Safety in the Workplace: Bite Prevention

By Kathy Hosler

Every year more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs and cats. Have you been one of them? It is a rare groomer indeed that can answer ‘no’.

The very nature of the work we do exposes us daily to the risk. Whether it’s a nip that keeps you from working for a day or two, or a full–on attack that could end your career, a bite can instantly change your life. You may not be able to prevent every bite, but there are some things that every groomer can do to avoid one.

At Intake & Release

The two times that you are most likely to be bitten is when you are taking the dog from its owner, and when you are giving it back.

The worst bite I ever got was from a Shih Tzu named Cupcake. The owner carried her in and was holding her as we chatted about her grooming instructions. As I reached for her, Cupcake launched herself, and with the speed and accuracy of a rattlesnake, she latched onto my face. That bite sent me to the emergency room and left me with a permanent scar as a reminder.

Cupcake taught me to never take a pet from its owner’s arms. Instead, have the owner put the dog on the floor and hand its leash to you. Hold the leash in one hand and have the pet’s head facing away from you, then you can pick the pet up with your other hand. This gives you control over them.

If they bring in their pet without a leash, have them place the pet directly on the grooming table and put the grooming loop on it.

The First–Time pet

When you accept a pet that has never been groomed, you have to realize that everything is new (and potentially scary) to them. The noise of your equipment, the brushing and combing, being up on a table, and being touched all over by someone they don’t know, all can create a stressful situation. Work gently and do not rush when you are introducing them to the different aspects of grooming.

The Old Pet

Old pets require special care. Even the sweetest pet can bite if they are in pain. They often have aches and pains caused by arthritis or other medical conditions. You have to remember this and use extra care when lifting their legs, trimming nails, or brushing the hair.

Kennel–Shy Dogs

Another potential danger is the kennel–shy dog. They may be very willing to go into a kennel or cage, but will not come out. In the wild, dogs are den animals, so often in a cage situation they are protecting their ‘den’. If you know that a dog will be unwilling to come out, keep a collar and lead on it and make sure that the lead hangs out the kennel door. When you open the kennel, you can use the lead to encourage the dog to come out.

There may be times that you don’t know a dog is kennel–shy until you put it in a cage. Under no circumstances should you reach in and try to remove the dog. Your hands and face will become a prime target for a potentially serious attack. You must prepare ahead for the possibility and keep a snare pole handy. It may be the only way you can safely remove the dog from the kennel.

If a pet that comes to you in a carrier won’t come out, simply disassemble it to get them out safely.

On The Table

Some dogs and cats are not very happy to be on the grooming table, and will do everything they possibly can to show their displeasure or try to escape. There are many great tools and wonderful pieces of equipment that can help keep both you and the pet safe.

A heavy–duty adjustable grooming arm is the main piece of equipment that you use to keep the pet on the table. There are a wide assortment of grooming loops, slings, geriatric supports, and other restraints to keep the pet safe and in your control while it is on your table. Additional arms or tools like the Groomers Helper will keep the dog from whirling around and biting you.

And, there are situations where you may need to use E–collars or muzzles to safely finish a groom. Following safe handling procedures greatly reduces the risk of pet (and groomer) injury.

In The Bathtub

Make sure that every pet is fastened securely when it is in the bathtub. Many pets feel threatened when someone leans over them and will not hesitate to bite. Having them safely tethered gives you control and greatly limits their ability to leap at your face and hands, or out of the tub.

Drying

After they have bathed and towel–dried a pet, most groomers use a high–velocity dryer to remove moisture from the pet’s coat. Some pets cannot tolerate this type of drying and will panic and bite. You may even find that some pets who have tolerated HV drying in the past, suddenly freak out. If you have never experienced this you can Google dryer seizures in pets. Always be observant of a pet’s body language and give them a break if they become stressed.

The Nasty Pet

If a dog or cat becomes aggressive and you feel that it is unsafe for you or the pet to continue a groom, stop immediately and assess the situation. There may be times that you have to send a dog or cat home ungroomed, or refer them to a veterinary clinic to be sedated for grooming.

Never put yourself or the pet at risk for injury. If you want a permanent decoration on your body, get a tattoo—not a scar. ✂

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