Grooming is a good time to accustom your dog to routine checks in which you examine each part of his body. It is not just your dog’s coat that needs attention—his teeth, ears, and nails also need to be attended to regularly.
ROUTINE CHECKS From early puppyhood, get your dog accustomed to regular grooming so that you can use this time to carry out health checks as well. Noticing the slightest change could allow early diagnosis of a health problem, and potentially a better outcome.
While grooming and examining each part of your dog’s body, talk to him to put him at ease and use commands such as “teeth” and “ears.” Look first for any obvious changes in body shape and stance, then go over him in more detail, searching for cuts, lumps, and external parasites. Run your hands over and under his head and body, down all four legs, and along the length of his tail. Part the fur in places, especially over his rump; there should be no evidence of fleas or flea dirts, little or no debris, and the coat should feel and smell pleasant. Stroking your dog should be a good experience for both of you.
Check his eyes to make sure there is no excessive tear production or sticky discharge. A little “sleep” is normal—simply wipe it away, using a separate damp cotton ball for each eye. Gently lower the bottom eyelids to check that the lining and the white around the irises are not inflamed and red.
Look under the tail at the anus for soiling and swellings, and in a female check the vulva for swelling and discharges. Examine the penis of a male dog for injuries and excessive discharge or bleeding from the tip.
Always check that your dog’s eyes are open and bright.
Eye problems require prompt attention from a vet. Do not ignore signs such as a discharge or a dog pawing at the eyes because of irritation.
TEETH CLEANING Your dog can be taught to accept you looking in his mouth and brushing his teeth. First, get him used to the feel of having your hand resting across the bridge of his nose, with your thumb held under his chin to keep his mouth closed.
Once he is comfortable with this, use your other hand to lift his top lip gently to reveal the outer surfaces of the teeth. Ideally, these should be white, but light brown tartar may accumulate along the gum line. The gums should be moist and pale pink, and the breath smell pleasant.
A toothbrush can be inserted inside the cheek, if your dog remains calm. The most important places to brush are along the gum line and the outside surfaces of the teeth. Move the brush gently in a circular motion rather than scrubbing from side to side.
Dog’s teeth benefit from weekly brushing, using only dog-specific products. You might find it easier to use a fingerbrush—a hollow plastic tube that fits over your finger and has built-in bristles. This can be a lot easier to maneuver around your dog’s mouth and prevents you from applying too much pressure.
Teeth cleaning will be a strange experience for your dog at first,
so use treats at each stage to put him at ease and encourage good practice in future.
If he shows signs of aggression or anxiety during the process, stroke him slowly and gently for several minutes before trying again.
Use a toothbrush or fingerbrush to clean your dog’s teeth, taking care not to apply too much pressure. Use this time to check that his teeth, gums, and mouth are healthy.
NAIL TRIMMING Train your dog from a young age to allow his feet to be lifted up and examined. Look between the toes for grass awns and bright orange harvest mites. Check for swellings and broken or overly long claws; when the feet are fully weight-bearing, the claws should just touch the ground.
How often you will need to trim your dog’s nails depends on the breed and his lifestyle; monthly trimming should be sufficient for most dogs. Nails need to be trimmed back as far as the “quick,” which is where the blood vessels and nerves are. The quick is much easier to see on dogs with white nails than on dogs with black nails. It is a two-tone pink area in the center of the nail. If you cut the nails too short, you will sever the quick, which will cause the nail to bleed copiously. Hold your dog’s foot firmly to avoid him moving at the moment of cutting.
Place the nail clippers just below the quick and cut the nail swiftly in one smooth movement. If you do cut the quick, remain calm and apply a small amount of styptic powder to the nail to help stem the bleeding, and apply firm pressure until the bleeding stops.
When trimming your dog’s nails, make sure you clip below the quick. Trim only small sections at a time to prevent cutting through the quick. Check your dog’s paws for swellings and his claws for breaks or splits.
EAR CLEANING Your dog should not find it painful to have his ears touched. There should be no swelling of the flaps, and the ears should be pleasant smelling and clean as far down as you can see.
Inspect your dog’s ears regularly for any signs of discharge, unpleasant odor, redness, inflammation, or ear mites. Any of these symptoms may signal an infection, for which you should seek veterinary help. Monthly ear cleaning will maintain the health of the ears and prevent infections. This is particularly important with pendant-eared dogs such as spaniels.
Check that your dog’s ears are not swollen and do not smell unpleasant. Antiseptic ear cleaner can be applied to cotton balls and used to wipe the visible areas of your dog’s ears. Do not insert cotton balls or any other object into the ear canal.