Grooming Controversies - Groomer to Groomer Magazine

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Grooming Controversies

Grooming Controversies

By Daryl Conner

It might be hard to believe, but there are grooming practices that drum up quite a bit of controversy in our industry. What is common practice for some groomers might be considered to be reckless or dangerous practice by others.

Sometimes arguments become quite heated on these topics. So, what is a caring groomer to do?

In my opinion, they should take time to think. Thinking ahead about what your personal grooming philosophy is helps to set and promote a consistent standard of service and raises your level of professionalism. It never hurts to stop and re–examine how and why you do the things you do. Things change, new information becomes available, and (hopefully!) we as people grow and learn with time and experience.

Ideally there is a trilogy of care that consists of a cooperative relationship between the pet owner, the veterinarian and the groomer. These three parties should work together to support the best interests of the pet. This can get tricky, however. Here is an example: One day, two customers with standard poodles were waiting to talk to me about their pets grooming needs. The first said, “My veterinarian says I should ask you to make sure you pluck my dog’s ears, because he keeps getting ear infections.” The second owner gasped and interjected, “MY veterinarian wants me to tell you to be sure to NOT pluck my dog’s ears, because he keeps getting ear infections!” This is the kind of no–win situation a groomer can find themselves in. Ear plucking is number one on my hit list of hot topics.

Ear Plucking

When I was apprenticing to learn the grooming trade, my mentor taught me to remove every single hair from the ear canals of dogs that grow hair there. I vividly remember the disappointment on her face when she found a lonely strand in a schnauzer’s left ear. Fast forward a lot of years, and times have changed.


The International Society of Canine Cosmetologists has this to say on the subject, “Ear plucking may cause pathology. We only recommend plucking if the hair growth is excessive or there is an excessive buildup of ear wax. Normal ears with no clinical signs of infection should be left alone.”

Many veterinarians agree, and modern groomers are doing far less plucking than we did back in the day. Perhaps the best way to know how to proceed is to ask several of the veterinarians in your area for their opinion or have pet owners ask their own veterinarians and make a note of their preference in your files. Current wisdom says that when we pluck, we are leaving the hair follicles open and fungus and bacteria can get a foothold, causing infection.

The Use of Non–Pet Products

Another topic that gets people choosing sides and getting snippy with each other is using products on the dog or cat’s skin and coat that were not designed for pets. Carol Visser, long time grooming educator and journalist says, “Groomers are an ever practical and problem–solving bunch. When faced with an issue, we often approach it from a, ‘well, what works?’ basis. This is creative and awesome, except when it isn’t, and has the potential to be less than awesome, like if someone threatens to sue you.”

Groomers have long since used products like degreasing dish soap to get oily coats extra clean, mouth wash to wipe down hard terrier coats, human hair sprays, mousses and setting gels to add texture and body where needed, and more. These products can deliver the desired results. The problem arises if the pet has an adverse reaction to a product used by the groomer. Having given that matter a lot of thought, I choose the following approach.

If a veterinarian is to call and tell me he or she is seeing a dog I groomed for a skin problem, and they ask me what products I used while grooming the pet, I want to be able to tell them that I used products designed, labeled and sold to be used on animals. It is my hope that the company who made the product will have my back in the event a problem occurs. But if they don’t, I am still going to feel better knowing I bought and used a product that was sold for use on pets. Give the subject a little consideration and see what you feel most comfortable with.

Expressing Anal Sacs

Here’s another topic that groomers become divisive about; expressing anal sacs. As a new groomer in the ‘80’s, I was taught to empty the sacs on every single dog. And I did as I was told for many years. I didn’t like it—and the dogs certainly didn’t either. The current information on this smelly subject is that manually expressing these delicate structures may cause damage to the pets in the long run.

My current stance is that I don’t express unless specifically asked to by the owner, or in the rare instance that I notice the anal area is swollen. Even then, I use only the gentlest pressure, and if the sacs do not empty easily, I refer the pet to be seen by their veterinarian.

Dr. Daniel Dowling, (Camden Hospital for Animals, Camden, ME) says, “Groomers should express anal sacs close to never. Once you start doing it, there are often more troubles than if you let it go.”

Other Hot Topics

Some other hot topics in our industry include the use of heated cage dryers, administering oral or spot–on flea and tick products to dogs in our care, cleaning pets’ teeth, and even dematting severely tangled pets. These are all excellent topics for each pet grooming professional to take into consideration and take a stand on how they choose to care for the animals entrusted to their care and why.

If you are having trouble deciding what is best, ask your own veterinarian for their opinion, talk to other groomers and do some research on the subjects that you are confused about. It’s never too late to learn, grow and change—and I believe we owe that to the pets we groom. ✂

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