Owners should keep pets clean

October 08, 2003

A reader called and asked if her dog needs to be groomed since he "licks himself like a cat, and looks clean to [her]." My answer is, as always, "Yes, your pet needs help in keeping himself clean." Let me explain why.

Looking back at last week's column, it is almost impossible to spot the tiny lump or a quarter-size color change in the skin unless you are up close and running a comb through the fur. Cancer is usually easy to eliminate as long as you catch it early, and I mean very early.

As I mentioned last week, all but one of my schnauzers were susceptible to cancer, but surgically removing one cancerous lump wasn't enough. One schnauzer had four different types of cancer, while another had adenocarcinoma, followed by mast cells, and a few years later a brain tumor which we did not analyze, since she died.


Unless you allow your dog to lick your face daily, grooming is the best way to check the condition of your dog's eyes, ears and mouth. The animal will be up on a table, or you will be seated on a couch so the dog's head will be inches from your face.

There are several diseases or conditions that produce distinctive breath odor. Smell something suspicious and a trip to the veterinarian may need to be scheduled. Some of the odors you might encounter are: "mousy," sweet, or fetid (like feces). Ordinary bad breath usually means prophylactic dentistry is needed to keep the gums healthy. The ears will smell foul if they have ear mites.

If your dog licks or scratches a lot, he might be just shedding, but he might have the beginnings of mange, ringworm, a bacterial skin disease, or an allergy. Loss of hair in one or more spots might be Cushing's disease, hypothyroidism or one of the above.

Only your veterinarian will be able to tell and even the clinic might need to run a number of tests to pinpoint exactly what is causing the problem. Occasionally an owner will be referred to a specialist. Don't let that diagnosis frighten you. One of my dogs had eye problems.

Instead of dark brown in color, I noticed a bluish cast in both eyes. A few months of treatment helped a little, but I was referred to an eye specialist who prescribed special drops and ointments as well as an antibiotic. The eyes have cleared up and are a healthy dark brown once more, and what is even better, I haven't seen the dog run into a door, wall or chair since the treatment started. It was while combing out the eyebrows and beard that I first noticed the blue cast in the eyes.

So grooming isn't just for looks, it is for good health too. If your breed has a long, heavy coat, consider shortening it to make it easier for you to comb, but be sure to add combing into your schedule, neither you nor your dog will regret it.|None***

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