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Personal Hygiene for Both Dogs and Cats     

Dr. Al Townshend

When it comes to the hygiene of dogs and cats, understanding the importance of addressing proper hygiene issues begins with a basic understanding of the significance of each item.

Oral Hygiene

Oral Hygiene is an essential part of the care for every pet. The mouth is a gateway to the body. Diseased gums, loose teeth, excess plaque and tartar can encourage dangerous bacteria to infect the pet which can lower their quality of life and can be life-threatening.

Plaque and tartar are not a worry for wild dogs and cats. Ripping skin and flesh and the gnawing of bones helps to keep the teeth and gums clean and healthy. Domesticated dogs and cats eat differently, and no matter the type of food (kibble, canned or raw), plaque and tartar will develop and can eventually evolve into a serious dental disease.

The best method for slowing this process in our pets is the same as it is for Guardians – brushing the teeth. Brushing a pet’s teeth is not as easy as it is for humans unless the pet is willing, and the Guardian has received adequate training. Experienced groomers and veterinarians are the best resources.

Provide your pet with options like dental treats, chew toys, mouth rinses and oral sprays/gels which are effective in slowing the formation of plaque and tartar. However, like humans, pets will eventually need a professional dental cleaning. Annual veterinary exams can detect problems early and avoid more complicated procedures. Discuss with your veterinarian about the dental cleaning options for your pet, such as anesthesia-free teeth cleaning.

Nail Trimming

Nail Trimming is essential for both dogs and cats. However, it can be a challenging task as many pets don’t like their paws handled. There are a variety of nail trimmers available; finding the tool that works best can make the job more manageable. Often, two people should work together, at least initially, until the pet and Guardian are comfortable with the procedure.

Proper training can avoid cutting the nail too short. The nails of both dogs and cats have a nerve and blood vessel in them. The goal is to trim just the dead part of the nail and not the living tissue where the nerve and blood vessel resides. Getting proper instruction before attempting the task is essential. It is also important to be prepared and have the proper tools and knowledge to stop the bleeding if the nail is accidentally cut too short. An experienced groomer or veterinarian are great trainers and can show you how to properly execute a nail trim.

Ear Cleaning

Ear cleaning helps remove excess wax and debris that can build up in the ear canal and encourage irritation and infection. It requires proper training and is also best accomplished by two people until the pet is comfortable having it done.


Grooming can involve just brushing the pet to remove loose hair and tangles or it can require clipping the hair. Regular, short period brushing is often a very pleasing experience for both dogs and cats and allows the Guardian to more closely examine for any abnormalities like lumps, bumps and scabs and parasites like fleas and ticks. Grooming is also is a great way to improve the bond between the pet and the Guardian.


Bathing is a task that requires some preplanning for most Guardians to prevent a mess in the home. Fortunately, it does not have to be done frequently, especially for cats. Brushing the pet to remove tangles and loose hair before the bath is important. Rinsing all the soap completely out of the hair is essential; leaving shampoo in your pet’s fur can cause skin irritation. Never use human shampoos or conditioners as most are too harsh for pets. Many Pet Planet locations have Self-Wash stations that allow Guardians to bring their pet in for a stress-free bathing experience.

Good House Cleaning and Sanitary Cleaning

Good house cleaning and sanitary cleaning of food bowls, water bowls, etc… are as crucial for Guardians as it is for pets. Proper sanitation is imperative in preventing disease. After handling a pet’s food, a complete hand washing is important regardless of the type of food a pet eats. Regularly washing the pet’s bedding, frequent cleaning of the litter box helps to maintain cleanliness and reduce the buildup of bad bacteria.

Proper Food Storage

Dry foods correctly stored in a dry, airtight container designed for safe food storage, should be stored at room temperature. Canned foods, once opened, should be covered and refrigerated. Frozen raw and almost raw foods need refrigeration once open. Improper storage encourages contamination increases the risk of food poisoning for the pet, and the Guardians that unknowingly handle contaminated pet foods.

It is always best to never leave uneaten food out overnight. A pet’s saliva can moisten even dry foods and encourage contamination, which can put the pet and the Guardian at risk.

Maintaining proper hygiene is one of the best ways to ensure a clean, healthy pet, and a safe environment for the entire household.


Additional Resources:

Below are specific websites that provide instruction on how to perform some of the procedures discussed above.

VCA Hospital on Dog Ear CleaningVCA Hospital on Cat Ear Cleaning

AKC on Trimming Dog’s NailsVet MD on Clipping Cat’s Claws

AKC on Cleaning Dog’s TeethCat Friendly on Brushing Cat’s Teeth

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