by Amy Reichert, RVT, CCRA-pending
If you’re like me, you may think grooming is something only people with small or long-haired pets have to contend with. As the owner of a Labrador Retriever, I thought the extent of grooming was limited to a few baths and cleaning his ears after a swim. It wasn’t until we adopted Koukla, our Havanese mix, that I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are some great benefits to grooming for pets of all shapes, sizes, and coat types. Let me share some things I learned to help you avoid the same mistakes:
My, What Big Eyes You Have!
When we got Koukla, her hair was cut very short at the shelter to get rid of the severe mats (hair tangled in a dense mass) and fleas in her coat. But as her full coat came in, it didn’t stop growing the way a Lab’s or German Shepherd’s coat would, and Koukla seemed to turn into a living dust mop overnight! In a way, I found the shaggy coat endearing, but it was clear something needed to be done: her hair was once again beginning to mat under her arms and on her tummy. While the matting at this stage was minor, if left uncared for, it could’ve caused her a lot of pain by pulling on her skin, restricting proper body movement, and providing nesting areas for parasites like fleas and ticks (yuck!).
Additionally, her “bangs” were so long her vision was obstructed unless we tied the hair out of her face. Having her vision impaired could’ve led to something simple like making her anxious because she couldn’t see to something disastrous like causing her to fall down the stairs and hurt herself. I enlisted the help of a groomer to address these issues and the change in her demeanor was instant. It was obvious how much more comfortable and confident she felt without those mats—and with a clear line of sight! Thankfully, people who are owned by cats usually don’t have to deal with this problem.
Princess Fluffy Toes
Many breeds—dogs and cats—have fur that will grow between the paw pads and while this can look very cute (think doggy/kitty mutt-lucks) it can actually be quite dangerous for your pet, especially as she ages. Your pet’s paw pads help to provide traction on slippery surfaces and when fur is allowed to grow long there, it can hinder that traction and cause more slips and falls on slick surfaces, such as tile and hardwood floors, and lead to injury. Furthermore, if your pet is losing traction from her paw pads, she’ll try to compensate by using her nails to grip the floor, which isn’t so great for your hardwood floors either!
The Hair “Back There”
Although long feathery fur may seem luxurious, if your cat or dog has GI upset or is incontinent, keeping his hind end clean may be a challenge for even the most dedicated owner. Just the same, keeping the area clean and dry is very important: irritation or even infection can occur on the skin due to prolonged exposure to urine, feces, and moisture, and elderly and obese pets who go outside run the risk of getting fly larvae (yes, we’re talking about maggots!) embedded in the skin surrounding the anus. At Scout’s House, we suggest clipping the hair short to help make clean up easier and using bedding that can wick moisture away from the body if incontinence is an issue. If a full bath is not an option following a messy accident, waterless shampoos can be a godsend. And if you see fly larvae on your pet’s bum, get Fluffy to the vet immediately!
Is your dog or cat scooting across your prized rug or chewing at his bum? It’s possible his anal sacs, an anatomical feature that assists with defecation and marking of territory, might need to be emptied. While a groomer often performs this service as part of a complete grooming appointment, you may also want to talk to your vet if this if the first time you’ve seen your pet do this just to be sure there’s no infection. And if you ever see patches of red, irritated, or raw skin anywhere on your pet’s body, call your veterinarian.
Brush It Out
Regular brushing/combing can be difficult to work into an already busy schedule, but once you understand the benefits you may be convinced to set a few minutes aside each day, or at least a few times a week to do it. Brushing or combing out your pet’s fur helps maintain proper air circulation and insulation of double coated breeds (such as American Eskimos and Labrador Retrievers in the dog world and Maine Coon cats and Scottish Folds in Kittyland), which is important for temperature regulation. This is why brushing out that coat is much preferred to shaving these breeds as those double coats serve a valuable purpose for your pet.
A thorough brushing/combing can also help to prevent matting in long-haired breeds (eg, Maltese, Rough Collies for dogs, Himalayan or Persians for cats). If you find a mat, don’t try to comb it out as that can be painful for the pet (and you, if you persist!). Instead, use a comb to carefully lift the mat and then gently pull it apart with your fingers.
A final benefit of grooming is it allows you to feel all over for any new lumps and bumps or note any weight loss that might not be visible under your pet’s thick hair coat, alerting you to signs of trouble that should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
Don’t Fear the Pedicure
Did you think you would get away from this article without any mention of trimming nails? By far the most feared of all aspects of grooming (by pets AND owners), clipping your pet’s nails is very important to her comfort and mobility.
For cats, clipping their nails every few weeks may not only save your furniture, but it’ll also give you a chance to detect ingrown or torn nails, the most common nail problem in cats. Because cat nails retract, it’s often difficult to spot problems until they’re major issues, so trimming your cat’s nail every few weeks will help you catch nail injuries early. Also keep in mind that too-long nails in old cats can get caught up on blankets and rugs, which weaker, older kitties find difficult to “detach.” Too often, the struggle to free it results in the pain of a torn nail.
Allowing your dog’s nails to grow too long can alter how she uses her paws and can lead to painful arthritis, making it difficult for her to walk as she gets older. Yes, it’s THAT important! Don’t let the fear of the clippers keep you from getting those nails clipped, and it’s perfectly acceptable to enlist the help of a vet’s office or a groomer to get the deed done. A good rule to abide by is if you hear the nails clicking on the floor, its time for a trim. The more frequently the nails are clipped back, the further the quick of the nails recede, allowing you keep those nails at a safe length. While she may not thank you at the time, we promise her joints will thank you later!
Trick-or-Treat Dog Treats
by Lisa Stahr
It’s that time of year when I start craving pumpkin treats and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather share my love of pumpkin with than Rerun, Belle, and Beckett. Here’s a super-simple recipe for pumpkin treats that they love:
1 cup canned pumpkin
(I use brands with BPA-free liners)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cups flour (wheat, rice, oat—your choice)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix until it forms a ball. Feel free to use your hands if you’re into that kind of thing.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface or between two sheets of parchment paper until ½-inch thick. Cut the dough with a cookie cutter (bone shapes are the obvious choice, but use whatever shape you want—honestly, your dog won’t care) and place on a cookie sheet that’s either been lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick spray.
Bake 15-17 minutes or until completely dried out. Let cool before serving.
The Story of Frida Kahlo
by Alisa Juarez, RVT
Although Frida Kahlo was a well-known Mexican painter famous for her self-portraits, this story is about another Frida, one who coincidently shares the resiliency and spirit of the painter who inspired her name.
About 5 months into my time here at Scout’s House, a new patient being fostered by the Humane Society was awarded a grant by Scout’s Fund to come in for rehab therapy. Then named “Kona,” our new patient had had surgery to repair a shattered femur head after being hit by a car and picked up by Animal Control. (click here to read more)
After months of refusing to use her surgically repaired leg, the Humane Society was hoping Scout’s House could help her regain strength in her significantly atrophied leg resulting from prolonged disuse and return her to normal function. On her first day of rehab in walked a mustached, black and white, very nervous little scruff ball. I was immediately drawn to her endearing “facial hair” and exclaimed “How CUTE! That dog has a mustache!” She was irresistible. Over the course of her session, it became apparent that however shy and wary she was, she was a very sweet and affectionate little dog, scurrying into my lap to find security and comfort.
That night, I came home and casually showed a photo I had taken of “Kona” to my boyfriend Sam, saying “Isn’t this dog cute? Look, she has a mustache… and she’s not too big either. The perfect size for an apartment dog. She’s being fostered right now, but needs a home.” Sam agreed that yes, she was a cute dog, and I decided to leave it at that—he was in the middle of a tumultuous few months studying for the California State Bar, and I knew starting a conversation about adopting a dog was something best reserved for a later date.
Weeks went by and I would only see “Kona” in passing as she worked with the other therapists here at Scout’s House. By then it had become a running joke that “Alisa’s dog is here!” as everyone was encouraging (albeit forcefully) my adoption of “Kona.” I silently promised myself that if, in fact, she had not been adopted by the time it was ok for that “new dog” convo to happen, I would do everything in my power to make it work. I refused to be the reason for her not being adopted sooner and so I kept my hopes to myself, always asking the foster owner if there had been anyone expressing interest in her.
The day came when the Bar Exam was a distant memory (finally!) and her foster owner informed me that however sweet little “Kona” was, she couldn’t keep a dog long term and therefore wouldn’t be adopting her (yes!). I spoke to Sam that night and pragmatically brought up the idea that we could foster her on a “trial” basis to make sure it was a good fit and that she’d be happy in our city apartment, which was lacking a yard. The night we picked her up from the foster that lived a few blocks away, I anxiously expressed my doubts to Sam: “What if she doesn’t remember me? What if she’s scared that strangers are taking her from her home? What if she hates it?” To my relief, I learned all of my doubts were unfounded as I called “Kona!” and she came speeding towards me and jumped straight into our car, a sure sign we’d made the right decision!
As we spent our first night cuddling in bed with the new “foster” we knew we would never be giving back, we brainstormed names that would fit our little scruff ball better. Sam suggested, “What about Frida? You love Frida Kahlo.” The perfect combination of determined spirit and strength through life’s difficulties proved to be the epitome of our little Frida Kahlo. In our home she blossomed into a high spirited albeit very determined little dog who continues to fill our lives with happiness. And thanks to her time at Scout’s House, she now enjoys running on the beach—on all four legs, of course!
Patient of the Month: Cyrus
Our friend Cyrus is one of those dogs who has a way of brightening our gym every time he walks through our door. When we first met him, he was barely able to walk on his own following a spinal stroke but that never stopped him from trying! In record time, Cyrus was up and running on all four legs, proving once again that hard work and a great attitude will get you far in life. We asked his mom to share some stories on what makes Cyrus so lovable!
What is his favorite thing to do during the week?
To rub his back on clean blankets and sheets on our bed. He rolls around left and right with the silliest, happiest expression on his face and his legs up in the air.
If Cyrus could talk, what would he say is his favorite thing about coming to Scout’s House?
Pupperoni, pupperoni, and the lovely ladies who give it to me!
Favorite memory of Cyrus?
When I first met Cyrus he was so honored to meet me that he peed on my leg 🙂
If Cyrus could trade places with any other animal for a day, what would he be and why?
A “hippocutamus.” When Cyrus does his silly clean sheet roll, he does something to his nose that makes him look just like a cute hippo, which we’d dubbed “hippocutamus.” It’s very endearing.
What do his therapists say?
Krista loves the soulful look in his eyes and his can-do attitude! Alisa is smitten with his goofy personality and Amy says that Cyrus is a patient that seems to understand exactly what she’s saying and lets her know that he appreciates the session with a gentle head nudge and a paw on the shoulder. One thing is clear: Everyone is continually amazed by him!