As groomers, we all have a favorite breed: the one we look forward to when we see them on the schedule. For me, it is not a specific breed but an age group. I just love the seniors. There is something about the white on the face and the gentleness of their eyes that just melts my heart. They are special, and as such, need special treatment. When I am able, I prepare my clients as far in advance as I can, but that is not always feasible. I rarely turn away seniors.
The Old Lady Speech
This is what I call “The Talk.” I convey to the owners with kindness that their grooming needs are changing, and the comfort of their pet is my primary concern. For some, it means grooming more frequently. Pets with thicker coats that are not well maintained by the owners or requiring clipper work will need grooming more often to reduce the overall time. For others, it means less frequent grooming. Short-coated pets can increase the time between grooming yet not impact the amount of time needed to finish them. As perfection is no longer an option, I may recommend a comfort trim. This is a nice way of saying that they now need an extended sanitary clip, as they are not as neat as they once were when pottying. I will always ask what is the status of any medical concerns of their senior pet.
I may suggest grooming on the “installment plan” if I cannot safely complete grooming in one session. The installment plan breaks up the grooming into two or more visits. As this will drive the price up, most pet owners opt for whatever can be accomplished in one sitting. I am very clear that the grooming is over when I feel the pet has had enough.
This conversation can spark visions of the future death of their beloved pet. It can be very emotional for some owners. As I am a mobile groomer, this conversation usually happens over a cup of coffee in their kitchen, which helps to remove any sterility. I spend whatever time I need to ensure the owner that I will always take the very best care of their pet.
Check-In on Day of Appointment
When I worked at a shop, senior pets were scheduled on lighter days. I found that the less stress the older pets were exposed to, the better they did. I always requested that the owners pick up their senior pet when I was finished. We did not have orthopedic mats in our cages. The longer they stayed in the cage, the harder it was for them to get up.
During check-in of a senior pet, I do a thorough snout to tail assessment. I am looking for reasons not to groom this pet. Is he in pain? A pet in pain is more likely to bite. Take it from me: I learned the hard way getting two stitches in the palm of my hand from the nicest Golden Retriever. Is he coughing? Coughing may be indicative of heart failure. Are the gums sticky? Tacky gums could be a sign of dehydration. Are the gums paler than normal? If I see paler gums, my recommendation is to go directly to the veterinarian’s office, as blood is not pumping properly. In addition, senior pets have a harder time regulating their body temperatures. They can overheat or chill quickly. I may even recommend that this pet’s needs are better served by grooming in a veterinarian’s office.
I discuss any concerns found during the assessment, as well as the prioritizing of the groom with the owner. We discuss what is important and what is not. I start with what is important, as I may not be able to complete the groom.
You should have waivers that will hold up in court in the event that the pet passes away in your care.
My Work Area
My table goes as low as six inches off the ground and as high as tub level. One of the benefits of mobile grooming is that my table abuts the tub. The pet has a short step onto the table as well a short step into the tub. If your work and bathing areas are separate, then walk-up ramps are a must. My tabletop is non-skid. The older pets need a sure footing. In addition, I have orthopedic quality mats on the table. These mats help reduce stress on their already tender musculoskeletal system.
I use low vibration clippers and always keep a hand on the pet. Many older pets have loss of vision and hearing. Any unexpected touch or noise may incite a bite reflex.
This pet may have a difficult time standing up while you are working on them. Options include the following:
A second pair of hands. They can cradle and lift the back end.
Hip support slings. The pet can sit in them and still be upright enough to finish. One caution about slings is that they can compress the internal organs. Use them for a short period of time.
Start with the back end. Let them sit while you finish up the front.
Work at an even height. You do not want a pet with a stiff neck either looking up or looking down at you.
Lay them on their sides. Complete one side and “flip” them over gently to finish the other.
Clip nails and trim the hair from their pads while lying down. Proper nail length is important. Nails that are too long will cause undue stress on their hips, shoulders, and spine. I keep the pads trimmed of hair. Hair on the pads makes it difficult for the pet to get up off the floor.
I work at their pace and end the groom if I see signs of stress or exhaustion. Offering add-ons such as TTouch, acupressure, reiki, massage, and crystal therapy will benefit the older pet.
Bathing the Older Pet
I have two choices for non-slip mats in my tub. The first is an orthopedic mat. For most pets, this is sufficient. For those pets that cannot stand in the tub, I use waterproof cushions. It is easier to rinse off all the soapy water, as they are not lying in it. The water is just a touch warmer than I would normally use. In addition, I use essential oil shampoo formulated for arthritis on elderly dogs that do not have sensitivity to essential oils.
Drying the Older Pet
If you are cage drying, place a non-skid mat in the cage. Make sure it is machine washable. I will always use a dryer with a heating element, even in the summer. The older, wet pet will chill easily. However, in warmer weather, I will turn it off or switch to a dryer with no heating element once they are almost dry, as they are more susceptible to heat stroke. If they have fallen asleep in the cage, I will bang on the side of the cage to wake them before removing.
If you are table drying with the high-velocity (HV) dryer, exercise caution as many older pets have been known to go into a dryer-induced seizure. For these pets, this is as far as the groom goes. If I cannot dry them, all clipper work is done before the bath. They are toweled off well and brought back into the house. One of my favorite clients would have a fire going and Toby’s bed ready. The only thing Toby was missing was a good book and cup of hot chocolate.
On those pets that I can dry on the table, I use a Happy Hoodie. It wicks the water off their heads and muffles the sound of the HV dryer.
Finish Work on the Older Pet
So what is the pet’s comfort level at this stage? Is the pet exhausted? These are the questions I ask myself before I reach for my shears. When working with elderly pets, sometimes we settle for “good enough.”
During the course of the groom, I may have found something I did not notice upon check-in. Nothing is insignificant, and the owner is notified. On more than one occasion, I made an “executive decision” and brought the pet inside incomplete (and in some cases, wet) and informed the owner they should call their vet. That decision to stop grooming saved the life of the pet.
Have you taken a pet first aid class this year? Protocols have just changed. Will you be able to perform CPR if it becomes necessary?
Grooming senior pets is not for everyone. They have needs that are different from younger, healthier pets. There are other groomers in my area that refer the senior pets to me, and in return, I refer those breeds I do not want to groom to them. We are all happier.
I always give extra hugs and kisses to my older clients. While it can be heartbreaking to specialize in the older pets, nothing compares to having them rest their heads on your shoulder or look at you with their soulful eyes. I look forward to each and every senior pet.