Looking Good

Proper grooming not only keeps small pets looking and smelling their best, it can also help keep them healthy and feeling their best.


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In the human world, good grooming is associated with a neat, agreeable appearance and a pleasant smell. The same is true in the animal world, where grooming is also associated with good health. Retailers should seize every opportunity to educate their small-animal customers on the benefits of proper grooming and the tools they need to care for their pets. Educating small-pet owners about grooming will not only help to keep their pets healthy, but will also encourage the sale of grooming products.

Many small-animal owners don’t know the proper way to groom their pets. Some are afraid they will accidentally hurt their pets by clipping a toenail too short or pulling the skin while combing long fur, and some don’t know how to safely restrain their pets. Retailers can offer these customers much needed guidance.

To start, retailers should encourage customers to see grooming as an extension of a petting session and a time for owner and pet to bond. Instruct pet owners to hold the pet on their lap, rather than putting it up on a table. This will relax both the pet and owner, and set the tone for stress-free grooming. Grooming can also be done a little at a time, instead of all at once–an owner can clip just one toenail or foot at a time, or brush only part of the body each time.

The use of treats is an important key to making grooming pleasurable for both pet and owner. The animal can be given a treat before grooming starts and several treats during grooming, and it’s especially valuable to give a treat afterward to create a pleasant memory that will carry over to the next grooming session.

The grooming area should be brightly lit. This is especially important when trimming toenails to avoid cutting the quick. Using some sort of magnifying glass can also be vital, especially for those of us who are getting older.

The pet owner can also take advantage of this time by conducting a brief health examination of their pet. This includes feeling all over for abnormal lumps or scabs, and looking at and smelling the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.The first sign of infection is usually a foul odor.

Grooming products to carry in the small animal department include shampoos and conditioners, brushes and combs, and toenail trimmers. Retailers can check with suppliers for products specifically made for different species. There are more shampoos, conditioners and other cleaning products for ferrets than any other small pet, so there is a wide variety from which to choose. Customers tend to have different preferences for fragrances, so the shelves should offer at least a few fragrance choices. In addition to shampoos, there are also products such as deodorizing wipes, stain removers and ear cleansing pads marketed for small animals. Ferrets also need their teeth cleaned, and there are a variety of dental products for them, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental wipes and dental rinse.


Grooming Tools
When selling brushes and combs, the general rule is that the longer the hair, the more space there should be between the tines of the comb or bristles of the brush. For long-haired animals, a comb usually works better than a brush. Even animals with short hair need a comb or brush that can reach down through the fur to the skin. Brushes with tightly packed bristles are only suitable for animals with very short dense coats without an undercoat. 

A scissors-type toenail trimmer marketed for cats and birds tends to work best for small animals. Retailers should also stock styptic products, which stop the bleeding if a nail is cut too short.

Customers can be educated about grooming either in a class, or in a personalized demo when they bring their pets into the store. Retailers can put together a grooming kit in a box or caddy stocked with the appropriate tools for each species, including treats. Retailers can also hand out animal-specific grooming-supply check-lists.


Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.

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