Keeping it Clean: Hygiene for Comfort Care

An aging or ill pet may need help keeping themselves clean and dry. Reduced mobility, chronic illness, and incontinence can all contribute to hygiene problems.

Susan Schmitz / Shutterstock

Why does hygiene matter?

  • A particular animal’s innate sense of dignity may be affected by hygiene problems. Cats, in particular, are normally very fastidious. Some dogs hate to soil themselves, or know that it makes their humans unhappy if they have an accident in the house or on themselves.
  • Unpleasant odors may mean that the pet doesn’t get to spend as much quality time with the family.
  • Chronic moisture on the skin can lead to sores and infections.
  • Urine can irritate or burn sensitive skin.
  • Pests may be attracted to discharge, urine, or feces on the coat or bedding.
  • Matted fur can cause discomfort if mats are close to the skin, and can trap bacteria and waste material in the coat.

What to do

Large male dog wearing washable dog diaper around waist.
A washable male dog diaper (for urine only). Many brands, colors, and sizes are available.
  • Gentle cleaning of fur and skin should be performed as often as necessary. Deodorizing dog or cat wipes or unscented baby wipes, or a clean cloth dampened with waterless dog shampoo or a solution of 1:20 hydrogen peroxide, can all be used to remove waste and discharge, or just help with routine maintenance of a short coat, without the need for a full bath.
  • Especially for pets that are immobile, well padded bedding with an absorbent layer next to their skin is an absolute must. Washable or disposable puppy pads, fleece, or cotton towels all work. The layer underneath should be removable, washable and waterproof.
  • Diapers made specifically for dogs, either washable or disposable, may work for incontinence, but they must be changed every few hours. For large dogs, the holding capacity can be increased by inserting one or two incontinence pads made for people. Clean and dry the skin and fur when changing a wet diaper.
  • Some cats enjoy light stroking with a toothbrush dipped in 1:20 hydrogen peroxide. It’s thought that the brush simulates being groomed by another cat.
  • Check often for areas of redness, moisture, heat, discharge, or foul odors, and talk to your vet immediately if you notice any. Skin folds and the areas around the anus and urethra are common places for infection to fester unseen.
  • For longer haired pets, clipping the fur short (don’t use scissors!) around problem areas can be helpful.

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