Grooming is a good time to accustom your dog to routine checks in which you examine each part of his body. It isn’t only your pooch’s jacket that needs consideration his teeth, ears, and nails also need to be attended to regularly.
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 dirt, 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.
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.
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.
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.