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San Diego Humane Society

Grooming at Home: Do's and Don’ts

Grooming goes beyond keeping your pet clean. It helps you stay aware of any health concerns like lumps, bumps, cuts or other problems so you can seek veterinary care early. The sooner you introduce your pet to the process, the more easily she will accept brushing, bathing, ear cleaning and nail trimming.

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When grooming your pet, safety always comes first. While grooming:

  • DO go slow. If your pet is not cooperating or you find yourself feeling frustrated, take a break and try again later. Remember, this should be a good experience.
  • DO give lots of praise for good behavior.
  • DO use caution when cutting out mats. Slide a comb between the mat and your pet’s skin so you don’t accidentally cut her. You can also use clippers to shave off mats.
  • DON’T neglect your equipment. Clippers, blade and scissors are expensive. Always clean them after each use, and have them professionally sharpened periodically.
  • DON’T get discouraged. Every grooming session is an opportunity to learn. The hair always grows back.

Clipping Nails

Clip the nails with the nail trimmers, removing just the very tips. If you’re met with too much resistance to nail clipping, go back a step and just try holding the paws for 10 seconds every day. That will get your pet used to having her paws handled. The more often you brush and trim the nails, the more your pet will come to accept and stand calmly.


All dogs need baths, whether because they get dirty or simply to wash out dust, dander, loose hair and oily residue from the skin. If you or someone in your family suffers from mild dog allergies, frequent bathing can reduce the amount of dander on the coat and in your home.

How often your dog needs a bath depends on breed and coat type, as well as how much she is outside. Most dogs do fine with monthly or even weekly baths as long as you use a gentle, moisturizing shampoo and completely rinse all the soap out of the coat. Cats can be bathed much less frequently — twice a year might be sufficient unless she goes outside or becomes dirty.

  • DO always make bath time a good bonding experience. Take your time, offering praise along the way.
  • DON’T use human shampoos; most will dry out the skin.
  • DO rinse, rinse and rinse some more; any soap left in the coat will be itchy and make the hair look greasy.
  • DON’T bathe your pet outside with the hose unless you have warm water. You wouldn’t enjoy a cold outdoor shower, and neither would your pet.
  • DO put a tiny amount of artificial tear ointment in the eyes before the bath. This will prevent soap from irritating your pet’s eyes.

Cleaning Ears

Pets who get frequent ear infections or a lot of buildup in the ears will benefit from weekly or biweekly ear cleanings. Start out with a big cotton ball (cotton batting is even better). Wet the cotton with the ear cleaner, and use it to swipe out the inside of the ear. A small amount of cleaner will naturally drip down into the ear canal. Gently massage the base of the ear with your fingers. Stand back and let your pet shake his head (drape a towel over her head to minimize the mess). Then use the cotton ball to softly wipe out the ear. Never stick a cotton swab into the ear canal; you can rupture your pet’s eardrum.

For more tips on grooming and other essential pet information, check out the Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior, and Happiness,” authored by Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA, president and CEO of San Diego Humane Society.

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