By Kathy Hosler
Groomers work with hair every day; brushing, combing, de-matting, clipping, scissoring, washing, drying, and styling it. But, hair is not the only thing that stylists need to be knowledgeable about to safely and expertly turn out great grooms. Stylists must also know how to properly care for and protect pets’ eyes and ears during the grooming process. There is a little more to it than you might think.
Although we are not veterinarians, groomers know when something doesn’t look normal. That’s why you should always do a thorough exam of every pet that comes in for grooming. Taking time to do this quick intake exam while the owner is present can save you untold problems. If a pet has an existing issue with its eyes or ears, the problem could easily escalate during the grooming process. Even if the pet appears to be in tip-top shape, there are some safety procedures you should follow to keep them that way.
Look at the pet’s eyes for any excessive tearing, squinting, eye dryness, a discharge of mucous, or an accumulation of matter. Anything that is out of the ordinary should be noted and pointed out to the owner.
During the bathing process, special care must be taken to prevent irritation to the eyes. We all know that pets love to shake when they are being bathed, and that can allow shampoo and suds to fly into an unprotected eye. As a precaution, it’s a good idea apply sterile ophthalmic ointment into each eye before the bath. It will form a temporary protective coating over the eyeball. Using a tearless shampoo on the face can help, but even tearless shampoos can irritate.
Another issue that groomers often have to deal with is removing dried-on matter that accumulates at the inner corner and under the eye. This is usually best done while the pet is in the bath tub and you can run cool water on the area to loosen the debris. Depending on how bad the buildup is, removing it may reveal a nasty, open sore. It is imperative that you document this with before and after photos. That way no owner can accuse you of causing an injury to their pet.
You must also be careful during the drying process. Never point a high velocity (HV) dryer toward the pet’s eyes or its ear canal. And, although you may have never thought about it, the flow of air during HV, fluff, or cage drying that removes the moisture from the pet’s hair can also dry out their eyes. Anytime their eye gets irritated the pet may rub or scratch it and, within seconds, can cause a painful corneal abrasion. In short order, a minor irritant to a pet’s eye can quickly escalate into an emergency situation.
Ears can be the source of a multitude of problems for both the groomer and the pet. Cleaning healthy ears should be part of every routine grooming. Diagnosing and treating ear problems is not. If a pet comes in and you can smell their ears before you even look at them, that’s an immediate red flag. Look into the pet’s ears. Are they healthy and pink, or are they nasty looking? At check–in, if you see an obviously unhealthy ear; one that is red, swollen, and has lots of drainage—that is definitely a medical issue that needs to be seen by a veterinarian. In less severe cases, if you feel you can safely groom the pet, document anything that you see and, once again, take before and after photos of the pet and its ears.
Most stylists find it easier to clean the pet’s ears in the tub before its bath. You can put the ear cleaner into each ear canal and massage it around, then use cotton balls to gently clean out any wax or debris. If there is excess hair in the ear canal, you may remove it by trimming or plucking—depending on the wishes of the owner.
Putting ear cleaner in the ears will help displace any water that might get in during the bath. Inserting dry cotton balls into the ear canal will also help keep water out. Just remember to remove them. Also, after you clean out the pet’s ears, they may want to scratch themselves. Freshly cut toenails can slice open the ear area. For the pet’s sake, and yours, always sand or dremel the nails smooth to lessen the possibility of injury.
Another issue you could encounter are ear hematomas. We’ve all seen those poor Cocker Spaniels that have each of their ears encased in a solid mat that has to weigh a pound or more. You never know what you might find in or under the mat. It is extremely time-consuming and very difficult to separate this kind of mat from the tender skin of the ear.
Sometimes matting can be so severe that the blood flow to the ear is restricted. After that matting is removed, the circulation begins to return. This often causes the dog to scratch at its ears or shake its head repeatedly. The shaking makes the ear flaps slap against its head and can cause blood to accumulate in the edges of the ears. If the shaking continues, the ears could swell up like pillows and may even start
Put a Happy Hoodie on the pet, or use gauze or vet wrap to temporarily hold the ears against the dog’s head so that they do not flip back and forth when it shakes its head. If you know the ears will have to be shaved, explain to the pet parent what the matting has done to their pet and caution them that hematomas are a real possibility. And, every time you have to work on a matted pet, or a pet that has a pre-existing condition, always have the owners sign a pet release form.
As you can see, there is much more to grooming a pet than just deciding on a hair style. Taking precautions to prevent eye and ear problems not only protect the pet—but to protect you as well.✂