Grooming Your Dog
Grooming goes beyond just beauty.
Late July. Hot, wet weather. And a Siberian Husky… with maggots. "We just love the dogs that come in with maggots,” says Amy Lynch, with a hint of sarcasm. "High temperatures; humidity; and matted fur with dirt, moisture and sometimes feces stuck in it, and your dog will attract flies. They lay their eggs in the dog’s coat, and you’ve got a problem.”
In her 14 years as a professional groomer, Lynch—who owns the Groom Station in West Branch, Iowa—has seen first-hand what can happen to dogs when their owners fail to groom them. "People think grooming is just about looking good, but it’s absolutely essential for good health,” she says.
Veterinarians agree. "Clean skin is one of the most important reasons to groom,” says Alicia Karas, D.V.M., of the Cummer School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in North Grafton, Massachusetts. "When dirt and allergens accumulate in the haircoat, they can get down into the dog’s skin, and that can cause a lot of health issues.”
Some dogs need more grooming than others. "The poor Shih Tzu have quite a lot of problems if they aren’t regularly groomed,” Lynch says. Yet, some level of regular grooming is essential for every dog. Still not sure the rules apply to your pretty pooch? Then consider these top 10 reasons why every dog needs grooming. After you read this, you might just want to give your local groomer a call.
Reason #1: Skin Health Matters
The skin is the dog’s largest organ, and it serves an important function: It protects your dog from dirt, bacteria, viruses and parasites. For this very reason, the skin gets bombarded and it must stay healthy, supple, well-moisturized and strong to do its job. Strong, healthy skin is even less likely to attract parasites.
But a badly groomed dog has a big strike against it when it comes to a healthy epidermis. "The worst case I’ve seen was a Schnauzer. When we took out the mats in his coat, the skin underneath was extremely red, moist and puffy, and it was so hot, it felt like it was on fire, mostly around the groin, armpits and legs,” Lynch says.
Mats and tangles trap moisture and dirt, resulting in infected skin and hot, red, weepy wounds called hot spots. "One of the No. 1 reasons dogs get hot spots, especially the double-coated breeds, is failure to groom out the undercoat when they shed,” Lynch says. "People think dogs with shorter double coats don’t need to be groomed, but the undercoat is set up for winter. In the summer, it holds in the heat and makes a great place for bacteria to grow. Pulling out the undercoat makes a world of difference.”
Reason #2: Bugs are Bad
Just as mats and tangles can encourage hot spots, they can also encourage pests. Dirty skin and matted fur make the perfect environment for fleas and ticks to hide and feast on your dog, not to mention those nasty maggots and mites that can seriously damage your dog’s skin (mange is caused by mites). These pests can cause flea bite dermatitis (skin inflammation) or other skin reactions that can result in those dreaded hot spots, rashes, hair loss and excessive scratching. Ticks and fleas can also transmit serious diseases, from crippling Lyme disease to potentially fatal heartworms.
Ticks and maggots must be picked out by hand, and fleas and mites can be extremely difficult to extinguish. A clean, well-groomed coat, on the other hand, discourages pests, especially when your dog is bathed with a natural botanical shampoo made with insect-repelling citrus oils. Groomers are often happy to do a flea dip, too. Add regular spot-on pest control to your dog’s monthly grooming and you’ll keep pests away for good.
Reason #3: Pedicures Keep Feet Healthy
Ah, the luxury of a pedicure. For humans, this might mean long soaks in hot bubbly water and pretty nailpolish, but for dogs, it means regular toenail clipping. This is crucial not only to keep paws looking neat but for orthopedic health. Too-long toenails can splay your dog’s feet, which can cause foot injury, as well as an improper, crooked gait. "This results in a different angulation of their paws, which can cause problems for the dog,” Lynch says. Long nails can also slide on slick surfaces and cause injury.
While you’re trimming nails, trim out the hair between the paw pads, too, Lynch suggests. "That extra hair can make them slide around on the floor,” she says. "Trim it out so they can actually use their paw pads the way they’re supposed to [as traction].”
Untrimmed nails can also tear off, injuring the dog’s foot. "I’ve seen dogs whose nails have caught on things and ripped off,” says Lynch, who has also seen nails neglected for so long that they grow in a curl and actually pierce the paw pad. Untrimmed nails are also more likely to scratch and injure humans.
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