Beauty is more than skin-deep when it comes to your dog. Keeping your pet well-groomed not only gives you a clean-smelling companion, it also helps keep your dog more comfortable and allows you to spot health problems before they become serious, even life-threatening.
How important is grooming to your pet's comfort? Consider a hair simple mat, so easy to overlook. Have you ever had your hair in a ponytail that was just a little too tight? A mat can feel the same way to your dog -- a constant pull on the skin. Try to imagine those all over your body and you have a good idea how uncomfortable an ungroomed coat can be.
Your dog need never know what a mat feels like if you keep him brushed and combed -- but that's just the start of the health benefits. Regular grooming allows you to look for lumps, bumps and injuries, while clearing such things as mats and ticks from his coat. Follow up with your veterinarian on any questionable masses you find, and you may detect cancer early enough to save your pet's life.
For short-haired breeds, keeping skin and coat in good shape is easy. Run your hands over him daily, a brush over him weekly, and that's it.
For other breeds, grooming is a little more involved. Breeds such as collies, chows, Keeshonden and Alaskan malamutes are "double-coated," which means they have a downy undercoat underneath harsher long hair. The down can mat like a layer of felt against the skin if left untended. To prevent this, divide the coat into small sections and brush against the grain from the skin outward, working from head to tail, section by section. In the spring and fall -- the big shedding times -- you'll end up with enough of that fluffy undercoat to make a whole new dog. Keep brushing and think of the benefits: The fur you pull out with a brush won't end up on the furniture, and removing the old stuff keeps your pet cooler in the summer and lets new insulation come in for the winter.
Silky-coated dogs, such as Afghan hounds, cockers and Maltese, also need constant brushing to keep tangles from forming. As with the double-coated dogs, work with small sections at a time, brushing from the skin outward, and then comb back into place with the grain for a glossy, finished look. Coats of this type require so much attention that having a groomer keep the dogs trimmed to a medium length is often more practical.
Curly and wiry coats, such as those on poodles and terriers, need to be brushed weekly, working against the grain, and then with it. Curly coats need to be clipped every six weeks; wiry ones, two or three times a year (but clipping every six weeks will keep your terrier looking sharper).
Good grooming is about more than keeping your pet looking beautiful and clean-smelling, although those are certainly pleasant payoffs. Regular grooming relaxes the dog who's used to it, and it becomes a special time shared between you both. A coat free of mats, burrs and tangles and skin free of fleas and ticks are as comfortable to your dog as clean clothes fresh from the wash are to you. It just makes you feel good, and the effect is the same for your pet.
Some added benefit for you: Giving your dog a tummy rub after every session is sure to relax you (and your dog, of course) and ease the stress of your day. And for allergy sufferers, keeping a dog clean may make having a dog possible.
Pet risks can be
Q: I don't expect you people to admit it, but pets can make you sick. I honestly don't understand why anyone would want one, but keep your filthy animal away from me. Why don't you tell the truth? -- via e-mail
A: To each his own, of course, and there's a reason why people have had companion animals for thousands of years -- they make us feel good. Even back in the days when cats were expected to hunt vermin and dogs were expected to do a variety of jobs, animals also served as companions, as is well documented by writings and paintings over the centuries.
Modern research has backed up what our forebearers instinctively knew: The companionship of animals is good for us. Well, most of us, anyway, and since it seems you're not such a person, well, you'll just have to get along with the rest of us pet lovers. We will do the same for you.
But you are right on the disease front, and tips on being safe around pets is, in fact, something we communicate routinely.
It's pretty mind-boggling how many diseases and parasites can be passed from pets to humans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control helpfully supplies a pretty scary list of them. The CDC's Healthy Pets, Healthy People website (www.cdc.gov/healthypets) offers an in-depth examination of these so-called "zoonotic" health risks, and it includes special advice for people at higher risk, including those with immune-system weaknesses and those whose jobs involve working with animals.
At the top of the list of concerns would likely be rabies, a deadly disease more common in wildlife than in pets, thanks to decades of aggressive vaccination laws. Other worries are bacterial, with pets capable of transmitting salmonella, leptospirosis and campylobacteriosis, to name a nasty trio. Diseases caused by parasites include tapeworm, hookworm, roundworm, Lyme disease and giardia. And there's even ringworm, which is really a fungus. Toxoplasmosis is a special concern for people sharing their lives with cats. Birds and reptiles can transmit salmonella, and pet rodents can transmit any number of diseases, such as rat fever.
To be informed is to be prepared, and simple precautions such as keeping pets healthy and parasite-free greatly minimize the risks, as does frequent hand-washing, which everyone should be doing anyway, pets or no pets.
It's important to note that pets are not the only source for many of these diseases -- in many cases, improper food handling is a bigger risk for illness for most people. We prefer to tell people: "Reduce the risk and keep the pet," because on balance, pets are still proven to be good medicine for people, and we support that. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dogs' noses hold
scent for analysis
-- Dogs typically sniff an average of five times per second. And when they sniff, each nostril pulls in a separate odor sample. The separate sampling helps dogs to track by allowing them to determine direction. A dog's olfactory recess retains scent particles even after the dog exhales.
-- Proper use and disposal of medications is an essential wildlife protection issue. Active ingredients in items such as birth-control pills have been known to disrupt the development of frogs and alligators. Antidepressants leaking into water systems is causing serious damage to shrimp populations, giving such a rush of serotonin that their normal danger responses are inhibited. Shrimp exposed to Prozac are five times more likely to swim out of safe water and into areas where they are exposed to predators.
-- Horse owners need to keep a close eye on their animal's care at the boarding stable. A survey of boarding stables by Livery Yard Working Group in the United Kingdom turned up poisonous plants in 21 percent of the sample; other physical hazards, 20 percent; reported injuries, 13 percent; inadequate food or water, 11 percent; no access to fresh water, 10 percent; poor hoof care, 10 percent; and physical abuse, 6 percent. The results were reported in the United States by the website veterinarynews.dvm360.com. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.