By Randy Kidd, DVM, PhD
From the perspective of a holistic vet, when it comes to grooming, the closer we can come to an animal's natural ways, the healthier it will be for them. So the first grooming practice I'll discuss—and one I believe is the best—is a good, whole-body brushing.
Brushing mimics the naturally cleansing action of an animal's tongue and paws as they lick and scratch away the day's accumulation of hairy tangles and knots. A good daily brushing also gets us "hands-on" with the healthy aspects of the skin, letting us get an early-on feel for any disease process that may be beginning and helping us to enhance our pet's innate immune systems and healing processes. In addition, hands-on activities such as brushing are the perfect way for us to trigger and reinforce all the healthy aspects of the human-animal bond.
How important is care of your pet's skin? An animal's skin is its largest organ, and much more than a simple protective layer that keeps the inside in and the outside out. Healthy skin produces: cells that create a flexible layer of protection; an environment that fosters the growth of beneficial bacteria; and, when needed, a rapid growth of cells that heals skin lesions (sometimes referred to as "uploading" of the skin cells).
The skin's glands produce an oily substance that, in addition to adding sheen to the hair coat, helps to keep unhealthy or pathogenic bacteria at bay, while enhancing the skin's naturally beneficial bacteria. It also works to activate vitamin D from the sun, which in turn helps with calcium metabolism.
An animal's skin plays an active role in immunity, as well. Specialized skin cells (dendrites) are actually modified nerve cells that have the capability of interacting with whatever external stimuli the animal receives and take this received information directly into the lymphocytes, the animal's inner core of immune function.
Finally, healthy skin literally teems with beneficial bacteria, which help to maintain the animal's whole-body health by keeping any potential disease-causing bacteria at bay.
As a regular grooming activity, brushing does the most to promote healthy skin, but there's no big secret to how to brush. You simply brush with the lay of the hair, and use whatever type of brush your pet seems to enjoy the most. Some critters like the wire brushes best and others prefer a softer bristle, but either will be effective, so long as they are used frequently. Puppies and kittens quickly learn the pleasures of a good grooming. Some pets may need a little time to get used to the daily grooming routine, so for them, take it slow at first and make grooming a fun time, coupled with rewards.
The simple act of brushing our pet's hair enhances all the healthy functions of their skin: promoting the uploading function of skin cells, activating skin glands, and enhancing immune function. There are benefits for us, too. As we brush and rub our pets with our hands, we receive the advantage of an enhanced immune function as well, not to mention mental relaxation.