Special Techniques for Special Needs Pets - Groomer to Groomer

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Special Techniques for Special Needs Pets

Special Techniques for Special Needs Pets

By Michelle Knowles

Little Louie the Yorkie came to see me today. He is a special needs baby with neurological issues, he can’t stand for very long and lays down for practically the entire process.

Louie came from a puppy mill and lived his entire first year in a cage so small that even after he was rescued, he would only eliminate while laying down. This is only one of many stories we hear and only one of the many conditions that we might see in the course of our grooming career.  Some pets can’t tolerate the dryer without having seizures, some are terrified of the spray of water.

Many groomers are taught to train the pet to the table and need a standing pet to get a good finish. Some are taught that the pet must be “bone dry” before leaving the salon. Other myths might include that the nails need to be trimmed despite the fact that the pet is frothing at the mouth and/or having a bowel movement on the table out of sheer terror. These outdated concepts are practically thrown out of the window when dealing with a special needs pet. Fortunately, there are many things we can do to help alleviate the stress of grooming these little souls while they are in our care.

Veterinary grooming has allowed me to work with many different types of issues that salons do not normally see. Fixators, neuro cases and rare skin issues, like Calcinosis Cutis, keep me on my toes and force me to become creative when I am faced with a pet that cannot be groomed in the traditional manner.


A detailed care plan is crucial to success. Making sure the owner is aware of what is realistically possible and what the physical limits of the pet are will give everyone involved a better sense of what the outcome will be. Knowing the medical history and physical limitations of the pet you are working on is important.

Communicate clearly with the owner, signing a contract if necessary, so that the owner does not have unrealistic expectations of the type of finish that will be produced. Some pets must be done in more than one session.

Pain and stress management should be discussed and verified by the pet’s veterinarian. These arrangements can be made ahead of time so that the owner can be ready to ease the pet with any medication in case joint pain or stress are the result of the grooming procedure. These types of grooms are for comfort first, beauty second. The more you practice, the better you will get when putting a finish on a special needs groom.

Do not rely on your previous records to be current or accurate. Make sure there is a current number where the owner can be reached and make sure they understand that they must be “on call” in case the grooming process becomes overwhelming to the pet.

Have a protocol in place in case there is an accident or emergency. It is much better to know what to do and have no emergency than have an emergency and not know what to do!

Charge for your time. This is a specialty service that takes extra time and knowledge. You are a professional and should be paid for your work. It is ideal to know your hourly rate of doing business and charge for this type of service by the hour.

I find that soothing music and a calm atmosphere are the foundation when working with any pet. This is a necessary foundation before the work begins. Make sure that you have ample time to do the groom in a relaxed manner, even taking the time to stretch and do some breathing exercises if the morning has been hectic.

Make sure every single tool and piece of equipment is ready and within reach so there is no chance that the pet is left without a hand touching it at all times. This includes shears, brushes, ear cleaner and swabs, shampoos and conditioners and plenty of towels.

Make it a protocol that your staff understands what you are doing so there are minimal interruptions. Focusing on the task at hand will help alleviate the risk of accidents brought on by careless staff suddenly swinging the door open or making loud and sudden noises in the hall. Make a laminated sign to post on the door so that everyone is aware that you are focused and must not be disturbed.

Keeping your shears off of the grooming table during the groom is of the utmost importance. It is an involuntary reaction to “save” your expensive shears when your eyes see them falling onto the floor. So much damage can be done to your flesh and nerves if you try to catch them as they fall. I know this from experience.

There is no shame in admitting that you are not able to do a certain pet. Our job is to find the best fit possible for these special pet friends, even if that means we give them to another groomer or send them to a different facility.

These special souls can be very rewarding when giving them the care that they need to be happy, healthy, clean and comfortable. You have given them the gift of quality of life. One day we too will have health issues and may need a caregiver to care for us. Be the caregiver you would want taking care of you. ✂

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