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Helping Your Pets Shine
The outside of your pet is a reflection of the inside; shining hair and smooth skin show the world that your pet is healthy.

Pets that are free of disease, eat a balanced diet, get plenty of exercise, and are well-loved feel good on the inside and therefore look good on the outside. But proper diet and exercise are not the only things needed to keep your pet's skin and coat healthy. Daily hands-on care is also required to maintain your pet's hair and skin. While it is obvious that long-haired animals need grooming every day, even short-haired pets need daily care.

The type of grooming needed by your pet differs depending on the species, breed, length and type of hair, the pet's activities, season of the year, and the area of the country in which you reside. An indoor cat in an apartment in New York City is going to need very different care than a hunting dog in Mississippi. It is important to properly identify and meet your pet's individual needs. If you are not sure of the care that your pet requires, purchase a book that discusses your type of pet or ask your veterinarian.

In general, short-haired pets need a quick, daily brushing to remove dead hair. Grooming, slicker, and massage brushes work well on short-haired pets. Combs are usually not needed. While you are brushing, make sure to examine your pet's skin for any irritations or abnormalities. This is also a good time to check ears, eyes, and teeth, and to clip nails. Daily observation of your pet's skin, eyes, ears, and teeth will let you learn what is normal for your pet. This way you can rapidly spot any changes that may require veterinary care.

Long-haired pets must have daily brushing and combing to remove dead hair before it mats. Appropriate tools include combs, pin brushes, slicker brushes, grooming rakes, and de-matters. Mats and snarls should be combed out every single day. If you cannot brush your long-haired pet on a daily basis, the pet should be clipped to keep the hair short. Clipping needs to be repeated approximately every four to six weeks. Even pets that are clipped by a groomer should have a daily body check and their nails trimmed as needed.

Bathing pets can help keep them shiny and remove debris and dirt from their skin. There is no set time interval for routine bathing. The timing between baths will vary in response to the pet's needs. Some pets, such as short-haired cats, may never need a bath. Other pets may be bathed seasonally, monthly, or even weekly as needed. Be aware that bathing strips natural oils from your pet's coat, so excess, unnecessary bathing can actually dry the skin and coat, and contribute to skin problems. Do not bath your pet more often than once every 4 to 6 weeks unless there is a specific medical need.
The choice of shampoo also depends on the coat and skin of your pet. Just as there are many diverse shampoos made for people with different scalps and types of hair, there are special shampoos made for pets with differing hair and skin. In general, it is recommended to use shampoos labeled for pets, not people, and to only use shampoos labeled for your particular species of pet. This is because people shampoos may contain ingredients that irritate the skin of your pets. In addition, shampoos made for one species of animal can be dangerous for other species. This specifically applies to the use of dog shampoos on cats and other pets, such as rabbits. Do not use any dog shampoo on a cat unless the product specifically states that it is also safe for cats.

When choosing a shampoo, pick products that meet the specific requirements of your pet. Do not pick products that promise more than your pet needs. You may end up harming your pet's coat with the excess ingredients. Dogs and cats without skin problems should be bathed in mild, species-appropriate shampoos.

Many pets benefit from the use of medicated shampoos. The medicated ingredients are found in different concentrations and mixtures in different products. It helps to understand the ingredients and labels on these shampoos. The shampoos are usually classified by the primary function of their ingredients. Hypo-allergenic shampoos do not contain fragrances and other ingredients that may trigger allergic reactions. Anti-puritic shampoos help to decrease itching. They contain anti-inflammatory agents or other ingredients that are known to decrease itching. Ingredients that are considered anti-puritic include oatmeal, pramoxine HCL, antihistamines, corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone, and fatty acids. Hypo-allergenic and anti-puritic shampoos may be indicated for pets that have sensitive skin and those that suffer from inhalant and contact allergies.

Anti-seborrheic shampoos are designed to treat a skin condition that may contribute to dandruff, crusts, and sometimes foul-smelling, oily skin. These shampoos contain ingredients that lift dead skin cells, remove oils and odor, and may help to control itching. Ingredients found in anti-seborrheic shampoos include coal tar, sulfur, and salicylic acid. Because types of seborrhea vary, these ingredients are mixed in different concentrations in specific shampoos. A dog with dry, flaking skin would benefit from a mild shampoo containing sulfur and salicylic acid combined with moisturizers, while a dog with greasy skin may benefit from the use of a product that contains tar and sulfur, but no moisturizers.

Antibacterial shampoos contain ingredients that remove or discourage bacteria. These ingredients include chlorhexidine, benzoyl peroxide, and ethyl lactate. Antifungal shampoos, used to treat yeast and fungal infections, include ingredients such as chlorhexidine and betadine. These shampoos are used on animals that suffer from an overgrowth of skin organisms or have allergies to bacteria and/or yeast. Antibacterial and antifungal ingredients may be combined into one shampoo to control both types of organisms.

Finally, antiparasitic shampoos contain ingredients that kill external parasites, such as ticks, fleas, lice, and mites. These ingredients often include pyrethrins and insect growth regulators. It is important to pick an antiparasitic shampoo that is safe for the age and species of your pet.

In addition to shampoos, there are a variety of crème rinses and conditioners available to use after the bath. These products are a wonderful way to complete the bathing process. They are especially important for pets that receive frequent baths because they return the oils removed during bathing to the skin and coat. This makes after-bath grooming easier and reduces itching. Conditioners are especially valuable if skin medication is needed. Many of the medicated conditioners are left on the coat and not rinsed away. This allows them to continue working for your pet. There are medicated leave-on conditioners that supply fatty acids, antihistamines, corticosteroids, insecticides, and other useful medications.

Simple steps ensure that the shampoo and conditioner you choose will give the desired results. First, make sure that the pet is brushed out before the bath. Comb or clip out all mats. Shampoos and crème rinses will not remove knots. Bathing will only tighten any existing mats, so pets bathed without a brushing can literally end up being impossible to comb out. These animals may need to be clipped if they are not brushed before the bath. Pre-bath combing is critical for longhaired pets, such as Persian cats and Lhasa Apso dogs.

Next, read the labels. All shampoos come with label directions that must be followed. If the directions are ignored, the shampoo may not work and your pet may possibly become ill. For example, if the shampoo states that its use is restricted to pets over 12 weeks of age, its use on younger animals may result in illness. If the shampoo states that the product is to be left on for ten minutes, then it must be left on for ten minutes or it will not work. If your pet cannot sit still for 10 minutes, take the animal for a walk, them return and rinse.

Finally, use care when bathing your pet. Stand or sit the pet on a rubber mat to prevent falls. Avoid getting soap and water into sensitive eyes and ears. Many shampoos will cause eye irritation if they get into eyes, so you may choose to use a sterile eye ointment prior to bathing to protect your pet's eyes. Keep frightened or overactive pets from inhaling water.

Learn the bathing techniques that work for your pets. Most dogs do better in a shower, while most cats 'prefer' a bath. This means that most dogs are better behaved if they are bathed with a hose attachment and the water is sprayed over them. They do not like to sit in water. They will stand on a mat in a tub, but do not want the tub filled. On the other hand, many cats are calmer if they are sitting in a sink with a small amount of lukewarm water already in it.

Pets should be bathed in warm water and rinsed carefully. Rinsing is just as important as bathing. Pets that are inadequately rinsed and have shampoo left on may suffer from skin irritations and itching. Once you think your pet is rinsed, it is a good idea to rinse it one more time. Make sure to pay attention to the areas under the legs and belly, as these are often overlooked during rinsing.

After rinsing, pets should be towel dried. Avoid allowing pets to become chilled. If you elect to use a hand-held or cage dryer, make sure that it is set on the proper, low temperature to avoid burns and that the pet is monitored. Pets have extremely fragile skin. Both a hand-held dryer and a cage dryer can result in terrible burns if improperly used. Using a dryer is not necessary for most pets, as a brisk rubbing with a towel can remove most of the water from the coat. Once your pet is dry, brushing and any other additional grooming can be completed.

Because bathing will be necessary for the pet's entire life, it makes sense to teach your pet to accept a bath. Teach a pet to tolerate bathing by using positive reinforcement training techniques. Pets that are rewarded for sitting for a bath, verbally told how wonderful they are, and allowed to play after the bath learn rapidly that baths are not to be feared. Keep the bath as short as possible, keep the water the proper temperature, keep soap out of the pet's eyes and mouth, and exuberantly offer rewards. This will allow you to bath your pet as needed. This in turn will give your pet that outer shine that reflects inner health.

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