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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Grooming

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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"My 5-year-old cat pulls out clumps of hair while she’s grooming, although she doesn’t seem to itch or appear painful. I’ve also noticed that she has some flaky skin. She eats hairball-formula dry food, which isn’t helping, but she won’t switch easily to another diet. Can you make any suggestions?"

"If your cat has pulled out her hair for her entire life, this may be a normal, although overzealous, grooming pattern for her. Her flaky skin may simply be dandruff (mild seborrhea), but it may signal an underlying skin or even internal disease. My advice is to get a proper diagnosis, since any skin or internal disease can cause flaky skin.

In my practice, I recommend the following approach for cats that suffer from mild flaky skin with no other problems. First, feed a good natural food (homemade or processed) that’s free of byproducts and chemicals. If she simply won’t ever switch diets, I would prefer a canned version of the cat food for her. Second, try bathing her with a hypoallergenic or anti-seborrheic shampoo followed by a conditioner. This can be tough with cats, but I always encourage owners to try bathing their cats unless they are sure the cat will become difficult to handle. Bathing several times a week will help. Finally, a good fatty acid supplement (fish or flax oil) is also useful. Most cats like the flavor of the various products available, and extra oil in the diet can help control the flaky skin if no specific cause for the problem is discovered by the doctor."



"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I don’t get my dog groomed on a regular basis. However, I’ve heard from several friends that regular grooming my benefit my pet medically in addition to the cosmetic aspect. Is this true? Are there medical reasons to have pets groomed?"

"Grooming, which includes brushing and combing, bathing, clipping nails, and cleaning your pet’s ears and eyes, is important for several reasons in addition to its cosmetic value. Regular grooming also increases the bonding that occurs between owners and their pets, which is important for the emotional benefits of all involved. There are of course medical benefits to regular grooming. Preventing the coat from matting can decrease skin disease. Bathing cleanses the skin and hair, and removes foreign substances such as yeast, bacteria, parasites, and allergens from the pet. Cleaning out the ears decreases the chance of ear infections. Clipping your pet’s nails prevents disorders of the feet, including lameness that can occur is the nail growth is excessive and causes pain when your pet walks.

I know that many pet owners can’t do all of these procedures for their pets, as the pets have not been properly trained to allow grooming and may struggle quite a bit. If you’d like to try any of these procedures at home, I suggest asking your veterinarian to show you how to safely perform these grooming procedures. Starting slowly is the key; if the experience is pleasant the pet won’t fight you. And if needed, these procedures can be done by the veterinarian or groomer if you don’t feel up to it. However, I encourage you to get comfortable with as many grooming procedures as possible, as it really will help reinforce the bond you have with your pet and can prevent behavioral problems as well. It is important that your pet learn to enjoy grooming and not put up a fight; regular grooming can help your pet get used to these procedures."



"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"In prior columns you’ve mentioned bathing pets with dermatitis frequently. I’ve always heard not to do this, as it dries out the pet’s skin. Why do you recommend frequent bathing, and how frequent is too frequent?"

"Frequent bathing is essential in allowing damaged skin to properly heal. It also allow us to use less medication as the disease is treated externally (via bathing) and internally (by giving medication orally.) Look at it this way. If you have dandruff, shampooing your scalp once a week or once a month won’t work. You need to use the correct shampoo at least daily (sometimes twice daily) until the dandruff is under control. The same theory is true for pets with skin disease. The more the pet is bathed the sooner the dermatitis is under control.

I’m not sure why doctors and pet owners follow the incorrect advice of not bathing pets regularly. You will not dry out your pet’s skin no matter how frequently the pet is bathed if the proper shampoo is prescribed.

Regarding frequency, it depends upon the skin condition. For severe dermatitis, daily bathing is recommended. For chronic problems like allergies, bathing on an as-needed basis (usually 1-3 times per week) is fine to maintain the pet at a comfortable level of itchiness. For my patients with skin infections, often frequent bathing plus natural supplements are needed to heal the pet, making antibiotics unnecessary.

Finally, make sure you use only pet shampoos on dogs and cats for regular use. Check out my line of safe, natural pet shampoos that I formulated specifically for a variety of conditions and uses."



"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I am interested in using natural techniques to keep my pet well groomed. Do you have any tips I can use?"

"Grooming is an important part of pet care is often overlooked by many pet owners. And yet just a few minutes of grooming each day can increase the bonding between you and your pet as well as improve its overall health. Here are a few tips to help you get on the right track to grooming your pet needs.

Bathe your pet

All pets can benefit from regular bathing. However, as is true with pet food, many pet shampoos also contain potentially harmful ingredients. It's important to read the label to make sure you're getting a product that is safe and effective for your pet, yourself, and the environment.

Ingredients to avoid include artificial fragrances, foaming agents, surfactants, and insecticides. Avoid products that contain any of the following label ingredients: isopropyl alcohol, DEA, FD&C colors, propylene glycol, parabens, and sodium laurel sulfate.

Beneficial ingredients that you should look for on the label of a high quality shampoo would include certified organic oils and herbs, such as coconut, jojoba, olive, lavender, tea tree, and citrus oils. Shampoos made with these ingredients are less likely to irritate the pet’s skin and can be used more frequently.

Since regular bathing is important in keeping your dog’s coat and skin healthy, choose a safe and effective shampoo that will not dry out the pet’s skin and hair. See my Organic Pet Shampoo page.

Clean your pet's ears

Along with regular bathing, keeping your pet ears cleaned can help minimize itching and bacterial and yeast ear infections. As is the case when picking a good shampoo, it's also important to read the label of products designed to clean your dog's ears as many of them also contain potentially harmful chemical ingredients, or ingredients that could irritate your pet’s inflamed and itchy ears.

Try to choose ear ear cleaners and ear washes that contain certified organic oils (peppermint, spearmint, citrus, tea tree, etc.) and avoid those that contain alcohol, salicylic acid, DSS, and borates. See my Organic Ear Wash page.

Brush your pet's teeth

Dental disease is the most common infectious disease seen in most pets. Regular (ideally daily) brushing can decrease the frequency of professional cleanings that must be done under anesthesia at the doctor's office. Products that can be put on a toothbrush or in the pet's water should also ideally not contain chemicals. Try to avoid products that contain the artificial sweetener xylitol which may be toxic to dogs but is found in many dental products made for people. See my Oral Health page.

With just a little bit of investigative research, you can easily find high quality natural and organic grooming products that are safe and effective for your pet. Simply read the label before purchasing!"




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