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Do-it-yourself pet grooming: Five steps to success

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Grooming your pet yourself can be a great way to save money and bond with your pet. A professional grooming session can set an owner back up to $50 or $60 per session. Plus, people are busy, and regular trips to the groomer might prove inconvenient.

Plenty of pet suppliers carry great home grooming kits. It's easier than you think, and the close bonds you forge by cleaning your own pet will only solidify the relationship between the two of you. Plus, as professional pet groomer Frances W. Greenspan attests, you can spot any potential health issues, like a flea invasion, before they grow serious. "Think of it as an insurance policy as you clean your pet,'' she says.

Is the "do-it-yourself method for you? If so, here's a "how-to'' guide to get you started:

Be comfortable - and practice, practice, practice

"Handling your pets, the physical demands, and the environment of the job are all important facets that should be explored,'' said Jody Rodgers, the owner of three New Hampshire pet grooming shops. "Most people aren't cut out to be groomers, despite their love for animals, so there is definitely a 'knack' for the job. Some people come naturally to grooming their pets and others don't. It's a process.''

Key tip: Take a grooming class. For a good online course, visit www.learntogroom.com.

Focus on the nails

"The nails should be trimmed on a regular basis,'' Greenspan said. "This applies particularly to dogs more than cats, although their nails can be trimmed as well.'' One short cut to shorter, healthier nails is to walk your dog regularly on cement, which helps wear down the nails naturally. "That's important -- if the nails are not trimmed regularly, the 'quick' or 'vein' grows longer within the dead part of the nail, and when the nails are cut, there is a greater chance of bleeding,'' Greenspan said. 

Key tip: Only use sharp nail clippers.

Ear, apparent

Cleaning your pet's ears is good, sound advice, professional groomers say. Plus, it's easy to do. "You can use alcohol on a cotton ball to keep dog's and cat's ears clean,'' Greenspan said. "Don't use a cotton swab or go deep where you can't see because you could hurt the ear drum. The main thing with ear care is to look at the condition of the inside of the ear canal and earflap on a regular basis. If it's dirty, use the alcohol swabbing until clean. There are also special products for ear cleaning.''

Also, be on the hunt for "foxtail.'' "If your pet's ear is red, smells or is  oozing, there may be an infection or possibly a fox tail,'' she adds. "Foxtails can be very dangerous as they work their way into the skin and actually into the soft tissues and organs. This can kill your pet. Foxtails can also get stuck in the pads of the feet and between the toes. Sometimes you'll see the pet biting at its feet.''

Key point: Check for foxtails and use a tweezers to remove them.

Taking a bath

A bath may be the most common, and most necessary, of all your pet's grooming practices. According to Dr. Karen "Doc" Halligan, author of the book "What Every Pet Owner Should Know,'' at least once a month is fine for most dogs. "Schedule it so that you bathe them at the same time you are due to put on their flea protectant,'' she says.

Halligan advises preparing to wash your dog ahead of time. "Put non-slip mats down in the bathtub, and use the shower head instead of the faucet,'' she says. "A hand-held shower head is best. Also, put cotton balls in the dog's ears to absorb water.'' For the right shampoo, just ask a specialist at your local pet store. "Make sure to read the label on pet shampoo beforehand to make sure it's for the correct species and age of pet you're bathing,'' adds Halligan. "And never, ever use human shampoo on your dog. It has a different pH level, and the chemicals are too harsh for pets' sensitive skin.''

Brush up

Pet grooming experts say that when it comes to the choppers, some owners don't pay attention to their pet's dental needs. And that's a no-no. "Teeth cleaning is essential for your pet,'' says Halligan. "This is because teeth are one of the most important parts of the body. Pets use their teeth and mouth for chewing, eating, playing with toys, licking and even picking up objects to bring to their owners, so it is inevitable that this part of their body will decay or become dirty over time.'' Halligan advocates brushing a dog's teeth once a week, using a special toothpaste and toothbrush for a good, vigorous cleaning.

Key tip: Use a shorter brush for flexibility. In a pinch, go ahead and wash your hands and use your fingers.

By grooming your pet on your own, you're forging a stronger, more natural bond together. Follow the tips above and your pet will be shinier, too.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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