By Daryl Conner
There are approximately 78.2 million dogs and 86.4 million cats owned in the United States. And we pet stylists take care of the grooming needs of many of them. For groomers who work in a shop situation, this means that sometimes we are working on cats and dogs in the same building, often at the same time. And while many cats share a home with one or more dogs, being in a strange environment, surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of strange dogs, can cause extreme anxiety in our feline customers.
There are some key steps that you can take to reduce or minimize this stress.
- If you have enough cat clientele, consider having a “cat’s only” day. If that is not feasible, schedule cats to arrive before or after dog clients check in. Having them arrive when there are no dogs milling about, bouncing and barking, is a major plus.
- Have a quiet room ready to house cats, away from dogs. Ideally cats will be placed in a cage, in its open carrier, so it has the option to stay in the familiar space or explore the cage a bit.
- It is optimal for cats to be housed in the highest cages possible. They feel more secure when they are elevated above the activities of the shop, and can look down at what is happening around them.
- Plugging in a Comfort Zone diffuser the evening before you expect cats to be in the building helps many cats to stay calm. Comfort Zone is a stress reducing pheromone.
- Pheromones can also be sprayed on your grooming smock, tools and table.
Look around your work area and imagine how it would appear to a cat. Take their infinitely acute senses into consideration.
A cat’s fight or flight response can be triggered by seeing rapid, unexpected movement, such as dogs, other cats, or people maneuvering about. In an ideal world you will have a small room designated as “feline friendly” space, but if that is impossible, get creative. Think of ways you can manage to block the cat’s view to movement around your workstation. Think outside the box; can you possibly hang a shower curtain so that it can be pulled around your grooming station when you work on cats? How about placing one of those folding screens that people sometimes use to block off a space in a room?
Cats’ hearing is much more sensitive than that of humans and dogs (Cats’ hearing stops at 65 khz, whereas humans’ hearing stops at 20 khz). The normal sounds that can be found in a grooming area, such as dogs barking, water running, and high velocity dryers working, can overwhelm a cat’s senses. Some groomers find that Happy Hoodies work well to lessen the assault of sound on a cat when it is being dried, but beyond that, try to keep the area as quiet as possible in order to lessen kitty stress. Housing a feline in a cage near a dog that is barking is a recipe that may result in one very nervous cat.
A cat has approximately 60 to 80 million olfactory cells. Compare this to a human, who has between 5 and 20 million. It is impossible for us to imagine how intense the smells in the area where pets are groomed must seem to a cat. Try to keep your hands, cages, tools, and table clean to minimize the odor of other animals while the cat is in your care. Avoid harsh cleaning products that have a strong odor, as well. Consider cleaning with white vinegar. It is safe, inexpensive, environmentally friendly and very effective. The high acidity of the vinegar kills most mold, bacteria, and germs. Once the scent evaporates, only the smell of “clean” lingers behind.
If your business mostly caters to dogs, it will behoove you to look around your space with the eyes of a cat once in a while. You know that gate that keeps loose dogs from gaining access to the entrance door? Any cat worth its salt can sail over a gate and slip out your door so fast it will make your head spin. How about that high window that you never worry about a dog reaching? A cat could zip out of it in a flash. Unlike dogs, cats can leap up to 5 times the height of their body. Loose ceiling tiles make an excellent place for a cat to jump up behind and hide, and any little gap in a wall or behind a piece of equipment can make an easy exit for a frightened cat. Examine your space thinking as a cat might, and make sure it is safe and escape proof.
While “safety” loops, or grooming loops are commonly used devices when it comes to keeping dogs in the tub or on the table, they should never be placed around a cat’s neck. Cats lack the strong ridge of muscle that dogs have on their necks, and can easily suffer serious injury if restrained by any type of device that goes around their neck.
Have a plan
Working with cats invites a whole new set of risks to the grooming arena. What if a cat gets off your table and there is a cat aggressive dog in the shop? What if a cat is injured during grooming? What if the cat becomes frightened and combative? Consider all the risks and devise a plan so you will know how to react if a problem develops. If you have staff, brainstorm with all the employees and make sure everyone is aware of your cat handling protocols.
Products and Tools
Many shampoos, conditioners, colognes, and sprays that are perfectly safe to use while grooming dogs can be dangerous when used on cats because of the way their liver breaks down chemicals. To learn more about what products are safe on cats, check out The Professional Cat Groomers of America. Their educational literature contains detailed descriptions of how to choose and use products that are truly cat safe. (www.professionalcatgroomers.com)
If you look around your work space, you will probably see that you have a lot of grooming tools. When it gets down to grooming cats, however, there are just a handful of tools that most groomers use: a comb, nail trimmer, electric or cordless trimmer or clipper, and some scissors. Consider putting together a group of “cat only” tools, and keeping them separate from your dog tools. This can be done rather inexpensively, and it’s nice for both you and the cats to have tools just for them.
Grooming cats is a specialized service and should be charged for accordingly. However, in order to demand the higher prices this service entails, groomers must be well educated on proper cat grooming skills and provide a safe environment. Felines are not just small dogs with retractable claws and the potential for having bad attitudes. Keeping cats safe in an area which also houses dogs can be done, but acknowledging the special demands that cats deserve is an important consideration. ✂