Snip and Clip

December 8, 2013

Thank goodness for pet groomers! They are entirely more talented, patient, capable and artistic when it comes to clipping dog and cat fur than I could ever be. Many groomers astutely notice common medical conditions such as ear and skin infections and skin tumors; I frequently see appointments that are scheduled as a result of a groomer noting a medical problem with one of our patients. Most pets require regular grooming of some sort or another, whether at home or by a grooming professional. There are several grooming topics we frequently address with clients; read on for more about tear stains, shedding and trimming nails!

Tear stains– For small, lightly colored, longer-haired breeds (think about Maltese, Bichons, poodles), tear staining is considered a variant of normal. Dog tears contain a compound known as porphyrin; when porphyrin is exposed to light, it oxidizes and turns a dark orange or brown color. This is more prominent in lighter colored dogs, and those breeds with longer fur around the face, which can serve as a “wick” to draw moisture from the eyes. As long as the ocular discharge seems clear, and the eyes are not red or swollen, tear staining is not considered a medical problem, but a cosmetic one. There are hundreds of products devoted to eliminating tear staining, but most are not recommended by veterinarians since they have no scientific basis to prove their safety and efficacy. The most common product given for tear staining, called Angel’s Eyes, is actually a low-dose oral antibiotic known as tylosin. With antibiotic resistance becoming a significant medical threat to humans and pets alike, it is inappropriate to use an antibiotic chronically for a minor cosmetic problem! The best solution for tear staining is to keep your dog’s fur trimmed as short as possible around the eyes (easier said than done, I know) and using a wipe or washcloth with warm water to periodically clean and dry under the eyes.

Bathing – In my experience, many owners over-bathe their dogs, but in some cases under-bathing can be an issue as well. Bathing your pet too frequently (more than once a month) can dry your dog’s coat and strip the natural oils from the skin. Bathing too infrequently can result in matted fur, malodor and increased shedding. There is a happy medium here and for most dogs it’s bathing every 4 to 8 weeks. Longer haired dogs often require frequent bathing since their fur collects dirt and debris more readily. Outdoor, active dogs also require frequent bathing since they get muddy and stinky running through the woods, or splashing in the local stream. Dogs with longer fur also require grooming to keep the fur short and prevent mats, and for most breeds this is typically done at a 6 week interval (and coupled with a bath!) Cats do not, I repeat DO NOT, require bathing. Consider our feline friends self-cleaning ovens; they groom themselves regularly and thus do not need baths (most of us who have ever attempted to bathe a cat sorely regret it!)

Brushing/mats/shedding – The single best thing pet owners can do to reduce shedding from their cats and dogs is to brush Fido and Fluffy regularly. Brushing removes the dead fur that will soon cover your best armchair, or form a tumbleweed on your hardwood floors. Brushing also prevents matting, which is especially important in longhaired cats. Matted fur can be very painful for your pet (it can be compared to a very tight ponytail, constantly pulling on the skin and causing chronic pain) and can also result in skin infections. If Fluffy does not permit brushing, sometimes a full body clip known as a lion cut may be the best thing to keep mats at bay. Clients always ask about shedding, and how much is considered normal. Here is the bottom line: cats and dogs shed. A lot. They shed more at certain times of the year than at others. Shedding is always considered normal unless it is coupled with obvious bald spots, scratching, scabs or bumps on the skin, or dandruff. If you have concerns about excessive hair loss, please call for an appointment so we can ensure there is not an underlying dermatologic problem.

Nail trims – Cats and dogs need nail trimming on a regular basis, depending how active they are. Most cats do not “trim” their own nails even despite using scratching posts, and need their claws trimmed every 4-6 weeks. Dogs who are very active and run on hard surfaces such as cement or asphalt may not need nail trims regularly. However, most dogs need their nails clipped every 6-8 weeks. If your pet’s nails are not clipped regularly, the nails can grow into the paw pads, causing pain and infection. Nail trimming is often a daunting task for owners; please ask us to demonstrate how to trim your pet’s nails at home. We are happy to give you some tips and techniques that can prevent nail trims from becoming a wrestling match with your pet!

Teeth cleaning – This is really not a grooming topic, but a medical topic. However, some groomers claim to clean your dog’s teeth when Fido goes in for a haircut and bath. Not only is this wildly inappropriate, it is considered practicing veterinary medicine without a license and does not provide any benefit to your pet’s health. (Would you have your hairdresser clean your teeth after your latest cut and color? I think not.) An appropriate oral exam and thorough dental cleaning can only be provided by a licensed veterinarian, with the animal under general anesthesia. Dental care for your pet is another blog post altogether; there will be more on this topic at a later date!

Grooming issues can become medical issues if they are not managed appropriately. Some pets are more high maintenance in the grooming department than others, so this is certainly a consideration when considering which breed of dog or cat may be best suited to your lifestyle.