At Elgin Veterinary Hospital, we offer spa days which include nail trims, ear cleaning, internal anal gland expression and a bubble bath! However, some of you like to do your own grooming so we wanted to give you some of our professional advice and tips. When it comes to bathing, unless it is a medicated bath and you are given other instructions by your veterinarian, you should not bathe your pet more than once a month. Usually, these baths are for the benefit of avoiding the smelly dog that gets into everything! However, if you do notice an odor to your pet, it could be a medical issue so you may want to book an appointment for us to do an exam and be sure there is not an underlying medical reason for the odor. Please do this BEFORE bathing your pet (or cleaning the ears) so we can get an accurate picture of what is going on so we can best help you. Another medical issue to keep in mind are masses or growths on your pets. Bath time is the perfect time to check for any new lumps or bumps on your pet and to see if any previously noted mass has changed size, shape, or feel. You should write down the size (try comparing it to a piece of fruit or a sports ball), color, location, and keep an eye out to see if it is bothering your pet and watch it for any type of growth or size change (is it slowly growing or quickly). To measure a mass, you can use a ruler, calibrator, or tape measurer to keep your records - anything works as long as you are consistent. Keep in mind, the smaller a growth is when we see your pet, the better chance we have to provide the best care and the less invasive the surgery will be if we need to remove it (think less invasive equals better recovery and a smaller bill due to a less intense surgery).
One thing to keep in mind when you are thinking about getting a pet is the type of hair they have and where you live. Obviously, pets with a longer coat or a curly coat and going to need more work, both on your part and through grooming appointments, to eliminate painful matting of the fur. Matting is not just a superficial issue, but is actually very painful because as the hair twists it pulls on the skin, sometimes even incorporating some of the skin at the base of the mat. Because this occurs it becomes more and more painful for your pet and more dangerous and difficult to remove to offer them comfort again. Also, the average temperatures of where you live are important because pets with very thick coats are going to be more prone to heat strokes and exercise intolerance, which can lead to obesity (which further makes them prone to heat strokes and exercise intolerance). If you are in love with a dog with a very thick, long coat in a very warm climate, like South Carolina, then it is safer for them to be shaved totally down to keep them cool. Before you get the pet be sure to ask yourself: Are you okay with the look of that and the additional cost? Dogs that tend to have a lot of hair near their eyes are going to need for that hair to be kept short to avoid eye issues and skin issues. White coats are going to show tear staining and salivary staining in general and, unfortunately, all the products that promise they can get rid of the red/rusty/brown staining do not work. It is normal to have tear production and the porphyrins in the tears (and saliva) show up as that discoloration and you need to be okay with the tear staining and understand that the salivary staining may indicate underlying diseases that need to be addressed, like allergies. Breeds like rabbits with long coats have very delicate skin and need daily grooming with a soft tool, like the veery soft glove like grooming tools, to keep them from matting because their skin often tears with aggressive brushing, and it is almost a guarantee if they have to be shaved. Dogs with no hair (like the Chinese Crested) and dogs with oily coats (like spaniels) may need to be bathed more regularly. Dogs with light or white coats, may develop skin cancer more easily if they are out in the sun, so remember to use pet-safe sunscreen on them. Then there are dogs that are just known to genetically have bad skin, like Westies, that are going to need more attention to their skin and may require medicated bathes and more medication. This also applies to pets with allergies and environmental allergies are extremely common in certain locations, such as South Carolina. That can involve medicated bathing, applying topical products, or staying on medications to keep your pet healthy and happy. Grooming may seem like a small thing in a pet’s life, but it is worth putting thought into before you pick a new pet so you know what you are potentially getting yourself into. We do offer pre-purchase appointments if you would like to know more specific traits that each breed is more likely to have to help match you to the best pet to add to the family!
Ear Cleaning is another part of grooming that goes hand in hand with bathing. If you give your dog a bath or it goes to the groomer (anywhere but to us since we do this automatically) be sure to wash the ears with an ear cleaner that has a drying agent in it! Moisture, in the form of baths, rain, humidity, or swimming, is the enemy of the ears. You should place cotton balls in the ears during a bath to decrease the amount of water entering them, but you do not have much control over the other ways your pet may be exposed to water/moisture. Moisture provides a great environment for the normal bacteria and yeast, found on all of our skin and our pet’s, to multiple. This often results in an ear infection, especially in dogs and even more so in pets with underlying allergies. If you notice discharge in your pets’ ears, shaking of the head, scratching the ears, rubbing against objects like furniture or even you, be sure to call us at 803-408-0383 for an appointment so we can confirm the infection, analyze what type of infection, and get your pet back on the path to being happy and healthy. However, there are some species that you do not ever want to clean and rabbits are the main one. You also always want to clean with a soft cloth, gauze, or a cotton ball – never, ever with q-tips as you can rupture your pets ear drums. Also, be sure you are using an appropriate ear cleaner for your pet. Hydrogen Peroxide, Alcohol, and Apple Cider Vinegar are just a few of the long list of cleaners to avoid. Chronic ear infections can be treated and reduced, hopefully even resolved, with proper medical attention so we love helping you avoid ear infections! You can also see skin infections, called pyodermas, from underlying environmental allergies with or without moisture. They are often on the belly and people think that they are ant bites, but the infection starts out as red dots and the dots expand and change during the diseases process.
Nail trims are not just a part of grooming, but can become a major health issue if neglected. In active dogs, the nails can get caught on things are they will lose the nail and have the bloody and very painful quick exposed – which often turns into an infection. However, in older dogs, the nails often get more brittle and crack and expose the painful quick and makes it more difficult to walk due to the arthritis issues they are already facing. Regardless of age, too often the nails, especially the dewclaw, get so long they become embedded in the pads or make it difficult for your pet to walk which can cause a musculoskeletal issue. The quick, the part that bleeds and feel pain, will become longer and larger if the nails are not cut regularly but will recede to the normal length if nails are trimmed often enough. The answer to why pets hate to have their paws touched is unknown; However, it does help if you start to touch and hold the paws at an early age. The same goes for bathing, playing with the ears and placing your hand in the mouth as if you are going to brush the teeth – the more your pet is exposed to that at a young age, the less stressful it will be when it occurs in the future (whether it is during a quick brushing of the teeth at home or the veterinary team trying to trim the nails at an office visit). One big thing to remind yourself is that it is not a failure if you do not get all the nails cut at one time. Read your pet’s body language and just do what you can do without causing anxiety. That may mean that you get one nail cut a day, but that also means you and your pet had a positive experience and there is one more nail cut that day than the day before. Praise and patience go a long way with tackling this – so do friends! It’s often is helpful to have someone to help you to tackle a nail trim, whether it is to distract your pet with lots of praise, hold the leg for you, keep your dog from walking away, etc. you will learn what works best for you and if it is a two-person job. You want to be prepared with good quality nail clippers that are the scissor style to give you more control, some cornstarch or flour in case you do cause any bleeding, and a friend if you need one. There is no set rule as to how much you can cut off since the quick does grow at different lengths depending on each nail and all the nails on every dog are unique so start small and just cut the tips. Hold the paw in your non-dominant hand and the clippers (which do come in small and large depending on your pet) in the dominant hand, then cut the nail in small sections each time. With white nails you can often see the red line in the center and avoid it – allowing you to cut with confidence and gauge about how much you can cut off of the other nails. With black nails, if you get to a small black dot in the center of a white circle when looking at the nail straight-on, stop cutting. The white circle in black nails tends to get larger in the safe zone, then starts to get smaller again as you approach the quick. If you do get some bleeding, apply some pressure with a cloth, then place the bleeding part of the nail into the powder (cornstarch and flour are two handy ones that will help the blood to clot and you already have handy). You can also use styptic sticks, but you need to get the area as dry as possible and it may sting your pet a bit. The goal is to get to the point where the nails do not touch the floor while walking. If you are not comfortable or your pet is just too anxious for it to be a pleasant experience, we are always here for you. We are a fear-free clinic so we want to be sure not to have pets experience anything that makes them anxious, so sometimes medication is needed in order to allow a nail trim to be done in a positive way. You may also find with some medication on-board; you can more easily cut the nails yourself at home. Regardless, if you are nervous or worried about either you or your pet getting hurt, we are here to help. Medications will still come in handy with nervous dogs or those that may have had a bad experience and we need to teach them, over time, that they can relax and let new neural pathways form so they no longer fear nail trims or other parts of an exam. Again, we are a fear-free clinic, so we use medications to help ease a pet’s anxiety, build those new neural pathways to allow them to know they are in a place where they are loved, and make it safer for everyone involved. It does not mean your pet is bad or aggressive, just that we want to provide the best experience possible. We are trained to be able to read even the most subtle signs of nervousness or anxiety and we would never want that. Afterall, when you are with us we want you all to feel at home!