Maintaining the lustre

Last issue, we discussed the importance of a balanced diet and proper deworming to prevent skin problems, plus how internal factors affect the skin condition of your dog. In this issue, we will discuss the next most important aspect – bathing and grooming correctly.

Most dog owners take the routine of bathing and grooming their dogs very lightly – so much so that they don’t feel the need to consult their veterinarians about the correct bathing and grooming schedule. In my experience, Indian dog owners tend to bathe their dogs too often, but groom them too little! In fact these are amongst the more common reasons why dogs begin itching, leading to serious skin infection (refer previous issue).

Bathing:

We may enjoy our daily bath, but dogs do not sweat all over their body surface. So your dog’s skin does not get dirty easily, since it is protected by his coat. Any dirt is superficial and can be taken care of by regular grooming and, if required, sponging. The dog’s skin is more delicate than ours, which is why nature has given our dogs a coat, whether smooth, long, short, wirey, dense or silky. This coat protects our pets from the adverse effects of the environment like sunlight and certain allergens. This is why it is not a good idea to cut or shave your dog’s entire coat in any weather. If nature has given your dog a coat, then it must have a purpose. Dogs, like us, secrete oil from their skin. This oil keeps the skin healthy and the coat shiny and lustrous. Unlike us, however, this oil is not replenished daily. It takes few days for the dog’s skin to begin secreting these oils after every bath. For this reason, it is best not to bathe your dog more frequently than about once a month. Frequent bathing is a major cause of dry, itchy skin amongst dogs in India. This can lead to skin infection.

The next important aspect is the choice of shampoo. There is a vast choice of dog shampoos available in Indian market today. So why do dog owners still insist on using human products on their dogs? The pH balance requirement of a dog shampoo is different from that of human shampoos because dog skin is more sensitive than human skin, so bathing with a human shampoo is an absolute no-no! The wrong choice of shampoo can lead to an allergic skin reaction, intense itching and bald patches.

Sometimes these effects are seen a few days after bathing. Out of the wide variety of dog shampoos available, not all shampoos are good. Unfortunately some products sold as dog shampoos in India are not properly pH-balanced. As a general rule, a branded shampoo marketed by a reputed company is a good bet. It is best to ask your veterinarian or an experienced dog owner about the best quality shampoos for your dog. A good quality dog shampoo is likely to be a bit expensive, but it is well worth the expense considering that you only need to use it only once a month and you don’t run the risk of causing a major skin problem for your dog (which could cost you a lot more to treat!).

It is not recommended that pups below the age of four months be bathed. They can, however, be sponged and brushed with a soft puppy brush. If, for any reason, you feel you really must bathe your pup, please make sure that you dry him thoroughly with an absorbent towel. Such young puppies still have their soft puppy coat, which retains the water and doesn’t dry easily.

Grooming:

No matter how long or short, silky, curly or wirey, thin or thick your dog’s coat is, he will need to be groomed everyday. I find it odd that many owners think it necessary to feed their dogs what they eat and bathe them daily because we humans do so, but even though we brush our hair everyday (often more than once a day), somehow we don’t consider it necessary to do the same for our dogs. Yes, a dog’s dietary and bathing requirements are very different from ours, but as far as grooming is concerned, it is best to make it a daily habit from the very start.

Everyday, our dogs shed a few strands of hair, just like we do. This loose hair trapped close to the skin will eventually cause itching leading to redness and skin infection. Daily grooming not only removes dead hair, but also removes dead skin cells and stimulates blood circulation to the skin’s surface and hair roots, thus improving the health of the skin and coat. If your dog emits a hit of an odour, you can use a good dog grooming powder when grooming, daily or as needed, to keep your dog smelling good. The techniques and types of grooming equipment will be discussed in the next issue. Grooming also includes regular nail clipping and ear cleaning, which can be done at home or at your veterinarian’s clinic or a grooming parlour. Ear wax is a common cause of itchy ears and otitis.

As tip for puppy owners: Always handle your pup’s feet, ears and tail several times a day from the time your pup comes home. This will make it easier for you to handle him during bathing and grooming throughout his life. Bathing and grooming should be introduced to the pup’s routine as early as possible and should be made enjoyable. The more pleasant the experience is for your pet, the easier this routine will be for you.

Next issue: Grooming techniques for a beautiful skin and coat.

(Dr. Freya Javeri, B.V.Sc. & A.H. (Bombay Veterinary College), MVS (University of Melbourne, Australia) is a member of the prestigious Dog Writers’ Association of America. She was the former editor of Canine Review, the official publication of the Indian National Kennel Club. She is a qualified judge, with a diploma in dog judging from the Animal Care College, UK. She is currently practicing as a veterinary surgeon and animal behaviour consultant, specialising in small animals with two clinics of her own in Ahmedabad. She can be contacted at 9824433227, e.mail:dr.freyajaveri@yahoo.com)

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