The Usual Suspects: 5 Canine Pathogens of Concern in the Grooming Salon

By Corina Stammworthy

We all know that we need to clean and disinfect our salons to protect our clients and ourselves, but what are we working against? The best way to defeat your enemy is to know your enemy. Here are the top 5 canine pathogens you need to worry about.

Bordetella bronchiseptica 

This bacteria species is known for causing canine upper respiratory infections—known colloquially as kennel cough. This disease in dogs is usually self–limiting and mild, but much like the flu in humans, can cause complications in immunocompromised and elderly populations. Kennel cough is known for being extremely contagious through droplet transmission. Each cough produces aerosolized droplets of mucus which are chock–full of bacteria. These droplets hang in the air and on surfaces, waiting to come into contact with another dog.

B. bronchiseptica are gram–negative organisms, which means they have multiple cell membranes. This gives them a little extra protection which can make them harder to kill. They also can sometimes present with tail–like structures called flagella, which helps their motility and could contribute to their high infectivity. 

Kennel cough’s cousin B. pertussis can cause a human respiratory infection called whooping cough. B. bronchiseptica does not usually infect humans but may cause disease in someone who is immunocompromised.

Rabies

Rabies is caused by a couple different types of lyssavirus (named for Lyssa, the Greek goddess of rage and fury). The virus causes a fatal disease that begins with flu–like symptoms. Although rabies is extremely rare in the US, it is estimated that 59,000 people die annually worldwide from the disease. An incredible 99% of cases are transmitted by dogs, and more than half of the cases involve children under the age of 15. Rabies has been around for centuries, and reports of rabid dogs pepper our history all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia.

It is exceedingly unlikely that you will ever have a rabid dog in the salon due to the strict vaccine protocol in this country. The best way you can protect against rabies virus is not just to disinfect, but to ask for proof of vaccination from all your clients.

Parvovirus

Canine parvovirus is another virus with a high mortality rate, but the disease has only been around since the 1970s. Parvovirus causes such severe diarrhea and vomiting that the body is unable to restore its water and electrolyte balance. Treatment is often mostly palliative to try to keep the dog hydrated and prevent further loss of fluids, while also staving off secondary infections that can arise due to the weakened immune status.

As if the disease wasn’t bad enough, parvovirus is also known for being incredibly hardy out in the environment. Transmission is through feces, and since infected dogs typically have severe diarrhea, there is a lot of opportunity for contamination. The virus can persist for very long periods in organic material, including soil. If you have had a dog with parvovirus in your salon, decontamination protocols must be followed to ensure the virus is eliminated. 

Bleach is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to inactive parvovirus, although a number of veterinary–grade disinfectants will also do the job nicely. Typical quaternary ammonium disinfectants and vinegar–based cleaners will not be effective. Just as with rabies, requiring dogs to be vaccinated against parvovirus will protect you and your salon better than disinfecting alone.

Canine influenza

Similar to human influenza, canine influenza is a highly contagious viral infection that causes an upper respiratory infection. Influenza viruses are known for having a high mutation rate which gives rise to different strains (this is why the flu shot changes every year!). Strains of canine influenza are thought to have originated from equine and avian influenza. A huge outbreak in Chicago put canine influenza on the radar in 2015. It is likely that we will see new strains periodically popping up, especially with the huge influx of international dogs into the US.

Some strains are particularly virulent, meaning that all dogs exposed will be infected. Like the human flu, the mortality rate among healthy populations is low, but the immunocompromised and elderly are at risk for complications.

The silver lining is that this virus appears to be readily inactivated by all the major veterinary–grade disinfectants. However, because of its high rate of infection, additional handwashing and cleaning protocols should be followed. The virus can easily be passed through indirect contact, and people can unknowingly help transfer the virus from dog to dog.

Ringworm

Ringworm’s name is a complete misnomer because the infection has nothing to do with worms. Ringworm is a relatively common and usually mild skin infection that is caused by dermatophytes, which are fungal species that love growing on the skin. There are around 40 different types of fungi that can cause ringworm and it is spread by contact with the infected area.

Ringworm is typically self–limiting, but treatment is very easy with over–the–counter antifungal creams. Prevention is much more effective than trying to sanitize after the fungus is present. Keep your tools and workspace clean and dry, and wash your hands if you think you have come into contact with a ringworm infection. 

Getting to know your enemies makes the disinfecting process a lot less daunting. Always check the label on chemical disinfectants to know what pathogens are susceptible. And don’t be afraid to use non–chemical methods such as heat or UV lights to help complete your disinfecting protocol. ✂️

Corina stumbled into the dog grooming industry by chance, but has brought fresh eyes and new ideas. She opened The Laundromutt, a self–service dog wash and grooming salon, on the concept that washing your own dog should be easy and fun. She believes that your dog should always be in the most educated hands, and in the cleanest and calmest environment possible. Corina is a college biology instructor and is currently in graduate school for Biotechnology.

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