Grooming your Papillon – Basics on Coat, Nail, and Teeth Care for your Papillon dog

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Papillons" by Tarah Schwartz. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Tarah Schwartz

Coat Basics

Papillons are a single-coated breed, which means that they do not have the heavy undercoat common to breeds such as Huskies and Golden Retrievers. Their long, silky coat has the appearance of being difficult to care for, but Papillons are rather low maintenance in terms of their grooming needs. The breed rarely has that “doggie” odor found in other types of dog.

Amanda Vidrine of Earth Angels Papillons describes the breed as moderate shedders. She says, “It is worse in the spring when the dogs are getting rid of the thick winter coat. Brushing at this time helps a great deal. It does get bad again in the late summer/early fall to prepare for the winter, but it is not as bad as in the spring.” She also advises, ”Females that are not spayed may have shedding after a heat cycle, so I recommend spaying a female that is bought as a pet. Her coat will come in nicely and be more stable.”

Bathing and Brushing

Papillons are relatively easy to care for in that they require very little as far as grooming. Although more frequent brushing may be needed at certain times during the year, most Papillon owners find success with weekly brushing. Be sure to focus on the dog’s ear fringe, the insides of the hind legs, and the long hair on the back of the thighs, commonly known as “culottes.” These areas tend to have softer, finer hair that mats more easily. During times of heavier shedding, you may find that brushing every day or even every other day will help to minimize the hair found throughout your house. Some Papillons have a tendency to mat more quickly during seasonal shedding, so more frequent brushing can also help prevent mats from developing out of the dead hair.

Papillon bathing
Photo Courtesy – Matt Glaser

When brushing your Papillon, the right tool will make the job easier and you and your Papillon will come to enjoy this time together. A slicker brush can be a great addition to your toolbox. These wire brushes work well with the breed’s silky soft coat. Use caution when using the slicker brush, however, as too much pressure can scratch your dog’s skin. Try to get through the whole coat, down to the skin, without scratching or scraping your Papillon’s delicate skin. Metal combs are excellent for double-checking your work. You can comb down to the skin without having to worry as much about scratching. Brushing down to the skin is essential to removing all tangles from the coat and preventing mats from developing. If you notice a tangle or mat and your dog resists brushing, try holding the coat close to the skin with one hand while brushing with the other. This way you aren’t pulling on your Papillon’s hair. If a mat is too big and difficult to brush out, it’s okay to cut it out. It’s better to remove this small amount of hair before it causes larger problems. Use round-tipped scissors and extreme caution when cutting out a mat. If in doubt, your local groomer would be happy to help you with mat removal.

Papillons are relatively low-odor dogs and do not require frequent bathing. Most breeders recommend bathing every three to four weeks. Bathing too frequently can dry out the skin and coat, causing dandruff and itching. Infrequent bathing can also cause skin problems due to the buildup of dirt and natural oils on the skin.

There are many types of shampoo available depending on your dog’s needs and your own preferences. Many companies make gentler puppy shampoos, while others focus on specific needs such as itchiness, odor control, or shedding. Look for a shampoo with more natural ingredients. The fewer chemicals in the product, the less likely it will be to cause skin irritation. Shampoos with more natural ingredients sometimes do not produce as many bubbles as shampoos with more artificial ingredients, but don’t worry, they are still getting the dog clean. If your Papillon gets his feet dirty or is not dirty enough to require a full bath, consider purchasing a waterless shampoo to keep him clean between baths. These products are usually sprayed on and wiped off along with the dirt and grime. They leave your dog smelling fresh without the hassle of a full bath.

Papillon show poseSome owners choose to follow the shampoo with the conditioner of their choice, but it’s not always necessary. If your dog is shedding heavily or matting frequently, an appropriate conditioner can help. If your dog has a soft, shiny, and healthy coat, a conditioner is not necessary. Leave-in spray conditioners are also great for detangling and conditioning the coat.

When you bathe your Papillon it’s important to wash down to the skin. If you wash only the top hair, the coat’s natural oils and dirt from the environment can cause irritation and mats. It can be difficult with long-haired breeds to get the shampoo down to the skin, so try parting the hair and shampooing in sections to ensure that each part of the dog is thoroughly cleaned. You also need to make sure that you don’t get any shampoo in the dog’s eyes or ears. If you’re worried about getting soap in your dog’s eyes, have some eye rinse on hand to quickly rinse out your dog’s eyes if necessary. Some groomers place cotton balls in the dog’s ears to prevent excess water from running into the ear canals. Just remember to remove the cotton balls when you’re done bathing. Rinsing is also essential in preventing skin irritation, so be sure to rinse your dog’s coat thoroughly. Professional groomers recommend rinsing your dog until you think the soap is gone, and then rinsing again. Make sure there are no traces of soap in your dog’s coat. Many Papillons enjoy being dried with a warm hair dryer, while others prefer a simply towel dry and a running lap through the house. If you do choose to dry your dog with a hair dryer, hold it far enough away from the dog that you do not burn him, or simply use the cool air setting if your dryer has one.

Trimming the Nails

There are two methods of trimming the nails, and both have their pros and cons. Using a traditional scissor-type nail clipper is the more popular method. Most Papillon owners find them easy to use and effective. Groomers do not generally recommend guillotine-style nail trimmers as they can crush the nail rather than cut it, which can lead to pain and resistance from the dog. The downside to traditional nail clippers is that it can be very easy to cut the nail too short. Cutting the dog’s “quick,” or the nail’s blood supply can be painful for the dog and messy. The other method to nail trimming is to use a grinder. Grinders allow you to take just a layer off at a time, reducing the risk of going too short. You are also able to round the edges of the nail, which can prevent your dog from scratching you, your family, and your furniture. They do require caution, as it is easy to get a Papillon’s long coat stuck in the spinning head of the grinder. Most grinders have an automatic shutoff when this happens, but it can still be painful for the dog and take out a good chunk of coat. Many dogs prefer one method over the other, so you may want to try both to see what you prefer.

Papillon outdoorHow often you trim your Papillon’s nails will depend on a few different factors. Many breeders and owners recommend trimming a dog’s nails every week, while others go two to three weeks between trims. Some owners even choose to trim nails monthly, along with the dog’s monthly bath. If you walk your dog on pavement a lot, you may not need to trim the nails very often, as the pavement will help wear the nails down. Some dogs’ nails also grow faster than others, so pay attention to how quickly your Papillon’s nails seem to grow and trim accordingly.

To trim your Papillon’s nails correctly, take a look at his nails and note where you see the “quick” or blood supply, and how far it descends into the nail. You want to avoid clipping this if possible. Having your dog on an elevated surface, such as a grooming table or countertop, can make the process easier, but be sure to keep a hand on your dog at all times to prevent him from jumping off. Regardless of whether you’re using clippers or a grinder, lift up your dog’s paw and brush back the paw hair to see the nail. See how far down the quick is and take just a small layer of the tip of the nail off at a time. If your dog stands politely, praise him and give him a reward if you’d like. By taking small layers off, you’re less likely to cut the quick than if you take larger pieces of the nail. Once you begin to notice a darker circle in the center of the end of the nail, you’ve nearly reached the quick and it’s time to move on to the next nail.

If you have any questions about nail trimming, ask your groomer or veterinarian for advice. If you’d rather not risk hurting your dog, or simply would rather not deal with it, take your Papillon to your local veterinary clinic or grooming shop. Nail trims are inexpensive, and most places offer the option of either a traditional clipper or grinder. The professionals are also more adept at handling difficult dogs, so if you are struggling to trim your dog’s nails, it may be best to consult a groomer or vet. If you are struggling with your dog’s behavior while trimming nails, it’s best to seek help sooner rather than later. The sooner your vet or groomer can begin teaching your dog how to stand patiently, the less work it will be for them, and the less stress it will be for your dog.

Brushing Their Teeth

Teeth brushing must be done on a daily basis to have any real effect on a dog’s dental health. With practice, this process can be quick and easy to do as part of your daily schedule. Daily brushing will help prevent plaque and tartar buildup on your Papillon’s teeth. Excess tartar can result in serious health conditions, so it’s important to take the necessary steps to keep your dog’s mouth as healthy as possible. The bacteria present in tartar can lead to inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis, and eventually to periodontal disease. Dogs with periodontal disease can experience pain, inability to eat, and even tooth loss if not treated. The bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and infect vital organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. However, with regular dental care at home and by your veterinarian, periodontal disease is easily preventable.

Papillon car window
Photo Courtesy – Danielle Rexroad

Your local pet store or favorite online retailer likely has a few different options for canine toothbrushes and toothpastes. Toothbrushes similar in shape to the ones you use work well, or there are small rubber brushes that fit nicely on the end of your finger. Just make sure to find one that is appropriate for a Papillon’s petite mouth. Toothpastes are usually available in a variety of flavors, but you must never use a toothpaste intended for human use. The ingredients in human toothpaste can be harmful to a dog, so if you don’t have any toothpaste on hand you may make a paste out of baking soda and water. You may also find certain types of toys and treats intended to help scrape plaque and tartar off your dog’s teeth. If your dog enjoys chewing on toys or treats, this can be a helpful addition to your dental care routine.

Even with daily brushing at home, your dog may still need to have a professional dental cleaning once in a while. Without daily at-home care, most veterinarians recommend a cleaning every 6-12 months. Your Papillon will undergo anesthesia for this procedure, but your vet will do a thorough health exam before the dental cleaning to ensure that your dog is healthy enough to proceed. It can be a worrisome time for caring owners, but with modern advances in veterinary medicine, anesthesia is incredibly safe and there is a low risk for problems in healthy animals.

Cleaning Ears and Eyes

Papillons are not particularly prone to ear infections, but the drop ears of the Phalène may cause more frequent ear problems. This is due to the ear leather covering the ear canal and restricting airflow. If a small amount of moisture enters the ear, such as during a bath or a swim, it can create the perfect environment for yeast and bacteria. To prevent infection, it’s best to clean your dog’s ears regularly. This should be done after every bath or swim. If you notice your dog itching his ears, or there is any redness or swelling, your dog may already have an infection. A simple trip to the vet for an examination and the appropriate medication will solve the problem.

Photo Courtesy – Elsa Rún Árnadóttir

There are many types of ear cleaner on the market, so your choice will mainly be based on personal preference. Your vet or groomer will be happy to recommend a specific cleaner for your dog’s individual needs if you’re having trouble choosing. Regardless of the brand, choose one that does not contain any alcohol. Alcohol can cause a burning sensation, especially with irritated or inflamed ears. Your dog will be much more cooperative if you don’t cause him any pain.

When cleaning your Papillon’s ears, wet a cotton ball in your chosen ear cleaner. Squeeze out any excess cleaner before inserting it into your dog’s ears. With your fingers, wipe around the opening of the ear canal and as far inside as you can reach without hurting your dog. As long as you are gentle, you will not damage your dog’s ear. Never use a cotton swab. If you are not careful or if your dog shakes his head, the cotton swab can penetrate your dog’s eardrum or cause serious injury. A Papillon’s ear is too small for your finger to be able to reach any important structures, so use only your fingers and a cotton ball. Your dog may shake his head or rub his ears on you or your furniture, so try to wipe any excess cleaner off with a dry cotton ball after cleaning both ears.

Some Papillons may develop tearstains beneath their eyes. This is common in the breed and does not pose any significant health risk. However, yeast can begin to grow in the damp fur, turning the hair red and creating an unpleasant odor. This area can be difficult to clean during baths because you don’t want to get shampoo in your dog’s eyes, but there are many different wipes and solutions that are safe for use around the eyes. Simply take a wipe or a cotton ball soaked in the solution and squeeze out the excess product. Gently wipe the area beneath your Papillon’s eyes, avoiding the eyes if possible. There are also various nutritional supplements on the market claiming to fix tearstains, but most Papillon owners have found mixed results with these products. It may work with some dogs, but unfortunately not all.

When Professional Help is Necessary

You don’t always need to be in a difficult situation to ask for help from a professional. Many Papillon owners simply don’t have the time or don’t have the desire to groom their dogs themselves. This does not make you a bad owner. In fact, it can be helpful with socialization and training to take your dog to the groomer on a regular basis. This accustoms your dog to being handled by strangers and spending time away from home. Groomers are also experts in the health of the dog’s skin and coat, so they are able to spot any potential problems that can be treated as soon as possible.

Groomers also know how to handle difficult dogs with a gentle hand, so if you are struggling with grooming, it’s best to ask for help sooner than later. Many groomers welcome difficult dogs because they know that after a few grooms, once dogs get to know them, they are usually much easier to handle. Dogs may be nervous about going to the groomer at first, but once they develop a relationship with their new friend, they are often excited to go in for their routine spa day.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Papillons" by Tarah Schwartz, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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