(Mother Nature Network) -- If cleaning at your house means trading dust bunnies for billowing pillows of pet hair, it may be time to step up your grooming routine.
An unseasonably warm winter in most parts of the country also means that the fleas and ticks will be in full force this summer, and grooming is one more way you can regularly check your pet for issues. Try these grooming tools to keep your pets in top shape from nose to tail.
Slicker brush: These flat brushes typically feature fine, stainless steel bristles that help remove dead hair, mats and tangles from a pet's coat.
Victoria Park, owner of Park Pet Supply in Atlanta, says self-cleaning varieties get top billing during this time of the year, particularly for long-haired dogs. Regardless of which version you choose, regular brushing is essential if you want to fight shedding and tackle tangles before they get worse.
"Grooming is so much more important once it does get hot," says mobile pet groomer Michael Bryant of Snazzy-Pet USA in Atlanta. "To help an animal stay cool, you don't always have to shave them down. You can also increase the grooming frequency."
Brush dogs before bath time or your daily stroll around the neighborhood. Cats also need regular grooming, and Bryant recommends starting early so they get acclimated to the process. Cats have much thinner skin than dogs — and cat bites can cause more harm, so it pays to proceed with caution.
"It's crucial to keep a cat calm during grooming," he says. "A cat can make itself very, very sick during the grooming process, especially geriatric cats. I can't stress enough how important it is to maintain that animal's state of calm — with no jerky movement, no sudden noises, nothing that makes a cat agitated; and start when they are young."
Groomer Philip Hendricks of Preferred Pet Grooming recommends creating a routine that begins with brushing and ends with a bath. Use that time to examine your pet.
"Grooming is not just for aesthetics," says Hendricks, who grooms at The Ark Animal Hospital in Atlanta and often alerts veterinarians when he detects health issues. "During this time of year, feel around and make sure there are no ticks or parasites on the animal."
Toothbrush: In her column for WebMD, Dr. Ann Hohenhaus ranked dental disease among the top five health issues facing American pets. Regular tooth brushing — for cats and dogs — reduces the risk for periodontal disease as well as costly dental procedures. A $6 pet toothbrush and some peanut butter-flavored toothpaste can be much more fun than spending $400 to $1,000 on a vet bill.
Dr. Louise Murray of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises brushing at least three times a week. Bryant recommends enzymatic toothpaste specifically formulated for pets to help get the job done.
"Once you stop the actual brushing, the enzyme will still be working," he says. "For a dog that doesn't like teeth brushing, you can take your finger or a finger toothbrush and rub that toothpaste across their teeth."
Dematting rakes: Bryant and Park consider dematting combs or rakes essential tools of the grooming trade. With use, you can prevent tangles and mats from getting worse. "The mats will only get tighter against the dog's skin," Bryant warns. "Once that happens, dirt, bacteria and possibly parasites can get mixed up in that mat and it can become nasty, tangled, often smelly and — in worse cases — even oozy."
Long-haired breeds such as Maltese and shih tzus are prone to mats, making regular brushing essential. Once the mats set in, you risk hurting a dog or cat during grooming, so a good offense is the best defense.
Curry comb: Hendricks grew up grooming horses on a farm. Tools like the curry comb got frequent use during the spring. Many of those tools are now part of his pet-grooming arsenal. Short-haired pets like my Lulu benefit from regular grooming sessions with a curry comb, which can help loosen dirt and hair before a bath. Those nubby rubber bristles also keep short coats shiny while gently massaging your pet's skin.
Shedding blade: It may look and sound like a torture device, but shedding blades are essential tools to help remove dead, loose hair. A few rounds with this tool mean fewer stray hairs on your clothes or clogging your drain. Park recommends it for long or short-haired pets.
Furminator or fine-toothed comb: If your pet sheds heavily, consider regular grooming with a fine-toothed comb, particularly before bath time. The Furminator, a line of fine-toothed combs created by professional groomer Angie Porter, has gained a cult-like following among pet owners for its ability to remove a pet's undercoat with little fuss.
"It actually does significantly reduce shedding," Bryant says. "It really helps cut down on the shedding and gets rid of dead hair on the dog's coat."
Compared to most grooming tools, the Furminator isn't cheap. Most products in the line top $35. If price is a factor, consider scheduling bath time at do-it-yourself facilities that stock Furminators for clients. Park also steers customers to less expensive variations from companies such as Shed Magic.
Nail clippers: Keep those nails trimmed, especially if you have a cat that likes to climb or a dog that jumps on houseguests. Bryant notes that nail growth can vary based on the animal, so ask your groomer or vet when it's best to trim. As a general rule, he tells owners of long-haired dogs to grab the clippers when they see fur growing between the pads of the animal's feet. To avoid the risk of injury to you or the pet, try to keep animals calm during nail trimming sessions. If the process creates too much drama, leave it to the pros.
Regardless of what tools you choose, be sure to incorporate grooming into your regular pet care routine this summer. It can lead to less expensive sessions with professional groomers.
"Bathing and being able to brush and care for a dog is part of companion dog training," Hendricks says. "It helps you maintain a rapport with the animal; otherwise those grooming sessions are a shock for them and a hassle for you."
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