No matter how many questions we ask at check-in, how carefully we monitor the cat for signs of stress during the groom or how many times we have groomed the feline before, sometimes bad things just happen.
As a house-call groomer, many of my clients or their older children sit with me while I groom. I really enjoy hearing about the family’s adventures and the family appreciates being able to learn more about their feline during the grooming process. I always show the family kitty’s belly button which everyone gets a big kick out of.
When a family member sits with me during the groom, it also makes it very easy to point out any new lumps, bumps or scratches. They also feel comfortable asking questions about why their cat does certain things. In addition, it is a great opportunity to teach the family how to brush and care for their feline.
Having a good rapport with your clients goes a long way when something bad happens. No matter how many questions we ask at check-in, how carefully we monitor the cat for signs of stress during the groom or how many times we have groomed the feline before, sometimes bad things just happen. When bad things happen, it is the relationship you have previously developed with the client that makes things go a little smoother.
Prevention is your number one line of defense in assuring you can return a healthy feline to the owners after the groom. The first step in prevention is having your paperwork in order. Make sure owners know that grooming can be dangerous. Gather as much medical information on the kitty as possible. For older cats especially, I want to know if the family wants CPR performed and/or the cat transported to a veterinarian in the event of a life-threatening emergency. Second, observe the feline’s health at check-in. Any kitty that is open-mouth breathing should be turned away. Third, understand that stress can and does kill cats. During the groom, monitor for signs of stress such as open-mouth breathing and dilated eyes. With the understanding that stress can kill cats, never be afraid to walk away from a groom if the cat is too stressed to continue.
A few years ago, I had an appointment to groom Bear. At arrival I greeted the family, Bear and his feline siblings. His family did a fabulous job grooming their cats on their own, but they liked Bear to have a lion cut every year or two. After pleasantries were exchanged, I asked if there were any health changes and when the last time he saw a veterinarian was. Everything went very smooth.
During the routine lion cut there was no open-mouth breathing or dilated eyes. In fact, Bear was very comfortable, laying in my lap and allowing me to have access to his entire body which made it easy for me to shave him as I had always done. I continued to chat with the family during the lion cut and bath. I quickly dried and brushed Bear’s paws, tail and face. I let him walk down the hall so I could check his lines. All was good, by the book, with no red flags of any kind.
I went to clean up and I heard a scream like I had never heard before. I ran to see what happened. Bear was just lying motionless on the floor. It was obvious he was not breathing. I checked for a pulse but couldn’t find one. I knew I was in the right spot but was in disbelief that this was happening. I asked if they wanted me to start CPR. My policy had always been that I would transport the owner and the cat to the closest veterinarian office in a life-threatening situation. Yet, if I am driving, who will perform CPR? That was the flaw in my plan. If you work alone, it is something you need to plan for. In this case, the owner performed CPR while I drove. It did not take long for the veterinarian to declare Bear dead on arrival. There was nothing that could have been done differently.
What happens in the next hour has the potential to affect you and your business for years to come. This is the point where having a good relationship with your client makes all the difference. Having a clear and concise plan will help you know what to do on the unexpected day you find yourself in this situation. My business always had the policy of providing transport and paying directly for the veterinarian visit that resulted as an accident from a groom. Based on that policy, I went ahead and paid the vet bill that day. I also upgraded the urn. A few days later, I followed up by phone. Then about a month later, I sent a “Thinking of you” card.
In the weeks to follow, several respectable veterinarians in my area that had access to the medical files told me in confidence that I did not do anything to attribute to the death of Bear. I also had spoken to several well-established cat groomers and there was not one warning sign that the grooming process caused undue stress on Bear. It was just Bear’s time.
Having the support of peers and local professionals did not help my broken heart. I was terrified another cat would die in my care. No matter what policies we have in place—even when we have extensive medical information on the cat, know the signs of stress and groom in a stress-free environment—sometimes a cat will not survive a groom.
Over the years, I have talked to several people who have experienced the sudden death of a cat they were grooming. The emotional aspect was enough to make some walk away from grooming. Others had policy changes to their business to either help prevent another death or help position the business to be able to better take care of the family in the event of another unexpected death.
Some feline groomers have groomed thousands of cats and never had a death of a cat in their care. Other groomers have only groomed a few hundred and have experienced this situation. If you groom long enough, chances are high that one day a cat will not get to go home to their family. It is important that you put policies and procedures in place today to help give you clear direction and protect your business when the day comes that a cat will not be going home. ✂️