Pet owners know their furry friends need food, water, shelter and attention; but what about their hygiene?
Surprisingly, pets have hygiene needs similar to humans, and many regimens can be done at home. Here’s how to keep your pet healthy, happy and smelling good, according to Lauren Wozniacki, LVT, at Wixom Family Pet Practice in Wixom, Mich., and pet care advisor for VeterinaryClinic.com.
Signs It’s Time for a Grooming
- A smelly or dirty coat
- Fleas (this usually requires a medicated bath from your veterinary office )
- Nails clicking on the floor or scratching you
- A pet shaking its head (this often signals dirty ears)
- Bad breath
Bathing, fur combing, teeth brushing and nail clipping are all important pieces of proper pet hygiene. Wozniacki advises to clean your pets on a schedule similar to your own.
“[The hair of] pets that are not properly cared for can become matted and even begin to smell,” she said.
Giving a pet a regular bath can help wash off dirt that can result in an unpleasant odor, Wozniacki said.
In most cases, don’t use your own shampoo on your dog or cat. Most human shampoos have ingredients that may cause inflamed skin, hair loss, rashes, or itchy or dry skin if used on animals.
Always use a shampoo that was made for the type of pet you have.
After a bath, check your pet’s ears. If there is wax build-up or an unpleasant odor, use a cotton ball and ear cleaner made for pets.
Birds, Rodents and Rabbits
Here’s what you can do:
- Trim your guinea pig’s nails.
- Rodents’ and rabbits’ teeth never stop growing, so provide something that will keep them filed down. (Timothy hay, a common grass hay, is great for rodents and rabbits.) Have their teeth checked by a veterinarian to be sure they are being worn properly; if not, they will need to be trimmed by the veterinarian.
- Take your bird to a groomer, or veterinarian who has experience with birds, for its beak to be trimmed (unless you have experience caring for birds).
How often you bathe your pet depends on the situation. If your dog gets muddy, he needs a bath immediately. If he isn’t dirty, however, a bath once every 2 or 3 weeks should suffice, except in dry climates. In places such as Colorado, you should bathe your pet no more than once a month, otherwise flaky and/or itchy skin may result.
Whereas short-haired cats generally don’t need a bath unless there is a problem, long-haired cats need bathing only if it’s medically necessary (if they stop grooming themselves altogether), or if their fur becomes matted or “ungroomable,” which would require shaving then bathing.
Regular brushing helps to maintain a healthy coat, remove dead skin flakes and promote blood circulation for healthy skin.
Long-haired pets need to be brushed every day to keep their fur from matting; short-haired animals should be brushed a few times a week.
Some cats may dislike this interaction, and it can be very stressful to them. If that’s the case, consider taking the cat to a groomer, Wozniacki said. You may want to address that the cat might need to be sedated. If that’s the case, there needs to be a veterinarian on the premises.
Most pet owners don’t brush their pets’ teeth as often as they should, but Wozniacki says daily brushing is a must. A pet’s teeth can accumulate tartar just like a human’s, and tartar build-up can cause serious oral health problems, such as gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss. It can even cause heart disease.
Giving a dog a bone is not enough.
"Would you brush your teeth with just crackers?" Wozniacki said.
There are many oral care products made for pets, and feeding them canned food versus the dry variety can also prevent tartar build-up.
Trim your pet’s nails at least monthly (depending on the growth rate) to keep your pet comfortable and prevent the nails from curling back and growing into the paw pads.
When clipping, take care not to cut the small pink vein—known as the quick—that runs through an animal’s nails. If you cut this vein, it will bleed and cause pain.
Use the proper clippers for your pet’s size, and cut well below the quick. Have a styptic powder (or flour) on hand in case you graze the vein. If you do, apply powder to the nail to help stop the bleeding, but take care as this may be painful.
Regular walks also help keep the nails down so you don’t have to trim as often.