,” Hennan warns. “Severe brush burns can become infected.”
It’s time to make an appointment with the groomer if your pet has mats or tangles, or if she needs a haircut, Hennen says. Matting can be really uncomfortable for a dog or cat, and if not removed carefully and skillfully, can severely damage fur and skin.
Also, leave the hairstyling to the pros.
“While there are a lot of people who can trim their pets at home, there is a lot of risk involved,” Hennen says. “The skin can move a lot (especially on cats), and it is very easy to nick or cut your pet. I recommend leaving the haircuts to the professionals. We can work with you to find the best trim to fit you, your pet and your budget.”
Insider tip: Get some fresh air and brush your pets outside! Being outside will allow your pet to focus on something other than the brush, so you’ll have less resistance. And, all the hair flurries won’t muck up your house.
Combing is vital in preventing tangles on longer-coated dogs and cats. Brushes may skip over a mat or tangle, Hennen says, but a comb will allow you to check all the way down to the skin to make sure that you haven’t missed anything. If you choose the right one, you’ll never have to buy another pet comb.
For my pets, I prefer a steel comb with a wooden handle, because it’s easy for me to hold, especially when combing my cat. It features short and long steel teeth that really get underneath a cat’s thicker undercoat to release the dead hair.
3. Ear Cleaning
Check your pets’ ears during every at-home grooming session to help prevent infections. If your dog’s ears are floppy, gently lift the earflap to expose the canal. Look for signs of redness, swelling and irritation. It’s normal for cats and dogs to have a bit of visible earwax — it helps protect their ear canals. But dark brown goo, especially if it’s smelly, is a red flag for potential infection and should be seen by a veterinarian.
Never put any powder or liquid in a pet’s ear that shows signs of infection, because you run the risk of damaging their eardrums.
However, if your dog or cat’s ears look clean and clear, giving them a gentle wipe with a cotton ball soaked in a vinegar-water solution (50:50 ratio) is beneficial.
“You don’t want to get too deep in the ear canal when cleaning — never use Q-tips,” Hennen says. “But you do want to make sure that the opening and surrounding ear flap are clean.”
The No. 1 rule for bathing your pets at home is to never use human shampoo, which can cause irritation, dry or flakey skin, and strip the coat of its natural oils. Consider purchasing a high-quality pet shampoo from your groomer — that way you know what you’re getting is good for your pet. Hennen told me her favorite all-around pet shampoo is Coat Handler 15 to 1 Clarifying Shampoo.
High-velocity blow dryers or crate dryers should only be used by professionals, Hennen cautions.
“These can heat up quickly and can overheat your pet if you’re not careful,” she says.
Will your personal hair dryer work? The noise will likely startle your pet, causing a bad experience, so I’d avoid those, too. Towel dry them well, and Hennen recommends giving them one more good brushing after they’re completely dry.
5. Nail Trimming
At-home nail trimming can be tricky.
“White or clear nails are a blessing for at-home nail clipping because you can see the pink vein that runs down the middle of each nail,” Hennen says.
But if you’re like her and have a dog with black nails, try to just take a little off at a time to make sure you don’t cut the quick (vein) in the nail. If you nick the quick and your pet’s nail starts to bleed, don’t panic. Apply pressure to the end of the nail with a bit of styptic powder or, in a pinch, corn starch, to help stop the bleeding.
I’ve trimmed a million cat and dog nails during my time as a vet tech, and it all comes down to confidence. If you’re nervous about cutting pet nails, the animals will be just as nervous. Just don’t be afraid to learn! Ask your groomer to teach you proper technique and help you gain confidence to do it at home.
Insider tip: Having your nails clipped doesn’t hurt, right? Well, it doesn’t hurt your pets, either. What they typically resist is the feeling of pressure either while you’re holding their paw or feeling the pressure of the nail trimmers. Try using a heavy-duty emery board, or nail file, instead of trimmers. Filing nails will allow you to get each nail quite short, give them a nice rounded edge, and you’re not at risk of nicking the quick. This trick might not work as well on cats, but dogs tolerate nail filing well, and it’s a nice bonding exercise.