Many services across the country were put on temporary hold during the coronavirus pandemic, forcing people to find quick and often DIY alternatives — one of these was dog grooming, causing owners to take matters into their own hands. After all, dogs need frequent baths and personal maintenance to keep them looking, smelling and feeling good.
While in-person dog groomers are mostly open for business, some may still feel wary returning to a potentially crowded dog spa as Covid cases spike or they may be unwilling to make the pricey investment: Depending on the breed and the size of your dog, you can expect to spend anywhere between $30 and $90 for a standard grooming package, usually consisting ofeverything from a bath and a haircut to ear cleaning and nail trimming.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends bathing your dog at least once every three months, but many breeds may require more frequent baths depending on how much time they spend outdoors or any skin or coat problems they might have. Your dog’s temperament and size may also encourage you to skip out on the dog groomer for a few weeks or months at a time by providing your own at-home grooming routine.
Experts agree that certain grooming activities like haircuts, anal gland expression and ear cleanings are best left to professionals, but they do suggest other essential, less intensive grooming needs, including bathing, nail trimming and brushing. We spoke to veterinarians, trainers and groomers on their specific product recommendations for grooming at home — and how to safely use them.
Dog grooming: What you should and shouldn’t do
There are plenty of obvious benefits to brushing and bathing your dog regularly: It “can remove built up dirt, dead skin cells and even allergens like pollen from a dog’s skin and coat.” It can also strengthen the bond between a dog and its owner, said Zay Satchu, DVM, co-founder and chief veterinary officer of Bond Vet.
As temperatures rise during the summer, many dog owners believe it’s necessary to shave their dogs to help them cool off. However, long hair doesn’t cause dogs to overheat in hot temperatures, but can rather “help keep a dog cool by acting as an insulator, similar to how insulation in your home keeps the AC inside,” Satchu previously told us about keeping dogs cool. In fact, experts don’t recommend shaving dogs sporting long or double coats in the summer since it can increase their chance of overheating and getting sunburnt.
“Long haired breeds such as golden retrievers can be trimmed without much effect to their temperature regulating mechanisms,” said Satchu. She noted that many pet owners will elect to give their long-haired breeds a “puppy cut.” However, she added, “northern breeds like huskies and malamutes should not be trimmed or shaven — trimming their hind end for sanitary purposes is fine.”
Most dogs can benefit from a daily brush and a bath about once a month — and there is such a thing as too much. Frequent baths “may result in drying out of the skin and coat, or even in the skin becoming irritated,” said Satchu.
As a general rule of thumb, dogs shouldn’t be bathed more than twice a month to avoid “stripping their coat of their natural protective oils,” said Stephanie Austin, DVM, the medical director at Bond Vet.
Ensure there’s no water in the nose or shampoo in the eyes (if this feels unavoidable, you may want to use a tearless shampoo) and thoroughly rinse your pet to avoid any leftover shampoo. You should always use pet shampoos — never use human products because they can be toxic or dangerous to dogs, cause allergies or irritate their skin. According to Austin, oatmeal or aloe vera based shampoos are a great place to start due to their skin soothing properties, and Satchu added that fragrance-free shampoos are least likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.
Brushing and blow drying
Always ensure you’re brushing your dog before and after giving them a bath, especially for long-haired breeds.
“Matting in your dog’s coat will trap shampoo and hold moisture at the skin that can cause rashes and sores,” said Alison Chamberland, the owner of Best in Coat Grooming Salon in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. She suggested using a long pin slicker brush paired with a brushing spray to help with detangling longer haired dogs.
Proper brushing after a bath is a must, no matter the breed. “If a dog is not properly brushed out afterwards, it’ll result in mats that pull skin and make your pet feel uncomfortable,” noted Allie Akhmarova, the owner of house call grooming business Allie’s Pet Grooming NYC.
It’s important to get your dog’s coat as dry as possible after their bath since “there’s a risk of hot spots if the coat is not blow dried well enough,” said Akhmarova. Chamberland suggested “lots of fluffy towels or a blow dryer with a cool [or] low heat setting,” but noted “a more powerful dog dryer may be a good option” for fluffier dogs. You should gradually get your dog used to the sound of the dryer and be sure to have some treats handy.
As for brushing outside of bath time, Robert Haussmann, a certified dog trainer and co-founder of Dogboy NYC, noted you can feel free to brush as often as you like. “Dogs with longer coats can easily get matted which can be very uncomfortable and irritate their skin,” he said. Regular brushing can be a good way to avoid these mats “while keeping your dog’s coat shiny, healthy and mat free.”
If you notice your dog’s nails are making a clicking sound on hardwood floors, if they’re having trouble moving around on non-carpeted surfaces or if their nails are getting caught or tearing often, “these are all signs that they’re overdue for a nail trim,” said Austin. If your dog lives in a city and walks often on cement, however, they typically get a natural trim.
Be mindful that there’s a vein in the nail called the quick — the blood supply and nerve located in the core of the nail — that, if cut, can be painful and bleed considerably. It’s not unusual for this to happen, especially since some dogs have longer quicks than others and it can be difficult (if not impossible) to note where the quick is when trimming black nails on certain dogs.
What should you leave to the professionals?
Most experts recommended leaving certain regular grooming activities like cutting your pet’s hair, expressing anal glands or cleaning ears to professional dog groomers for safety. A trim or shave, for instance, can result in serious injury if there’s an accidental slip of the scissor or razor.
“The occasional bath is okay, but it’s not recommended you try to groom your dog with scissors,” said Austin. “Far too many times, I as a veterinarian have had to stitch up a patient after an at home ‘grooming accident.’” You should also avoid putting anything down your dogs’ ears, such as a cotton ball or Q-tip, without discussing with your veterinarian first, Austin added.
According to Satchu, it’s usually best to seek a professional if your dog has severe mats or clumps of tangles in their fur since some can lie close to the skin and make it easier to accidentally cut your dog’s skin. “Professionals have the experience and tools to remove these mats safely,” she said. And when it comes to nail trimming, it’s better to avoid nicking the quick altogether. “You could start by trimming just a little at a time to avoid [it] or leave it up to the professionals to do your dog’s toenail trims,” said Satchu.
The potential for injury isn’t the only reason professionals advise against…
Read More:How to safely groom your dog at home