The Truth About Pet Grooming

pet grooming tools on a table with bits of fluffy white dog hair

You know how to groom your pet, right? Give him regular baths, trim his nails, brush his teeth — the usual. But there are some things you might not know. Read on to learn more!

group of dogs and cats

1. There’s a difference between fur and hair. “Fur” and “hair” are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Breeds with fur — like golden retrievers, huskies, and Pomeranians — have an undercoat (which sheds to control body temperature) and a topcoat. Fur is shorter and denser than hair, grows quickly, and sheds often. It should be brushed twice a week to keep it under control and help maintain a fur-free home.

Dogs with hair lack an undercoat. Hair is usually longer and smoother, and it grows more slowly, which results in less shedding. Hair-bearing breeds include the Shih Tzu, Yorkshire terrier, Afghan hound, and poodle. Hair tends to trap dander and other particles. It’s also more susceptible to matting. These pets will need frequent brushing to remove mats and debris in the hair, as well as regular trips to a groomer for haircuts. No matter what type of coat your dog or cat has, regular brushing with the right type of brush will keep it in tiptop shape.

2. To pluck or not to pluck? Have you ever noticed your pet’s ear hair and wondered what you’re supposed to do with it — trim it, pluck it, or leave it alone? Ear hair can trap dirt, debris, and bacteria, which in turn causes itching and could lead to infection.

Some people say you should pluck the hair, especially in cases where it grows deep from the ear canal. Others recommend leaving it alone, saying plucking can injure the follicles and cause infections. For those who choose not to pluck, you can swab the outer ear to keep it clean, but you should have a professional clean your pet’s ear canal. If you do it yourself and go too deep into the canal, you could cause injury. Before you decide how to deal with ear hair, talk to your veterinarian. She can advise on the best way to handle ear hair and give you tips on keeping ears clean and healthy.

3. Express yourself! Anal glands can get clogged. Gross, but true! Most dogs and cats secrete fluid from their anal glands during bowel movements. However, some dogs don’t secrete (especially smaller breeds), which causes their glands to become full. Your pet will feel uncomfortable when this happens. If you see him licking that area or scooting around on his rear end, this could be a sign of anal gland impaction. This can lead to constipation and infection. If you see signs of swelling, redness, or discharge coming from that area, find a veterinarian and contact them immediately. Expressing your dog or cat’s anal glands isn’t something you want to do yourself, as you could cause the fluid to be further impacted. It should be done by a professional, either your veterinarian or a groomer.

pug on couch4. Clean between the folds. Whether you have a pug, Shar-Pei, Sphynx, or Persian, a pet with wrinkly skin or facials folds needs a little extra care to keep it clean and healthy. Their folds tend to collect bacteria and cause infections, so it’s important to clean them daily. Use a damp cloth to clean between the folds and then use another cloth to make sure the folds are completely dry. Keeping the folds dry is important in preventing yeast from growing, so you’ll also want to wipe down your pet with a dry cloth after bathing or swimming. Also check with your veterinarian to see if she recommends using an anti-fungal cream. And if you notice any red, irritated, or smelly patches of skin, contact your vet immediately as your pet might have an allergic skin disease known as dermatitis.

5. Not all groomers are certified. Pet grooming doesn’t require certification by law, but there are a variety of organizations that grant licenses and certification, including the National Dog Groomers Association of America and the National Cat Groomers Institute. With these programs, aspiring pet groomers learn everything from clipping styles for various breeds and trimming nails to handling techniques and recognizing common illnesses. Some programs also have courses on pet first aid and CPR. To complete a program, students must pass several written and practical exams. In addition, some organizations require continuing education. Looking for a reputable groomer? Check with your veterinarian for recommendations, read online reviews, and ask potential groomers whether they’re certified and by whom.