Pre-Groom Pet Assessments: A Necessary Step for a Safe Groom

By Mary Oquendo

Lilly was a fairly new client. I had only been grooming her and her brother for about six months. Both brother and sister were elderly and it’s my policy to do a full body pet assessment before grooming.

As Lilly’s owner is a talker, I usually do the assessment while she is chatting away. I only got as far as the gums, when I noticed the tongue looked a little purple to me. I pointed it out to the owner and refused the groom until she had it checked out at the vet.

A pet assessment is where I go from head to tail with deliberate intent and purpose to determine if they are healthy enough to groom.

For new clients, this assessment should be done with the owner present. You want all pre–existing conditions noted before the owner leaves, as you do not want to be blamed for something that was there before hand. In addition, this assessment serves to reduce “misunderstandings” between yourself and the client.

One of the benefits of doing an assessment with the owner present is that they see how well their pet tolerates being handled. It presents a good opportunity to educate your clients on pet care and offer and charge for extra needed services, such as extra handling or de–matting fees. I have always found that educated clients are good clients.

Established clients (pets, to be more specific) get a “hug” when they enter my grooming van. This hug is really a pet assessment. There may have been changes since the last time I saw them, especially if this is an older pet.

On more than one occasion, I have rescheduled a groom due to problems found during the assessment. There is no amount of income that could compensate for the mental anguish over the loss of a pet. I know, because I have been there as well.

Before I touch an unfamiliar pet, I keep a muzzle close and my face at a distance. If I am uncomfortable or unable to touch him, he goes home. I will not risk my livelihood with a potentially career–ending bite.

What Does An Assessment Consist Of?

  • Overall Appearance: Is he bouncy with bright eyes? Or is he lethargic, coughing or having trouble breathing? Are his eyes dull? Coughing may be an indicator of kennel cough, respiratory infections, canine influenza or a heart condition. Add in runny noses and eyes and you have a serious health concern. Watch them walk. Does he appear to be in pain? The worse bite I ever received was from an arthritic Golden Retriever I was helping into my van.
  • Mouth, Tongue and Gums: Gums should be pink except for those breeds with mottled or dark gums such as Chows Chows and Springer Spaniels. A yellowish tinge may indicate liver failure, bluish is hypoxia (no blood flow) and pale gums are an indicator of shock. Teeth in poor shape cause mouth pain, which in turn, creates snappy dogs. Take this opportunity to educate your clients on dental care.
  • Eyes: Eyes should be bright and dilate equally. Unequal dilation or rapidly moving eyes are a sign of neurological problems. Hardened discharge may have irritated and raw skin underneath. Red eyes may be an indicator of stress or an eye infection.
  • Ears: Foul odor, redness, discharge, and head shaking are all signs of an ear infection. It is my policy to not clean or pluck ears in this condition. Very thick looking ears may be a hematoma or severe matting.
  • Joints and Spine: Arthritis, spinal or leg injuries will cause pain when moved or touched. A pet in pain can and will bite.
  • Pads: Check pads for ingrown nails, debris or cuts. Even well–behaved pets may have feet issues. I groom a couple of pets that do not get their nails done.
  • Belly Area: If the belly area is distended or hard, refer to vet immediately as this could be a sign of bloat. Drooling and a very uncomfortable looking pet may accompany it.
  • Skin & Coat: Note any lumps, bumps, cysts or warts on their body. You do not want to shave them off during the groom. Check the skin for irritations, wounds and parasites. Can you even see the skin? You have no idea what you will find once the mats are removed. I have found open sores that required veterinary treatment.

The first time you perform a pet assessment, it will take longer than that of an established client. It is my policy that owners only need to be present for the first assessment. For me, it’s part of the greeting process. As I am saying hello to the pet and making kissy faces, I simply run my hands over his body and pay attention to body language.

Encourage your clients to continue this at home. Their pet stands a better chance of recovery when problems are brought to light, as early detection means early intervention. Recommend any concerns found be followed up with their vet and keep notes on their client card.

In Lilly’s case, it was a collapsed trachea, which was on top of a heart condition; the owners opted to let Lilly go. She was euthanized later that day. In my heart, I am certain that had I groomed Lilly that day, she would have died on me. I cannot imagine the social media storm that could have resulted from such a scenario. ✂

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