Greetings Bored Surfer and Welcome to April!
After finishing last month’s edition of BLOG blog, I had a nice, timely topic in mind for April. I was planning to do an educational essay on infectious disease and discuss a certain family of viruses that infect various species. I could offer some insight about epidemiology and hopefully some consolation. It would be rounded out with a few comments about the joy of indoor plumbing, an obligatory reference to Captain Trips and something about an international holiday dedicated to staying home under a blanket to watch Netflix. It could almost write itself.
A few weeks have passed and the whole outlook has changed. The media coverage of the disease outbreak, for better or worse, is almost inescapable. There is new information (and misinformation) on a daily basis. So, while I may be able to offer a unique slant on this particular episode in human history, you are probably not in the mood to read it, and it will probably be outdated before its first round of editing. Therefore, I feel obliged to buck this particular trend and write about something completely different.
April marks the beginning of spring. It is a time of rebirth and renewal and color returning after the drab winter months (in temperate, Northern Hemisphere locales anyway). It boasts observances with such interesting names as Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day is the perfect occasion to wear your HazMat suit this year) Dyngus day (observed mostly in Poland, Ukraine, Hungary and Buffalo, NY), ANZAC day (for those of you in Australia, New Zealand or Greenland) and Walpurgis night (in Germany, Sweden and Finland). Especially appropriate for everyone this year are the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, Wear Pajamas to Work Day and National Sense of Smell Day.
In the US, April brings to mind showers as well as spring cleaning. In this spirit, I shall take this opportunity to discuss some animal hygiene. Given the current situation, your regular groomer may or may not be available, and you may or may not be able to take your pet there. So, you may need to perform some basic pet grooming at home.
Before proceeding with this discussion, I need a pseudonym for your pet. If you a regular reader of the BLOG blog (Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!), you are well aware of this gimmick. If this is your first time experiencing this particular literary endeavour (welcome and hopefully you will find this experience pleasant enough to repeat even after you have been released from quarantine) know that for each edition, I refer to everyone’s pet (regardless of species or gender) by a carefully selected universal name. Instead of trying to include all pronouns in every instance by using he/she or her/him, I use them interchangeably in an attempt to include all pets while offending none. For this month’s pet psuedonym, I have selected Begoony, in honor of a one of the muppets featured in the “Cabin Fever” song from Muppet Treasure Island.
High on the list of activities to keep your Begoony fresh and clean is bathing. This can usually be performed in the comfort (or confines) of your home. Whether you choose to do so mostly depends on the size and temperament of your pet and the plumbing facilities you have available.
If you have a feline Begoony, you should know that they are usually self-cleaning. Some kitties, however, will need some assistance in the grooming department. This usually consists of brushing areas the cat is unable to reach. Some Begoonys find this pleasant; others do not, and will definitely make you aware of their displeasure. Some geriatric cats may find the process painful. If your formerly impeccable Begoony is starting to look disheveled, please contact your vet to rule out other conditions and discuss treatments for pain.
On the subject of bathing a feline Begoony, the conventional wisdom is: do not try this at home. This is usually in the best interest of all species involved. Some cats may like water; they may like to dip a paw or drink from running water. However, it is a rare cat indeed that takes lightly the loss of control associated with being forcibly doused, shampooed, rinsed and dried. If your cat is extremely matted, has a distinctly unpleasant aroma or is covered in oobleck, please seek professional help.
Canine Begoonys are a different matter. While many do not enjoy the process, most will tolerate it and many can be won over with positive reinforcement. It helps if you can gradually introduce then to the process when you are both relaxed. Please note: much of the following information has been adapted from a wonderful guide published by the RSPCA. The original version, complete with cute pictures and bonus vowels can be found at www.rspcapetinsurance.org.au/pet-care/dog-care/dog-grooming-guide.
How often your dog needs a bath will vary with the sensitivity of your nose and Begoony’s success at finding and applying natural scents. For most dogs, one bath per month is plenty. However, exceptions must be made for muddy mishaps and the times Begoony finds an especially fragrant item outside and rolls in it to prolong their olfactory ecstasy. If you find that your dog reeks more than once a week, consult your vet. Begoony may have a malodorous medical condition. If he is otherwise healthy, but manages to roll in something fetid on a daily basis, know that there are special shampoos that should be used to cleanse and deodorize without depleting the natural oils of Begoony’s skin.
Ideally, you start introducing Begoony to the bathing process far in advance. We want it to be a rewarding experience for everyone. If puppy’s first bath occurs when he comes inside covered in mud and the stench of decomposition and you are trying to get him cleaned up before she runs all over the house you just cleaned because your boss is coming to your house for a dinner party in 45 minutes, the experience will be less than optimal for everyone involved.
Start by teaching Begoony to accept gentle handling of various body parts. Pat him on the chest, then slowly go along the shoulders, sides and back. Make sure to reward her verbally and with delicious snackeys frequently during the process. If Begoony seems uncomfortable when you touch a certain area, go back to a less offensive spot. Repeat this activity often, and gradually work towards more sensitive areas, such as the feet, ears and underside. Feet are particularly sensitive, which is one of the many reasons nail trims are so traumatic for dogs.
Once Begoony has become accustomed to being handled, start introducing other components of the bathing experience to the handling sessions. Include stimuli like presence of the brush, the sound of running water, the smell of the shampoo, the sight of the bathtub, the feel of standing on a bathmat, etc. etc. etc. These new encounters should be paired the all- important sound of calm praise and the sensational taste of snackeys.
If at any point during the process, Begoony starts to react in a negative fashion, go back to a more comfortable level of exposure, and increase the intensity at a slower pace.
Before the bath -
Proper planning and preparation prevent poor performance. Decide in advance where the procedure will take place and assemble all the necessary supplies there. You will need a brush, cotton balls, a washcloth, towels, appropriate shampoo and snackeys. Lots and lots and lots of snackeys.
If possible, take your dog for a walk and give Begoony ample opportunity to perform any and all bodily functions prior to embarking on the bathing adventure.
Bathing will not remove mats. In fact, getting them wet may make the tangles even harder to remove. If the knots are small enough to be brushed out before the bath, please do so. If the mats are very large and/or very close to the skin, please consider engaging the services of a professional groomer. If this is not possible, your next best option is using clippers at home. Do NOT cut mats from your dog’s coat with scissors! It can be hard to tell where mat ends and skin begins. Also, sometimes Begoonys move at inopportune times. The resulting injuries are more costly (financially and emotionally) than professional grooming.
Where to wash your dog? That depends on what you have available. If you have a small dog and/or a large sink, you may be able to wash them there and spare your back some hunching.
Larger dogs will require a bathtub or shower. Hand held shower heads are very handy in this situation. There are many varieties of sprayers available that can be attached to your sink or shower. Alternatively, you may want to consider a self-service grooming facility. These feature raised tubs (one ad mentions a hydraulic lift!) and are supplied with towels and someone to clean up the aftermath of the bath. They may also offer shampoo and grooming supplies, but, if possible, bring your own. The desirability of this locale also depends on how dirty and stinky your dog is compared to your method of transport. Borrowing your friend’s new car (with custom-made white cloth seats) to take your wet, muddy, dingle-berried, incontinent, newly-skunked, hairy black dog with white spots (who transforms in the tub into a white dog with black spots) to the dog wash will take a lot of groveling to overcome.
Consider very carefully the ramifications of giving your dog a bath outside with the hose. There are several potential problems with this scenario. You must be mindful of water temperature. Usually the water from the hose is too chilly to provide a pleasant experience for Begoony, so you may need multiple buckets of warm water, and possibly a way to refill them during the bath. You also need to keep him restrained during the bath. Otherwise, the scene involves her running just out of reach and into the freshly planted flowerbeds, then through your neighbor’s clotheslines of clean white sheets while you chase after him with the hose, all set to the tune of “Yakety Sax”. There is also the logistical challenge of getting your clean, wet dog in the house before she walks in the newly-created mud or rolls in something stinky.
Any bathing venue should feature a non-slip surface. The lack of good traction is usually quite upsetting to Begoony. To counteract this, put a non-slip mat in the bottom of the tub or shower. If such a mat is not available, a towel can provide an acceptable substrate.
It is recommended to put a cotton ball in each of Begoony’s ears to keep water from entering the canals. Dogs tend to find the sensation of liquid in their ears disturbing, and often respond by shaking their head. When they are in the tub and start shaking their head, the rest of their body follows, and everything (including you) within a ten-foot radius will end up drenched.
I have also seen it suggested in several places to put steel wool in the drain to prevent the formation of giant fur clogs. I have not tried it, so I cannot vouch for its effectiveness, but your plumber would probably appreciate it if you have some kind of filter.
There are many types of pet shampoo available. If your dog has a skin condition such as redness, bald spots, itchiness, a particularly dry or greasy coat or an odor that exceeds the traditional doggie smell and has no obvious external source, please consult your veterinarian. A therapeutic shampoo may be necessary. If so, please follow your vet’s recommendations for bathing frequency and shampoo contact time. If your Begoony is not yet amenable to the bathing ritual, please inform your vet so they can consider other treatment options.
For dogs without any obvious signs of skin disease, a mild, hypo-allergenic shampoo is usually appropriate. Avoid flea & tick shampoos. They can remove parasites on Begoony at the time of the bath, but the effect is very short lived. They can also be harsh on the dog’s skin and coat. Do not use Dawn dish soap unless Captain Hazelwood trips and spills crude oil on your pet. Shampoo designed for people is also not considered suitable for Begoony, because human skin has a different pH than that of dogs.
Also, be aware that what smells good to you may be considered noxious by your dog. He was probably delighted with the scent of Eau de Poo that you are trying to counteract. Given a chance, he may very well go right back outside and re-apply his preferred fragrance.
During the bath -
Use a LOT of high–value treats to create a positive association with bath time. If you have an assistant, they can hand feed snackeys while you wash the dog. If you are flying solo, you can smear some peanut butter along the edge of the tub to divert Begoony’s attention.
Make sure water temperature is pleasant. Keep in mind that at least some of the water is going to end up on you. Begoony doesn’t want to bathe in scalding hot or freezing cold water any more than you do.
Try to keep one hand on your dog’s head throughout the process. This discourages the dog from shaking the water off of him and onto you. If you are especially talented, you may be able to rub shampoo on his tummy and pat his head at the same time.
Wet the dog completely, down to the skin, from chest and neck to back end. This can be a challenge in breeds with very dense fur/thick undercoats. Try not to wet head and ears at this point.
Put shampoo in your hand instead of directly on the dog. Then massage shampoo gently from chest to shoulders, down sides and back. Continue rubbing gently as you apply shampoo to the front legs, back legs, rear end and finally the undercarriage. Although you can do it anytime, this is traditionally the point in the process where you sing the “Rubber Ducky” song.
Rinse thoroughly to remove all shampoo. The hand held shower head is particularly helpful for rinsing those awkward, hard-to-reach areas. But enough about that...
Wash Begoony’s head last. Most dogs will find a washcloth much less objectionable than having their face sprayed or a water dumped on their head. Remember that wetting the dog’s head will make them want to shake it off, shake it off.
If your Begoony’s coat is of a texture that tends to clump and form mats, consider using a conditioner. These are usually applied and then rinsed off, in a manner similar to shampooing. Leave-in conditioners are available if you should find one necessary or desirable.
After the bath
Upon completion of the bath, your dog will most likely shake off as much water as they can. This may occur in the tub and/or after exiting the tub and gaining more secure footing. Step back and allow Begoony to do so before trying to dry him.
Most dogs don't like blow dryers. If your dog is accustomed to it, or just extremely tolerant, you can use a hair dryer on low speed and low heat. If Begoony seems uncomfortable, switch to the much quieter and less stressful option of towels.
Immediately upon release from the bathing area, your dog may run wildly about the house, rubbing on everything within reach. If there are areas where you don’t want a wet, wild dog running amok, close the doors beforehand to restrict access. Also be aware that if you should fail to keep Begoony indoors until she is completely dry, the whole mission may have been in vain. She may come back in the house looking and smelling like nothing even happened. Repeating the process may help while away the many hours you are currently spending at home, but there are many, many, many other options available to occupy your time. After all, you could be reading (or re-reading) all those previous BLOG blogs, available at bestcarepethospitalomaha.com.
This concludes this month’s edition of BLOG blog. Hopefully you enjoyed this little diversion and will be in good health and spirits for the next one.
Until next month, Bored Surfer, Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands.
Dr. Debbie Appleby