DIY Cat and Dog Grooming You Can Do At Home

If your dog or cat needs a trip to the groomer but you can't get an appointment, here are some tips to keep your pet clean and healthy.

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Your pet needs a good grooming but you can’t get into your favorite pet salon. What can you do at home to keep your dog or cat clean and happy? We asked some grooming experts for advice on at-home grooming.

Give Them the Brush Off

Consistent brushing and combing is key for cat and dog health. Gracee Owen, owner of Upstate Meow in Greer, S.C. says a human comb will break easily, so a cat grooming comb is a wise investment. Comb every three to six days to prevent matting. For dogs, begin with a good-quality slicker brush (like this Hertzko Slicker Brush), then follow with a “greyhound comb,” combing through all parts of the coat to make sure you have eliminated all the mats. Brushing helps to stimulate the naturally produced oils in your pet’s skin, which leads to a healthier, beautiful coat.

“And regular brushing allows you to feel and identify things on your pets that may possibly need to be brought to the attention of their veterinarian,” says Treva Barnett, groomer at Encanto Pet Clinic in Tucson, Ariz. “Many times I have been grooming an animal and have [found problems] that may have gone otherwise unnoticed.”

Make sure you brush and comb your pet before bathing. Shampoo and water can cause mats to draw tighter, and matted hair is nearly impossible to rinse out. Both experts warn against using scissors, but Barnett says a pair of safety scissors could be used to carefully clip the hair around paws.

A quality pet clipper with a No. 10 blade is always a better option for mats or trims. Pull the skin taut and keep the blade flat against the skin to avoid nicking. Make small strokes and take your time. Pay close attention to the clipper blades. They can become very hot during use, which could injure the pet, Barnett says.

Practice Safe Splish Splash

Use balanced, hypo-allergenic shampoo for pets.  Human shampoos can dry the coat and lead to skin problems. A pet moisturizer or creme rinse formulated for pets is important to restore the natural oils in their coat, Barnett says. And, don’t over-bathe! Regular brushing and combing is a better idea.

Owen says that corn starch — yep, the powdery white stuff used to thicken gravy — is an efficient and much safer replacement for waterless shampoo. Corn starch soaks up the oils that build up on a pet’s coat, and it’s harmless if your pet licks it. Sprinkle it on your pet brush or directly onto your pet’s coat and brush through.

Go Above and Behind

If you have a long-haired pet, you know that messy behinds are not fun. Owen warns that shaving the nether regions is never a DIY answer for pet owners. “There are a lot of things back there you can cut,” she says. “Instead, use unscented baby wipes to help keep that behind clean.” You can also use some corn starch back there if your pet has urinary or yeast problems and you want to keep that area dry.

Use a wet, warm washcloth to quickly clean around tear-stained eyes. “Place the wash cloth on the area for a couple of minutes to soften it, and then wipe it away,” says Barnett. Eye stains are nearly impossible to eliminate, but wiping the eyes every day can help. And for dogs with folds of skin such as bulldogs or pugs, be sure to lift and wash inside the folds on their bodies, then rinse and dry thoroughly.

Ears to You

Ears can be a real “ew” factor on cats and dogs. Owen suggests witch hazel or rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to keep them clean. “Never use a Q-tip or cotton swab down the ear canal,” Owen warns. “We can’t see how far we are going and there is always a chance we can puncture an ear drum, or push something down that will cause problems.”

Barnett suggests using an ear cleaner along with bathing. Apply the cleaner inside the ear canal and wipe out the inside of the ear. “No Q-tips, please!” agrees Barnett. “If your pets ears have a lot of debris or discharge, or if they are red and inflamed, make an appointment to see your veterinarian.”

You Can Nail It

Trimming nails can be difficult for even the most experienced groomer, says Barnett. For dogs, use a Dremel or similar rotary tool with a sanding wheel attached, on a very slow setting. “You are sanding off layers of nail instead of clipping off large chunks of nail with a nail clipper, and you are less likely to cut too short to the quick,” Barnett says.

Owen recommends keeping kitty nails clipped at home, preferably using pet nail clippers. If you can’t get ahold of a pair, you can use human nail clippers. But be careful. You can cut the pad if you get too close with those tiny blades. “Cut them longer than you normally would, just to be careful,” Owen says. “Most of my clients can’t clip their kitty’s nails, so there is the option of contacting your vet to see if they can trim them for you.”

If doing dog nails at home, you should have styptic powder or gel to apply if a nail is accidentally cut too short. But, Barnett says, regular kitchen flour also works well to stop bleeding.”Having someone doing the nails while another person is distracting the dog with love and belly rubbings can sometimes make the job go easier!” she says.

Be Zen

Be calm and confident while working with your pet. “They feed off of our vibes, so no high-pitched excited utterances of encouragement until after you have accomplished the task at hand!” says Barnett. “And, as a side note, if everyone adopts these at home grooming practices, there are going to be a lot of happy groomers out there!”

Rosie Wolf Williams
Rosie Wolf Williams is a Vermont-based writer with credits in business profiles, veterinary and agriculture, natural health, general interest, automotive, hardware, DIY, innovation and trends. Her work has appeared in USA Weekend, Energy Times, Costco Connection, Next Avenue, and many other local and national publications. She is the author of "The Thought of You: The Art of Being Alive!" and is an award-winning speaker.