Everybody Into the Tub!—Bathing and Grooming
While good nutrition keeps your pet healthy on the inside, bathing and grooming work to meet the same goal from the opposite direction. As the largest organ of elimination, the skin—sometimes referred to as the third kidney—must be washed and brushed to allow toxins to effectively work their way out. So let’s look at some of the basics of bathing and grooming and all-arounnd for your pet.
SPLISH, SPLASH …
… Get me out of this bath! Most animals don’t like to be bathed, it’s true. But bathing may be necessary from time to time, especially for dogs, and occasionally for outdoor cats, who may roam through dirt, grease, insect-filled grasses, and all sorts of garbage on their outdoor sojourns. A bath will be much easier for your pet—and you—if the habit is begun early in life. It will probably never become a favorite activity, but at least your animal will come to accept the unavoidable without a bark or meow of protest.
How often you bathe your animal is a matter of circumstance. The average dog, one that isn’t extremely dirty, should be washed every month or two and more often during the summer. Very active dogs usually pick up more dust and dirt, and may need as many baths as one every other week. Also, some breeds get more soiled than others. Poodles, for instance, have a soft coat that picks up more dirt than many other breeds. Since cats are so adept at cleaning themselves, healthy indoor-only cats do not need to be bathed that often, if ever (although herbalist Janette Grainger, owner of PETicular, a company specializing in natural pet products, notes that you might try dipping them in distilled water once a month to prevent allergic reactions in humans). Animals with a healthy diet will secrete fewer fats and have sweeter skin than those that eat low-grade foods, which will be greasier and smellier, and need more baths. Animals with skin problems may need frequent baths. If fleas are present, as many baths as necessary should be given until the problem is eliminated.
For cats and small or medium-sized dogs, use a basin for bathing; a large tub could scare the animal into running away. A rubber mat or towel could be placed at the bottom of the basin to prevent slipping (although the rubber smell bothers some cats). Fill the basin halfway with warm water and add a little mild, nontoxic, natural shampoo made for cats or dogs. Some herbal shampoos contain natural flea-repellents. Oatmeal shampoos are also good. Other than baby shampoo, avoid human shampoos because they are designed for a person’s pH, not that of an animal. Once you choose an appropriate shampoo, wash thoroughly, being careful to avoid sensitive areas, such as the eyes and ears (how to wash the eyes and ears will be discussed later). After rinsing, towel-dry thoroughly.
If your dog or cat fights you when it’s time for a bath, and isn’t too large, here’s something you might try: Place the animal in a pillowcase, leaving its head out. Then pour water and shampoo through the pillowcase, and finish with a good water rinse. Another alternative is to use a dry shampoo. These can be sprinkled onto the coat and brushed away. For hard-to-clean spots, such as tar or grease, you can put mineral oil on the area, leave on for 24 hours, and then wash off using soap and water.
Sensitive ears and eyes should be washed gently, yet thoroughly. To remove dirty earwax, put slightly warmed olive oil into an eyedropper and put 10 drops into the ear. By sure you are holding the earflap to prevent the animal from tossing it out. Gently massage the ear canal alongside the face, and let your animal shake out the dissolved wax and oil. Never put a cotton swab or anything smaller than your elbow into your animal’s ear. And never pull out any hair. If you notice early signs of ear mites, a problem more prevalent in cats than in dogs, you will need to get rid of the parasites to prevent possible future problems, such as inflammation and hearing loss. An effective formula can be made from 10 drops of rosemary, lemon, and eucalyptus oils added to 4 ounces of warm olive oil. Follow the foregoing instructions for removing earwax. The herbal oil will kill mites that the animal will then shake out. The procedure can be repeated twice a day for four days and then daily for a week. Repeating at one- and two-week intervals will eliminate any new mites that may have hatched from eggs inside the ear after the first treatments. Eyes can be cleansed of dust and mucus with a cotton ball that has been dampened with water. Begin at the inside corner, and work your way toward the outside of the face.
Take this time to carefully scan the entire body for any unhealthy signs. Should you notice scabs, wounds, parasites, swellings, discharges, painful areas, or anything unusual, take your pet to the veterinarian for further analysis.
Fortunately, there are a few tried-and-true remedies for getting rid of a skunk odor. A simple approach requires only some room-temperature tomato juice and a sponge. With a damp sponge, apply the juice over the body, being careful to avoid the eyes, and allow it to set for two or three minutes before thoroughly rinsing off. If any trace of odor remains, repeat the procedure.
There is also a commercial product designed to solve this problem. Pets ‘n People manufactures a product called Skunk Odor, the ingredients of which—natural citrus scent, water, and isopropyl alcohol—neutralize the strong smell. Be sure to keep Skunk Odor away from your friend’s eyes.
Pets could also have a strong body odor from gum and tooth problems, a poor diet, or some underlying disease. Have your holistic vet determine the cause, and while you are working to reverse the problem, try these home remedies, too:
PARSLEY. Finely chop some fresh parsley and sprinkle it onto your pet’s food. Cats and small dogs need just a teaspoon per day, while medium to large dogs should get between 2 and 4 teaspoons.
To eliminate pet odors in your house or car, you might try a product called Air Sponge, which absorbs and eliminate odors; it can be ordered at (800) 622-0260.
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT GROOMING
Brushing and combing your dog or cat’s coat offers a wide range of benefits. Emotionally, it’s relaxing to your pet and an opportunity for the two of you to bond. In addition, grooming is a boon to physical health, both your pet’s and your own. Brushing the coat for five to ten minutes a day minimizes flying fur during the change of seasons, which, in turn, prevents or minimizes human allergies to pets. Grooming also stimulates sebaceous glands along the hair follicles to secrete oil, which gives their coats a healthy shine. Grooming every day, especially in flea season, can act as a flea repellent, since fleas are attracted to matted hair. Afterwards, spritzing the pet lightly with a dilute herbal repellent (two of the following—eucalyptus, rosemary, and sage—make a good combination formula) will keep it flea-free during a walk in the park.
There are deeper benefits to grooming, too. Brushing and massaging your cat or dog’s back will improve lymphatic health and general circulation. To improve circulation, brush or rub your animal’s back from head to tail several times in both directions. (Animals don’t like their hair to go the wrong way, so be sure to smooth it in the right direction afterwards.) In addition, a back rub or brushing will promote health in the internal organs—the stomach, spleen, kidneys, bladder, heart, and lungs. So grooming is a really good way to help your pet stay healthy.
The key to good grooming is finding the right groomer. You will want to look for a person in line with your own ideas about what an animal needs to be physically and emotionally whole. If you are holistically oriented, you should be seeking a person who uses natural rather than chemical-laden skin products and who treats animals with sensitivity instead of harsh handling. You will also want an inviting environment, one that is clean, with a friendly staff who genuinely adore animals. How do you find such a place? Network with friends, veterinary clinics, and pet stores. Talk to like-minded pet owners. Once you’re considering a place, call them up and ask for references. Then visit the facility alone to take a tour of the place and observe clients in session. Any reputable groomer will be happy to have you visit—and be sure you visit the actual room where the grooming takes place. When judging whether the facility is right for you, rely on your intuition, as well as your judgment. Often our gut reactions are the right ones.
Don’t be afraid to ask your pet’s prospective groomer questions. You will probably want to know:
How long have you been in the grooming business?
Where did you get your training?
What animals do you own? Have at work?
Do you have veterinary technician experience?
Do you have a first aid station or kit in the building?
Where are the emergency exits?
What products do you use? Is the equipment stainless steel?
Can I bring my own special products?
Will my animal come into contact with other animals during the visit?
What grooming techniques will be used on my pet?
Will my animal be offered water or snacks?
Do you belong to any professional organizations?
What security measures are taken to avoid theft, escape,
or loss of animals in your care?
Where are animals not being handled kept?
Will my dog be taken for a walk if necessary?
How will my animal be restrained while being bathed?
While on the grooming table?
Who is the veterinarian on call?1
If the groomer isn’t friendly and upfront, that’s your signal to continue searching elsewhere.
If everything proves satisfactory, proceed to the next step and make an appointment. Before your initial visit, your animal should eat lightly, at least two hours before its scheduled time. Also, be sure your pet is wearing an up-to-date securely fastened collar with its name and your phone number. During the ride over, carry some Rescue Remedy or other essence designed to ease an emotionally distraught or carsick animal, just in case there’s a problem. You might also consider bringing your own bottle of shampoo, as any new product might produce an allergic reaction, either immediately or at some later time. Be sure to stay with your animal during its first visit, making eye contact and offering words of encouragement to prevent feelings of abandonment. At the same time, notice how your pet responds to the groomer, and observe the groomer’s body language as well. Your responsibility, of course, is to make sure that your animal has been socialized enough to know the rudimentary rules of good behavior. Otherwise, it is not fair to expect a groomer to handle an unruly pet, and it will be up to you to groom your pet at home while teaching it better manners.
Hopefully, all will go well, and you will have the confidence and assurance to continue making future appointments. A good groomer can become an important person in your animal’s life. Once the two are comfortable together, you may leave your pet alone at the groomer’s, but be sure to pick him up in a timely fashion.
While the cat’s natural inclination to groom itself is generally beneficial, there is such a thing as an over-preoccupation with self-grooming. In the same way that cleanliness is a good trait in a person but obsessive-compulsive hand-washing is an undesirable extreme, too much self-grooming is a behavioral disorder that can cause swelling and other damage to the skin. If your cat is grooming itself constantly, you will need to get to the root of the behavioral issue and at the same time repair the skin using a good herbal shampoo and conditioner.
Deodorizers are usually made from toxic chemicals that get into your cat’s system each time it licks its pads. Keeping the litter box clean-smelling shouldn’t be a problem if you change the litter regularly. If you are still bothered, try an alfalfa-based litter or add alfalfa pellets that you can purchase at a feed store. Alfalfa is a natural deodorizer.
An even more serious problem is the result of a modern marketing ploy—the clumping litter. Clay clumping litters are made from sodium bentonite, a clay that swells to 15 times its original volume and forms cement-like masses when exposed to moisture. Cats breathe these particles in and lick them off their bodies, and that has led to many a serious illness and unnecessary death. Just imagine a substance so hard and insoluble that it stops up plumbing when flushed. Now think about what it could do to the delicate plumbing of a cat, and particularly a kitten! Once inside an animal, the clay forms a hard mass and absorbs any incoming moisture, thus preventing the absorption of nutrients and causing dehydration. Early signs of a litter-induced ailment are diarrhea and eye and nasal discharges. These are the body’s way to try to clean the harmful substance from the body. But if the litter is in constant use, these attempts will ultimately fail. Soon, the stool will become harder and more clay-like, and finally the hard mass inside will prevent elimination altogether. Death will follow.
The makers of such products are well aware of the risk to cats but take a buyer-beware attitude, expecting owners to keep their cats from eating the stuff. No warnings, however, are written on the package. Nor is it possible to keep an animal from ingesting the litter, as it produces a fine dust whenever the cat digs up an area to cover its waste. There is no way to prevent a cat from licking the litter from its legs and feet, unless, perhaps, its owner is there with a wet cloth after each visit to the litter box. But then the clumping litter is not so convenient after all.
There are many natural, dust-free alternatives to deadly clumping litters, such as plant-based and food-based products (see the appendix for some suggested brands). Or, if you are willing to change the box several times a day, simply lay down four thicknesses of old newspaper and add a few torn strips at the top.
Make your displeasure known to the manufacturers of these litters. Be sure to boycott dangerous litter products—encourage cat-owning friends and acquaintances to do the same—because businesses are responsive to the buying trends of the public. Also, write to the makers of clumping litters to let them know of your awareness and concern. (Their addresses are listed on the package.) If you suspect an animal in your household is suffering from the effects of a clumping litter (dogs and other pets may eat the product and get ill, too) take it to a holistic veterinarian and explain what you believe is happening. Even if your cat appears healthy, it makes a lot of sense to switch to a safer product anyway to avoid future complications.
Many animals don’t like having their nails cut and will actively resist the procedure. It’s best to start the process young, if possible, so that your kitten or puppy will acclimate to the program. You can also help your animal get used to having its nails cut by handling the paws several times a week and cutting only a few nails each time. Also, catch her when she is in a quiet mood. If your animal continues to resist, try giving her a few drops of Rescue Remedy or a gentle massage. And, of course, since animals pick up on our feelings so readily, make sure that you are relaxed. You might try taking a deep breath and visualizing a job well done in a few seconds’ time.
As always, the best idea is prevention, which means starting an oral hygiene program when your pet is young. Even if you are starting late in the game it is often possible to take steps that will lead to the reappearance of healthy, pink gums. To begin, learn to recognize the signs of gum disease: tartar buildup, bleeding gums, inflammation that appears as redness or swelling at the gum line, foul odor, loose teeth, and difficulty eating. Your veterinarian should check the teeth and gums during a routine exam and alert you to any signs of trouble. If the problem is far along, he or she may recommend a thorough ultrasound cleaning to remove tartar and plaque and reduce the size of the periodontal pocket space between the teeth and gums (smaller pocket spaces reflect better periodontal health). While the procedure is highly effective, one drawback is the use of general anesthesia, which poses the risk of an adverse reaction, especially in older pets and animals with a weak immune system. Fortunately, there are a growing number of veterinarians and vet techs trained to perform anesthesia-free cleanings.
You know how good your own teeth and gums feel after a treatment from your dental hygienist, but you also know that they do not remain pristine unless you floss and brush at home. So too does your dog or cat require home maintenance for optimal health. That means brushing your pet’s teeth three times a week. Finger brushing will work for cats and small dogs, but larger dogs will need a regular soft toothbrush. Pet stores sell natural toothpastes designed for the unique needs of dogs and cats.
Many people shy away from this essential grooming measure because it can be difficult, especially if your animal has not been made accustomed to tooth brushing from an early age. Kathy Klein, the owner of SmilePet in southern California, an anesthesia-free teeth-cleaning service, advises her clients on proper procedures. She suggests that pet owners firmly, but lovingly, place their animal in a position where it cannot escape, using a gentle voice and massage to relax them. For small to medium-size dogs, Klein suggests sitting on the floor and carefully placing the animal in an upside-down position to protect its back. The animal should then be cradled with your legs so that the back of the animal’s head rests on your lap. Cats and less cooperative dogs can be wrapped in a beach towel, and larger dogs can be placed on their side. Holding the face with your left hand, the lips should be pulled out so that you can get inside the animal’s mouth and brush the teeth. Don’t worry if you can’t see the teeth; the main goal is to push the gums back, which will stimulate them.2
Another important measure is to be sure your dog or cat is getting foods that do not form plaque—whole grains and fresh vegetables. At the same time, you should limit plaque-producing foods, such as brands of commercial foods that contain refined sugars and white flour. Contrary to popular opinion, biscuits and other dry foods will not effectively clean the teeth because the problem begins where chewing doesn’t occur, the site where the bottom of the tooth meets the gum line. Chewing only stimulates gums sporadically in areas where pieces of food brush against them. Also, dogs and cats often swallow their food whole, without chewing.
What about that favorite canine activity, bone chewing? You might allow Fido to chew on a raw femur bone, the long bone of the leg, or a large knucklebone, one that is at least two inches long. The abrasive action of the chewing will help to remove some tartar from the teeth. Avoid steak, pork chop, rib, chicken, and fish bones, which can splinter and become a choking hazard, and dispose of the bone after it is chewed away.
In animal dental care, as in other areas, prevention and natural remedies for reversing problems are really the best ways to go, as pharmaceuticals, such as cortisone, only cover up symptoms temporarily and place an additional burden on an already overworked immune system. For an extra boost to immunity that will help keep the gums healthy, add the following supplements to your animal’s diet: Ester-C (250-1000 mg mixed into regular food or with organic plain yogurt once a day), echinacea (5-12 drops in water twice a day), and coenzyme Q10 (50-125 mg added to water once a day). The amount you give will depend on the size of your animal, with cats and small dogs getting the minimum amount, medium and large dogs getting somewhat more, and giant dogs getting the maximum amount. Echinacea, which has a well-earned reputation as a natural antibiotic, should be taken for two weeks and then restarted after a two-week hiatus. Ester-C and coenzyme Q10 will strengthen the immune system year round, the latter being especially protective of the heart and gums. Check with a holistic veterinarian as you customize an immunity-strengthening plan for your pet.
For quick relief from sore gums, purchase an herbal elixir designed for this purpose, or create your own antimicrobial tea. You can brew licorice, goldenseal, or echinacea in distilled water, let the tea cool, and place in a bowl for your pet to drink. You could also apply the damp tea bag directly over the sore gums or dab some of the tea onto the inflamed area with a cotton swab. Another soothing option is aloe vera gel. Again, check with your vet about persistent problems.
1. Goldstein, Robert S., and Susan J. Goldstein, Love of Animals, 4:10, October 1998, p.2.
2. Goldstein, Robert S., and Susan J. Goldstein, “Restore and Maintain the Health of Your Animal’s Teeth and Gums,” Love of Animals: Natural Care and Healing for Your Dogs & Cats, 6:4, April 2000, p.5.