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Baths and brushings are great, but your pup's eyes, ears, teeth, and toes need special care too. Here are the essentials.

If you've adopted an adult or older dog who isn't used to being groomed, start by gently handling her legs, feet, mouth, ears, and head several times a day for a few weeks. Most dogs will come around to this kind of handling once they get used to it.

Out of Sight

Some dogs have periodic discharge at the inner corners of their eyes. And if this runny goo isn't removed, it can irritate your dog's skin. To clean your dog's eyes, simply moisten a cotton ball or washcloth with warm water and gently remove any discharge. A moistened baby toothbrush is gentle enough to remove dried debris from the hair near the eyes.

If you notice a lot of discharge or if it's thick and greenish or yellowish, call your veterinarian. These signs could indicate an eye irritation, known as conjunctivitis, or an infection.

Listen Up

Check your dog's ears once a week. If they look dirty, moisten several cotton balls with mineral oil, alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide. Lift each earflap and wipe the skin folds and any visible parts of the ear. Never insert anything into her ear canal.

If your dog's ears smell bad or ooze thick, dark brown, or yellow-green discharge, she could have an ear infection. Call your veterinarian if you see any of this yucky stuff.

Grin and Brush It

Periodontal disease can be as big a problem for your pet as it can be for people, so make a daily tooth brushing part of your canine friend's routine.

Before you grab the brush and make for her molars, make sure you both feel comfortable with the toothbrushing process.

Get your dog used to having her mouth handled by gently massaging her lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day. Gradually move your finger into her mouth until you can massage her gums and teeth. This adjustment may take several weeks, so be patient.

Once she's comfortable with this routine, you can introduce a toothbrush. A soft child's toothbrush, a dog toothbrush, or even a washcloth or piece of gauze will work. Always wash your hands before and after handling your dog's mouth.

Using circular or back-and-forth motions, brush the surfaces of your dog's teeth and gums next to her cheeks. This is where most of the tartar and plaque accumulate. Wipe her teeth with a clean, damp cloth to rinse.

Only use a toothpaste formulated for dogs or a mixture of baking soda and water. Never use human toothpaste; dogs can't spit and the toothpaste will upset your dog's stomach if she swallows it.

Your dog may resist letting you clean the inner surfaces of her teeth. Don't force the issue; very little tartar accumulates there anyway.

Fend off plaque by choosing a dry food, offering her hard, crunchy treats, and providing her with pet plaque-fighting chew toys.

Happy Feet

If you have a medium or longhaired dog, you'll need to trim the hair between her nails and pads. These small spaces can trap and hide tiny mats, fleas, and debris. Blunt-tip baby fingernail scissors work well, or ask your groomer to trim these little hairs during your pet's next session.

All dogs, regardless of coat length, need their feet washed periodically to remove trapped dirt, especially after vigorous outdoor play. Clean your dog's feet and toes with a washcloth and warm water, or make careful foot cleaning part of your pooch's regular bath time.

These simple health precautions can help you and your pet avoid bigger and more costly problems down the road.

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