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Grooming and the Potential for Disaster

I spend a lot of time thinking about the unthinkable. If you offer grooming services, you should, too.


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Recently a dog died at a Petco during a regular grooming session in Midlothian, Va. The story hit social media, where it spread fast and far. If the report is true, what happened to that dog was absolutely unforgivable and, quite frankly, almost unthinkable.

If you provide grooming, you will have an injured animal at some point. It has nothing to do with being negligent, unskilled or uncaring. It has to do with the fact that very sharp instruments are being used around live animals that can do unexpected things at the wrong moment. How you handle an injury will to determine whether you have a viral Facebook posting condemning your business.

Establish protocols before an injury occurs so everyone knows exactly what to do—and quickly. If the injury goes beyond a minor scrape or cut, our local veterinarian, with whom we have a great relationship, look at it. He has seen our facility, met our staff and reviewed our new client form that authorizes us to act on an owner’s behalf, and he understands grooming and is unlikely to throw us under the bus with a customer. He also knows that we will pay the bill.

While the dog is at the vet, either my wife or I call the customer. We completely own the incident. Understand that you injured the animal—not the groomer. You are the business owner, and everything that happens within your four walls is your responsibility.

There was a picture making rounds on social media sites that showed a dog with a gash under its chin. My groomers completely understood how that injury could occur and it probably was not negligence. This injury went viral because nobody told the owner. The groomer put a bandanna on the dog, which is common practice. When the owner removed the bandanna later she went ballistic! 

Our protocol in a situation like that is to administer first aid and transport the dog to our veterinarian. Even if I know through experience that the vet really isn’t going to do anything because the wound isn’t bad and will heal, a veterinarian must make that decision. After the assessment by the vet, I call the client. If the vet assesses the wound, provides the proper care and says we can finish the grooming, I again contact the owner to ensure they’re comfortable with us finishing the grooming. If follow-up is required and clients prefer to go to their own vet, we make sure they have payment information from us. We document everything with photos, and if the client continues to come to us, we also document the healed injury. In 10 years we have only lost one client due to an injury.

 Most of the time injuries that occur will not require a vet visit. A more common injury is “clipper burn,” a term I hate. “Clipper irritation” is more accurate. The reddening that occurs from a clipper isn’t from a clipper blade that’s hot enough to burn a dog’s skin; in most cases it’s from sensitive skin being clipped closely (it can be due to a dull blade or many other reasons).

In many cases, clipper irritation shows up the next day or because the pet starts scratching and digging at a spot that feels uncomfortable, and then it turns into a red spot. If we think it’s going to happen or we notice it happening, we send a cream home with the client free of charge. We also will advise that if it doesn’t get better to go ahead and visit their veterinarian and we will pick up the tab. Education is your best advice in that situation. If clients know what happened and why, they won’t feel the need for a vet visit.

Never argue with a client about a pet’s health. If after a grooming appointment and client says something is wrong, we ask them to visit our veterinarian (preferably). Sometimes the client will call and say the animal is more tired than usual and is just curious if something happened. I reply that nothing happened, but they can visit our veterinarian if it will make them feel better. Most of the time nothing is wrong, but we retain a client and we did what’s right.

Another Internet story floating around is about a dog getting its jaw broken at the groomer. The owners insist they dropped off a perfectly healthy dog. When they picked it up several hours later, the groomer said the dog seemed to be very sensitive around its face. The owner’s veterinarian said the dog had a broken jaw. The groomer swears absolutely nothing happened to cause that injury; the owner is adamant nothing happened prior to the grooming.

We would immediately contact the owner in a situation like that and explain that Fido seems to be in a lot of discomfort around his face, and we aren’t comfortable continuing until he is cleared from a vet. Document and communicate, and never hesitate to get a veterinarian release. Common situations requiring a release involve senior pets. Many times a pet reaches the point where grooming can be too much, and we first ask for their vet to give the thumbs-up. Another scenario is when a dog is limping. Also, if a client says, “Jake just played too hard yesterday; happens all the time; he’ll be fine,” depending on that client, we might ask for a release.

Proper insurance is vital. We went several years without proper coverage for injuries caused by a groomer and had none for the situations listed here. Our insurance agent at first assured me we were covered for such scenarios, but we discovered otherwise.

I sleep better now that I am properly covered, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wake up in the middle of night and jot down notes to run by my agent. Last night it was about a zombie attack, but he hasn’t called me back yet.

B.C. Henschen, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a partner in Platinum paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.


This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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