Grooming Your Pet at Home

Grooming can be a perfect way to strengthen your relationship with your pet while keeping them at their best. Brushing, bathing, trimming, and cleaning will help them feel better, prevent disease, and reduce painful hair matting. It allows you to check for dry patches of skin, infection, and inflammation. Not to mention, when you take the time to prepare a salon-ready pampering experience free of anxiety or fear, they’ll look forward to curling up beside you like it’s a day at the s(paw).

If your pet is aggressive or fearful, seek out a professional groomer. If you decide to go this route, keep social-distancing guidelines in mind and ensure they adhere to cleaning and safety standards.

Most dogs love to be brushed, and you can brush them once a day or every other day. Dogs can have hair or fur or a combination of both. Those with hair need regular combing, grooming, and haircuts. Those with fur may just need a good, consistent brushing depending on their hair length. While most dogs also shed to some degree, there are some breeds who shed all year-round and others who shed heavily twice a year as they transition from winter to summer coats. Pay attention to your dog’s coat as unusual shedding can be caused by health issues, food, or environment.

  • Brush with a wide-tooth comb or soft but firm brush, which will allow you to check for irritated skin or bites while gently untangling fur. This will remove dead hair, dirt, and dandruff.
  • Be on the lookout for mats, which can prevent healthy, new hair growth.
  • Take your time to make it enjoyable and calming by offering some treats. Your brushing time is a wonderful opportunity for bonding.


Cats have more than one layer of fur, so you want to be sure you are brushing into the deeper layers to keep them free of mats or tangles. This will remove dead fur (which decreases their intake of hair and reduces the occurrence of hairballs), helps keep skin conditioned with natural oils, and reduces shedding. Note, however, that short-haired cats only need brushing when they’re older, arthritic, or are prevented somehow from self-grooming.

  • Ensure your grooming space is peaceful before you start, and then brush your cat for 5 minutes each week.
  • As you brush, check for bites, bumps, or skin conditions.
  • Some cats need daily brushing (like Persians, who require this year-round) and others require daily brushes during twice-yearly shedding.


You’ll want to routinely examine your pet’s ears and clean out any dirt or wax with a cotton ball or wipe. Don’t use a cotton-tipped applicator as this can be damaging. Like all grooming sessions, take time to make the environment pleasant and calm.

  • Use a pheromone spray in the grooming space to promote relaxation 10 to 15 minutes before you begin.
  • Start by gently rubbing the ear for 5 to 10 seconds while offering a soft treat like yogurt for dogs or wet food for cats. If your pet is anxious, gradually work up to touching ear before cleaning.
  • For stubborn ear wax or super itchy or foul-smelling ears, you need to see your vet who will likely provide you with a gentle ear-cleaning fluid and ear medicine.


Bathe your dog about once a month using a gentle canine shampoo. Steer clear of any human shampoos as these can be too harsh and may dry out their skin.

  • Keep the water warm (never hot) so the bathing experience is calming and as enjoyable as possible.
  • Be sure to rinse off all of the soap so their fur doesn’t absorb shampoo.
  • Put a bathmat down and gently dry your dog with a towel. If your dog enjoys the feeling of a blow-dryer, always set it to warm (not hot) to keep them comfortable.


While cats clean themselves and don’t typically need or enjoy baths, there may be times when a bath is necessary. If possible, only clean the affected area. If your cat has come into contact with something toxic, skip the bath, and get them to the vet.

  • Make the experience as calming as possible by collecting your cat shampoo, towel, brush, and tub ahead of time. Bathe cats in a tub-like container filled halfway (instead of in the bathtub, which may be intimidating in size).
  • Wash and rinse only the affected area if possible and then towel-dry.
  • If you have another feline in your household, they may react adversely to the changed scent of your bathed cat. Keep the two separated until the washed cat is entirely dry to allow them to return to their natural scent.


As a general rule, dog nails shouldn’t touch the ground or click on the floor. If their nails are too long, it can put pressure on their paw and become painful. Since dog nails are made of keratin (just like humans), you can trim them with clippers or with a dremel. You’ll want to watch for the quick, which is a sensitive core of blood vessels and nerves within the nail. Only cut up to the quick, which may be hard to see on dark nails, but will look clear or white on lighter nails.

  • Offer treats during nail trims to keep the experience pleasant and calming.
  • Trim dewclaws more frequently as they rarely touch the ground. If left untrimmed, dewclaws can grow into a dog’s leg and become painful.
  • As a beginner, consider only trimming a few nails on one paw to start. Wait until the next day to continue. You want your dog to associate nail trims with bonding time together. Once you feel confident that your dog is comfortable, trim all four paws at one time.


Though cats maintain their nails to some degree by scratching, it is still important to clip and examine them routinely to ensure the length is not causing any undue damage. Scratching can remove “dead” layers of the nail, but clipping them ensures the nails don’t grow into cats’ paws. By handling your cat’s paws regularly, you decrease the stress associated with grooming. As frequently as once a month, you can gently massage your cat’s paws and trim down their nails. Note that older cats’ nails also need to be monitored for curling around and growing into the pads.

  • As you would with any other grooming activity, ensure your cat is calm and that the space feels welcoming. You may even offer a massage as they are waking up from a nap.
  • Apply light pressure on the top and bottom of their paw just behind the nail so you can see all of it. Place the clipper about 1/8 of an inch before the cat’s quick, which is a nerve center within the nail. It will appear pink.
  • You may want to trim one nail at first and come back to finish the rest another day to keep the experience positive and pleasant.


The San Francisco SPCA is a non-profit organization that relies on the generosity of donors. As we respond to the California wildfires and COVID-19 pandemic, your support allows our lifesaving work to continue. Please consider making a monthly donation. It means the world to us. It means the world to them.

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