DEAR READERS: Social animals often engage in reciprocal grooming (or preening, if they are birds). This is a caregiving behavior that has a bonding function and is indicative of animals' empathy and compassion. And it is clearly enjoyable! I strongly advise people who have dogs and cats, as well as those with horses and other animals who enjoy a good brushing, to do so on a daily basis.
This is not only a way to express affection, but it also helps stimulate the skin and keep the coat healthy, preventing knots and tangles in those with long fur. Brushing reduces cats' need to self-groom and risk developing hairballs in their stomachs to gag up later. It also removes dead skin cells that could block sebaceous (oil) glands, which is beneficial to the many dogs that are susceptible to developing sebaceous cysts that often require surgical intervention. Brushing and grooming also help with the early detection of fleas and ticks.
For my animals, I use a two-sided human hairbrush: one side with stiff bristles and the other with springy wires. It is amusing to see our dog Kota push her way in when I am grooming our rescued cat, Fanny, insisting that it is her turn next!
If you have never groomed your dog or cat before, begin by stroking along the line of fur with your hands down the back, then gently apply a few strokes with the brush. As the animal gets used to this and relaxes, apply more pressure as you brush. Eventually, you will be able to brush from rump to head, against the lay of the fur, to loosen more shedding matter. Have the animal turn over and gently work along each leg, plus the tail and belly. A few minutes should suffice; deep, excessive grooming is not advised.
Don't be surprised if an occasional grooming becomes a daily demand!
DEAR DR. FOX: I enjoyed your column about the benefits of dog saliva. I am glad you posted the risk of infection from the bacteria in some dog foods, which dogs' licking could transfer to us. Please say more about this; I have two children who are into everything -- including the dog's food bowl -- and our dog licks them all over. -- K.P., Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR K.P.: In a related post on my website (drfoxonehealth.com/post/dogs-kisses-licks-and-saliva-that-heals), I state: "Concerning potential infections from in-home animals, always wash hands before preparing food and before eating; wash out pets' food and water bowls daily because they could contain salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and listeria bacteria from pet foods that could infect family members."
The main source of these harmful bacteria, some of which have evolved resistance to antibiotics, is the meat and poultry in raw and frozen pet foods, also found in batches of contaminated dry kibble. The latter could be contaminated by processing equipment and from being sprayed with an "animal digest" to make the kibble more palatable. These animal products come from cruel factory farms that are a hazard to the environment and public health and should be abolished.
However, I do advocate feeding some raw foods to dogs -- namely grated, shredded or crushed fruits and vegetables.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)