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Groom for Improvement

Your little guy is so handsome and lovable when he’s freshly bathed and coiffed. Here’s how to maintain good hygiene and those good looks.

Martha Stewart Living, April 2014

By Jennifer Tzeses

It happens to even the most attentive pet owners: We lovingly stroke our (regularly bathed) dog, only to get our fingers stuck in matted fur. We don’t necessarily run to the groomer, yet fear of accidentally hurting our dog keeps us from removing the clump ourselves. While clipping and coiffing our furry pals may be intimidating, with the right tools and techniques, these tasks can easily be managed at home. In fact, for dogs that don’t like being handled by strangers, at-home maintenance is a great option, says Will Mangham, a veterinary consultant at the Humane Society’s Pets for Life. “Grooming also helps you bond with your pet,” he says. Bone up on these expert tips to help your dog stay clean and healthy from nose to tail.

Brush, Brush, and Brush Again

It’s common sense, really: The more often you brush your dog’s hair, the less it will mat. This is especially true for long-haired breeds and dogs with double coats, like shepherds, which need very frequent maintenance to remove loose hair and keep skin clean, says Mangham. Brushing not only maintains tangle-free manes, but also distributes natural oils, stimulates and moisturizes the skin, and removes dirt. A socalled slicker brush, which has sharp, tiny wire teeth, works well for most breeds, says groomer Diane Betelak, a consultant at the National Dog Groomers Association of America. For dogs with longer hair, though, such as Maltese and shih tzus, a “pin brush” -- which looks like a human brush with fewer bristles -- is a better choice, because it’s gentler. If your dog does develop a mat, slowly cut through it, pointing blunt-nose scissors perpendicularly away from the animal’s skin.

Clip With Care

Trimming your dog’s nails can be a precarious task, since the dog can be injured if you cut too much. The key is knowing where the quick, or underlying blood vessel, is located: It’s the pink area just below the nail, says Stephan Zawistowski, a science adviser at the ASPCA. In dogs with dark nails, it’s difficult to spot, so clip just the part of the nail that curls over, he says. As a rule, nails should be trimmed when they extend beyond the paw pads, says Mangham. Get the job done effectively and without injury with clippers that are easy for you to handle -- either guillotine versions (plierlike cutters, usually with a built-in guard to keep you from removing too much) or cross-cut ones (which look more like scissors). Clip less than you think you should, and leave at least two millimeters between the end of the nail and the quick.

Lift the Flaps

Fido’s ears may be adorably floppy, but there could be wax and debris lurking underneath. Lift them to check; if you notice dirt or wax, dampen a cotton ball or gauze pad with a tiny bit of mineral oil (be sure to ask your vet first) and gently wipe it away. “Never use a cotton swab in a pet’s ears, because the risk of accidental injury is too great,” says Mangham. And stick to just the visible parts; going inside the ear canal can cause damage. Call your vet if you notice any redness, discharge, or odor.

Make Time for Teeth

Unlike humans, dogs don’t typically get cavities, but they are susceptible to gum disease when bacteria and tartar build up. This can cause pain, tooth weakness or loss, and bad breath (even by dog standards). Before you start brushing, get your dog used to having you handle its muzzle by gently touching and massaging its mouth, teeth, and gums for short periods of time and offering treats, says Zawistowski. Once the dog is comfortable, use either a finger brush or a piece of gauze coated with dog-friendly toothpaste (designed to be swallowed, unlike human toothpaste) to go over the outer and inner surfaces of the teeth.

No More Tearstains

White furry faces are often prone to harmless rustcolored tearstains. Temper the discoloration by applying cornstarch with a moist towel, avoiding the eye itself, then brushing it out, says Mangham.

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