Pet Grooming: Notes for Newcomers
by T. J. Dunn, Jr. DVM
Part 2 of 2 – refer HERE for Part I
Topics To Know
I’ll explain a few terms and health conditions you most certainly will encounter in your grooming career. You must be thoroughly familiar with what is normal before you can discern the deviations that would be termed abnormal. Dog shows and grooming expos are a great source for observation of what is generally considered normal, plus your everyday interaction with your own or friends’ pets will provide a good baseline for your concept of normal physical structure and movement.
Skin and Coat
Groomers, by the very nature of the profession, have the best opportunity to evaluate the character of pets’ skin and coat. Using your senses of touch, vision, and smell, you will be able to detect deviations from a “healthy skin and coat,” and these changes should be noted in the pet’s chart and personally conveyed to the pets’ owners.
Let’s define “healthy skin and coat” so we’re clear about what is considered “normal.” Don’t confuse “normal” with “common.” Every day in my practice I see pets that have unhealthy skin and coats (usually due to improper nutrition) – so less than optimum is actually quite “common.” I’ve often thought a normal skin/coat condition was actually quite uncommon! Using your senses of touch, vision and smell you will begin to recognize the character of a “normal” or “healthy” skin and coat.
Normal touch: There will be a soft texture to the hairs and even in wiry coats such as in Airedales the character of the coat should be pliable and smooth.
Abnormal touch: The coat will be made up of dry, coarse, brittle hairs, some broken off, some very fine. The coat may be sparse and thinning or short and underdeveloped.
Normal appearing skin/coat: The skin will have a clean look to it and be free of scales, scabs and crusts. The coat should appear full, almost lustrous and have a soft look to it.
Abnormal appearing skin/coat: The skin will appear thin, dry and scaly or greasy. The coat will appear dull, lusterless or even dusty. It will have no “shine” to it and will have a harsh appearance.
Normal skin/coat: A healthy skin and coat won’t have any smell to it. And even when dirty, will smell like whatever is making it dirty.
Abnormal skin/coat: An unhealthy skin and coat will have a rancid, oily odor; the odor is caused by superficial skin bacteria and their waste products breaking down the oils on the skin.
All skin surfaces have colonies of bacteria present. But an unhealthy skin surface harbors too many of the wrong kinds of bacteria. That is why many veterinarians recommend weekly shampoos with benzoyl peroxide for some dogs with chronic bacterial dermatitis. These types of shampoos keep bacterial numbers to a minimum.
The single most important determining factor in the healthy skin/coat equation is proper NUTRITION. No matter what else may be adversely affecting the skin/coat, such as allergies, infections, harsh environment, or parasites, the problem will be worse in a dog that is only barely meeting its nutrient requirements. And skin/coat problems are always less severe and occur less often in well nourished pets. Dogs and cats are primarily meat eaters. They will act, feel and look their best if fed a diet whose first ingredient listed on the pet food label is MEAT, POULTRY or FISH. Diets that are based on grains such as corn will not properly nourish dogs and cats.
Always recommend to the customer that they seek a veterinarian’s advice if you suspect a pet may have a nutritional deficiency. And here’s a hint… emphasize the words “may have“. If you don’t, I guaranteed you that the veterinarian will hear your client say “The groomer says that Fritzie has a nutritional deficiency” and you will erroneously be accused of making a medical diagnosis. So be sure the customer understands that you are making an observation and merely suggesting that the owners may be helping their pet by having a veterinarian check something out.
The entire field of pet health nutrition is now only beginning to recognize the value and function of meat-based (poultry, beef, lamb, fish) diets. Many well known brands of dog and cat foods that have been around for years and whose foundation (the first listed ingredient on the label) is a grain such as corn, wheat, barley, or rice simply do not provide the health enhancing nutrients that meat-based diets provide. As a professional groomer your suggestions to the pet owner carries remarkable credibility. It is your obligation on behalf of the pet and as a pet health care professional to become familiar with high quality diets. Most veterinarians have had only superficial training in pet nutrition and often that training has been provided by representatives of various dog food companies.
Always note on your client chart what the pet is being fed. If you detect a less than optimum skin/coat condition, be sure to discuss with the owner your concerns about the pets nutritional status. You might even suggest some nutrition counseling with a local veterinarian who has a genuine interest in nutrition. Remember… if a pet doesn’t look good, it probably doesn’t feel good.
Shedding is not necessarily abnormal. Even if you can grab clumps of fur and remove them from the pet this hair loss can be normal. Nearly every day in my practice someone brings in a dog that is losing “tons” of fur and the owner wants to know what’s wrong because it has never done this before.
As long as the skin looks healthy and there remains a reasonably dense coat where those “clumps” are coming out, and there are no bald spots showing up, the exuberant shedding is probably normal. Even in northern climates many outdoor dogs will shed in December or January. Indoor dogs might shed anytime or even all the time. Hormones, environmental conditions, nutritional status and probably factors yet to be discovered all play a role in the cycle of growth, rest, and fall-out of each individual hair shaft.
For a great selection of high quality pet food AND their ingredient lists, spend some time at PetFoodDirect.com. This website is a great resource for pet food information and contains detailed lists of pet food brand ingredient lists.
By far the most common medical ailment I see in my practice is “OTITIS. ” The root causes of ear trouble can run the full spectrum… from contact irritants such as occurs from soaps, pollens, grass or carpeting, to infectious organisms such as yeast and bacteria, to parasites such as fleas and ear mites. Veterinarians further generally classify OTITIS as externa, media, interna depending upon which areas of the entire auditory system is affected. As a groomer you will see many cases of OTITIS externa and these will generally be either allergic otitis externa or microbial otitis externa.
Allergic otitis displays itself as reddened, inflamed ear tissues that feel warm (or even hot!) to the touch. These cases tend to be dry, and have only a mild odor with minimal build-up of wax, pus and debris. An allergic ear really looks red and inflamed.
On the other hand (or other ear!) infected ears – microbial otitis – because of the damage the bacteria and yeast are doing to the tissues of the ear, the ear canal and other affected tissues become moist and purulent (the medical term for pus.) That ear canal is a perfect incubator for microorganisms… dark, most, warm with a good supply of nutrients! If that ear canal sounds wet upon manipulation and has a foul odor, there is certain to be an infection present.
Always check with a veterinarian before plucking hairs from any ear structures that seem to be infected. Sometimes the ear problem requires sedation and cleaning. And chronic, severe cases of infected and scarred ear tissues often respond well to surgery to open up the canal for better exposure to the drying effects of air. Be sure to mention to the pet’s owner to have the ears checked if you suspect Otitis is present. The longer it goes on, whether it’s allergic or infectious, the more scar tissue forms and the more difficult it is to cure. And simple ear cleaners that work well to clean the waxy or oily ears won’t touch an infection and may further irritate allergic ears.
Shaving the hairs close with a #40 blade can be of help (keep that blade flat to the skin surface – not at an angle!). If the ear structures have a buildup of crusts or debris, eliminating the hair prevents the hairs from trapping the exudate and allows better contact of medications and facilitates the drying effects of air. So, in general, removing hair from infected tissues can be helpful. (Don’t forget to disinfect the instruments frequently!)
The nails are a good indicator of the pet’s general state of health. Crooked, dry, cracking or pitted nails are a tip-off that the dog may have a fungal infection or be poorly nourished.
If you see abnormal nails, be especially watchful for areas on the skin where there may be circular, dry patches of hair loss. The dog or cat may have “ringworm”, a fungal infection (called dermatophyte), that requires oral medication to correct. I am always concerned about any pet’s diet, environment, or immune system whenever I diagnose a fungal skin infection, especially when the nails are also involved. What you see externally may indicate an internal abnormality in the pet. And treatment entails discovering why the nails are diseased in the first place. Treating diseased toenails may extend over a few months.
And it is very important to notify a veterinarian if there is any pus or bleeding from the nail bed. Be cautions yourself NEVER to get any bloody, purulent (pus) discharge into contact with a cut or scratch on yourself. A serious fungal disease of dogs and humans called Blastomycosis often will show up first a draining lesion at the toenail bed.
See how to trim nails here. We’ve all cut nails too short. Of the thousands I’ve made bleed I’ve never seen one get infected. I prefer the Quick Stop powder as a coagulant, but there are other quite satisfactory methods to arrest the bleeding. A healthy dog’s toenail should clot on its own within 5-6 minutes, any longer than that warrants laboratory tests and veterinary analysis for clotting factors!
If you see large or overgrown nails (Bassets, Dobes and some small breeds like Pekes come to mind) that simple trimming won’t provide proper nail set, have a veterinarian take a look. The dog may require a “deep pedicure” under anesthesia to cut the toe nails back close.
Broken nails need to be trimmed back to the fracture site, then a coagulant applied. Pulled nails, ones that have been torn from the nail bed and all you see is a bloody circle at the end of the toe, do require a veterinary check. Antibiotics may be indicated. I’ve had to amputate many toes where a chronic deep infection invaded the toe bones and simply would not heal… all because of a pulled nail.
As a groomer you will have numerous opportunities to help your subjects by pointing out abnormalities to the owner or veterinarian. Probably the most common disorder you’ll see will be Epiphora – excessive tearing. There are so many causes for the tears draining down the face that chapters could be written on just this topic! Here’s where your penlight comes in handy. Darken the room and shine the light along the edges of the eyelids and look for tiny eyelashes growing along the edges of the lids. If these tiny lashes are contacting the eye, there is the potential for serious corneal damage. Report this condition, called distichiasis, to the owner or veterinarian. Often the tiny openings, one in the inside corner of all four lids, will be under-developed or plugged up. Tear duct obstruction sometimes can be alleviated by using small amounts of an antibiotic called tetracycline. A veterinarian can evaluate tear duct flow under anesthesia.
Numerous other disorders such as entropion (rolling inward of the lid), follicular conjunctivitis, facial folds, or long hairs contacting the eye can predispose the dog to excessive or misdirected tears resulting in chronic wetness and a mucoid, crusty build-up on the face.
Clipping the hairs short if possible will make clean up or application of medication easier. Remember, though, to advise the owner to have the underlying cause determined by a veterinarian. And please help to dispel the myth that dogs with lots of hair falling in front of the eyes, such as OESD’s and Shih Tzus, must have their eyes shaded or excessive light will make them go blind. They most certainly can see better, and the light does not cause blindness, if all that hair is kept away from their eyes.
Inform the owner if you see cataracts in the eyes. Darken the room and shine your penlight directly into the front of the eye and look over the top of the light (as if you were aiming the light into the eye.) Deep in the very center of the eye the light passes through the pupil (the circular opening made by the colored part of the eye called the iris.) Just behind the pupil is the lens and the light should pass unreflected through the lens to the back part of the eye called the retina. If you see a milky or hazy object or reflective particles where the lens is, the dog may have some vision problems and you should let the owner know.
Be very careful about scratches on the corneas. Click here to see what can happen when the corneal surface is abraded. Pekes, Boston Terriers and other breeds whose eyes seem to be bulging out of the socket are especially prone to receiving abrasions on the cornea. Tearing and squinting are the most likely signals of corneal abrasions, and sometimes with the penlight directed at an angle, the abrasion or ulcer on the cornea is visible. Veterinarians will use a stain to highlight these areas.
Corneal lesions may result from soap or other irritants contacting the eye; plus, the dog’s attempts to wipe the eye with its paws can cause further harm. Applying muzzles, wire brushes, using clippers too close to the eye, rubbing against the grooming noose or sprays such as clipper lubes can all be sources of corneal irritation and abrasion.
It’s a good idea to have a sterile eye wash solution at the ready if you suspect the dog’s eye was subject to any irritant. Gentle flushing with sterile ocular wash such as Sterile Saline can help to rid the eye of irritants, but if you suspect a scratch or abrasion is present… it’s time to see the veterinarian.
Oh, brother! Now you’ve really done it! While cutting that tiny mat behind the ear or trying an awkward underneath, backhand, reverse scissor cut you slice a neat little crescent shaped incision into the pet’s skin.
If you’re lucky, it won’t bleed. But you should try to close the cut temporarily with surgical glue called Nexaban until the veterinarian can examine it. Your veterinarian can order Nexaban for you. Put a drop into the wound, pinch the skin back to its normal position and hold it for three seconds.
The veterinarian may decide a few stitches are necessary – but maybe the glue will be all that’s required. Be sure to call the owner to explain what happened right away. Don’t wait until they come for pick-up to inform them. You may have just performed a grooming at no charge if you want to keep them as clients. It’s not a bad idea to call your veterinarian for advice about using the glue or stopping any bleeding – the owner will appreciate the fact that you called. You should offer to pay for the veterinary bill, too, if you ever want to see these clients again. If there seems to be a significant bleeding problem, and even tiny cuts along the pinna margins are notorious for splashing crimson all over – direct pressure to the cut will halt the flow as long as you keep up the pressure.
CLIPPER BURNS/CLIPPER ABRASIONS
Every successful and competent groomer on occasion has had an experience where a few days after grooming a dog it develops an extremely itchy, moist, scabby area that drives the dog and the owner crazy. These skin sores are often called Hot Spots. Hot spots (also called Moist Eczema) result from trauma to the skin surface either from a clipper blade scratch or from contact with a hot blade. A true “clipper burn” is a skin lesion that can occur due to a hot clipper blade contacting the skin. A Clipper Abrasion is an actual scratching of the skin surface from holding the blade at the wrong angle to the skin or from using the wrong sized blade. The most common site for this problem is along the cheekbone and on the cheek. Hot Spots (moist eczema) requires repeated cleansing and often oral antibiotics to hasten its resolution. Be especially careful with the clippers around the cheeks, it’s just possible the sharp points on the blades are creating tiny scratches that become irritated or infected, then the dog scratches the area compounding the skin trauma and shortly after that you get a call from the owner! This condition should be checked by a veterinarian. And don’t be discouraged if you loose a client because of “clipper burns”… whoever they take the dog to next has had their share too! You won’t know when it happens, but you’ll find out a few days later. As in any worthwhile endeavor, the fruits of your hard work will be recognized by customer satisfaction. You will have lots of repeat customers! And they will tell their friends. Your success will result in no small measure from your professional and knowledgeable assessment of the mental and physical and nutritional well-being of the pets entrusted to your care. Be observant, take good notes, and don’t be reluctant to advise your clients about proper pet health care. Groomers are a vital link in the pet health care chain.
NOTE: Hot spots can result from inadequate rinsing, too. If any shampoo is not rinsed away completely and remains in contact with the skin for an extended period of time, a local skin infection can result. The solution: Rinse thoroughly and dry the entire skin and coat before sending the dog home!
It is a good idea to open the dog’s mouth and check the teeth and gums. Be sure to pull the corner of the mouth back in order to visualize the molars. It’s quite easy to detect oral problems by visualizing bleeding gums, chunks of brown plaque on the teeth or loose teeth and an odor that will knock you over! You’ll be shocked at how many dogs have severe gum inflammation and infection (Gingivitis), loose teeth or even occasionally have cavities. A healthy oral cavity is vital to the pet’s optimum health. You will be doing the pet and owner a great service by suggesting a veterinary check-up for dentistry. You’d be surprised how many veterinarians overlook a thorough oral exam. Dental hygiene is a very important topic and unfortunately it is often overlooked by veterinarians and groomers.
Dogs and cats are potentially dangerous. You must watch closely how the dog and owner interact and heed any warnings the owner may give you about such things as “Don’t touch her near her hips or she’ll bite” or “He doesn’t like quick movements near his ears.” Of course you will need to work on and around those areas but the owner knows something about that animal’s protected areas, and you need to pick up on that hint, so pay attention. Have bite proof gloves handy. Also a large fishing net can be very helpful in restraining a small dog or cat that has “freaked out” in a panic of anxiety or aggression. The net is safe for the pet and you will be able to regain control of the fearful subject. A number of muzzle styles and sizes are available and there will be times when you will need one.
Here’s a helpful hint: If you have a pet that you feel is dangerous to you or anyone around your facility, you DO NOT have to groom it. If in your judgment you do not feel safe working with the pet, call the owner and relate in non critical terms the simple fact that you cannot risk injury and loose time from work if their pet hurts you. You might also state that despite attempts on your part, their pet will not tolerate the things you need to do in order to have a satisfied customer and a good job of grooming done. You will get one of two reactions:
1.) “Well, I really didn’t think you would be able to handle him. You are the fourth groomer who has had trouble. I’m sorry; I’ll come and get him.”
2.) “What are you talkin’ about? You must have scared him; he’s never acted like that at any other groomers’. You aren’t going to charge me anything, are you?”
Be very certain that you are aware of the State laws regarding use of insecticides and their disposal. Be careful about slipping on wet floors, about straining your back, about flat feet, about hairs penetrating under your fingernails, electrical shocks, hearing protection, eye trauma, fires, floods and hurricanes! Gosh, maybe working in a Library would be a good career choice.
Never… let me repeat, NEVER let a pet get out of your control. If you want to create an event that will burn into your memory for a lifetime just allow a pet to roam freely about your grooming facility. Eventually someone will open the wrong doors at the wrong time and the pet will disappear out the door and across the interstate. What will you tell the owner? It will not be somebody else’s fault. It will be your fault.
Continuous, gentle and secure restraint should be on your mind all the time. Be exceedingly careful about any pet who is on the grooming table; this should be considered a hazardous area for the pet. The grooming arm should have a loop with a quick release in case you need to disconnect the pet quickly. Never leave a room where a pet is unattended on the grooming table; make it a firm habit to place the pet into a cage every single time you have to leave the grooming room.
And when placing the pet into a cage be sure of your grip. Dogs and cats often anticipate your placement and jump at the last second. This can lead to an uncertain landing. (I worked at an animal hospital where a dog broke his leg in one such unlikely landing!) A sure grip will prevent an unexpected escape from your control.
Take precautions whenever you are clipping, scissoring or brushing near the eyes. I’ve seen some very scary near-misses with those wire brushes whizzing past the open eyes of pets. Cutting mats from a cat or dog takes patience and you will be very surprised when you slice a crescent shape gash into a pet just below that tight fur mat. Eye, ear, skin and secure restraint precautions should always be priorities.
Other than being very noisy, which you can’t help, be certain that safety procedures are noted regarding temperature control and electrical connections. And be certain that the pet is thoroughly dry before it goes home. Just a little soapy moisture on the skin can lead to moist eczema, known as a (hot spot). Watch the pet for any signs of discomfort or anxiety and don’t leave the dryer on any longer than needed.
Part 2 of 2 – refer HERE for Part I
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