This story was originally published on Medill Reports on June 10, 2009.
Not much causes the veterinary staff at Skycrest Animal Clinic in Long Grove to cringe. From dog diarrhea to cat puke, they have seen it all. That is until an elderly poodle-mix came in with a “hot spot” on her forehead.
A sore had been developing that above the small, curly-haired blonde’s eyes. The sore turned out to be a wart that got infected after her permed fur became matted down over the area.
After cleaning the area and removing as much of the hair as possible, Dr. Krista Shears began treating the wart, which started bleeding profusely. If her owners had brought her in more often, it probably wouldn’t have happened, she said.
Meanwhile, Shears and her staff also had the task of treating the poodle for an ear infection after fur had grown too long inside her ears. As they plucked out the fur, black debris and pus came out with it too.
“This is why our job is not glamorous,” Shears said.
What will now amount to pricey medical bills for the poodle’s owner, could have been avoided with a less expensive trip to the grooming salon. Taking your pet for a bath and a trim isn’t just for aesthetics, but it is seriously important for its health and wellness.
“Humanity over vanity should be the motto of every groomer,” said Dan Vaughn, a groomer at the DoGone Fun Spa in the South Loop.
Keeping an eye on your pet everyday, and really checking them from head to paw will help you notice any abnormalities and possible health risks.
“Grooming at home should be your first line of noticing something,” Vaughn said. “Start looking, start smelling and start getting engaged with what is norm.”
For instance, if you notice your pet is walking funny, check its toenails because they might be too long. Overly long claws can cause a dog’s gait to change and even cause a breakdown of muscles and ligaments in the legs, according to Vaughn.
“When they are standing on a flat surface, you should be able to get a credit card or driver’s license between the nail and the floor,” he said.
Nails that are too long can also grow into the leather-like pads on the bottom of an animal’s paws. This problem can only be relieved through surgery.
“Once that nailbed gets infected, then it moves up into the toe and then you have a serious problem,” Vaughn said.
While you are working on your pet’s “paw-dicure,” Dr. Susan Wilner, also a vet at Skycrest, said to make sure the fur around the paws isn’t too long, as this decreases friction and could cause it to slip.
It is important to use dog shampoo and not what you use on yourself. A dog’s skin has a very different pH level than a human’s, and people shampoo could irritate their skin.
Brushing your dog’s fur, no matter how closely cut the fur might be is also important to remove dead hair and prevent matting. Choosing the right brush for your dog’s breed is key. While grooming his 5-year-old greyhound, Houston, Vaughn used a brush with short, rubber teeth.
“There are some things that can cause damage to her, which is actually what you need to use on a poodle,” Vaughn said.
Keeping the fur around a dogs face trimmed is important, especially around the eyes, said Wilner. Hair can build up and catch on to the “sleepys” that develop in the corners of an animal’s eyes and cause an infection.
Checking to see if your dog’s eyes are bloodshot, or if there is any other colored discharge can be lifesaving as well. After noticing a tiny fleck in the eye of one of his canine clients, Vaughn recommended the dog’s owners have a vet check it out. The small fleck turned out to be a tumor growing on the inside of the eye, and because it was found early enough, the veterinarian was able to remove it without having to remove the entire eye.
To prevent an ear infection, Wilner, recommends taking a look inside your pet’s ears everyday and making sure they look and smell clean.
“A small amount of yellow debris is okay, but brown-colored material could mean an infection, especially if your pet has been scratching at the area,” Wilner said. “[Fur from] the ears needs to be plucked every three to four weeks, especially for curly-haired breeds,” Wilner said.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do for your pet’s beauty and well-being is brush its teeth.
“Brush their teeth everyday,” Wilner said. “Cats will get used to licking the toothpaste and it will reduce how many times they need to go under and have their teeth cleaned at the vet.”
And if you have ever noticed your dog scooting around on the carpet, it isn’t a new trick they have learned. This could mean the anal glands are full because something, such as hair or dried stool, is obstructing them from emptying.
Look under your dogs tail often to see if you notice any abnormalities. And don’t be bashful—that is, after all, how they say hello to one another.