Grooming the Aging Pet

As our pets age their needs can change and they may require special accommodations. There are many conditions associated with aging that can affect our pets quality of life and also their grooming routine such as: arthritis, respiratory problems, seizures, blindness, loss of hearing, heart conditions, and muscle weakness. Their tolerance for being handled, restrained, moved about, and extended periods of standing make grooming a challenge for them, their owners, and the professional groomer.

Groomers who commit to caring for pets affected with age related issues need to understand the medical conditions of that particular pet, be physically able to accommodate the assistance these pets require, and have the time and patience to provide that level of care.

Pet owners need to be open and honest with their groomer about the medical and behavioral changes their pet is experiencing. Ask your veterinarian for information about how your pet will be affected by their condition and medications in regards to grooming. Are they more susceptible to stressful situations and temperatures? Do they have joint mobility issues? What are some signs that the pet must go immediately to the vet? Veterinarians may not be fully aware of what pet grooming entails. Typically, the dog needs to stand for bathing, blow drying, and clipping which could last from 30 minutes to over an hour depending on the size and grooming needs of the pet. Competent groomers can usually accommodate pets that need to lie down for much of the grooming service.

How Groomers Can Accommodate The Pet’s Needs

Joint and Muscle Pain or Weakness.

  • Allowing the pet to adjust their position as needed to avoid pain and eliminate excessive movements. Most groomers clip the entire dog and then start the scissoring/finishing work. By allowing a dog to lie on its side and clipping then finishing what can be accessed before turning the dog, the physical impact on the dog may be reduced.
  • Providing comfortable, non-slip surfaces for the duration of the groom. Installing a non-slip bathtub liner and using a soft, rubber backed bathmat for the grooming table or floor can reduce the risk of pain/injury from slipping.
  • Adjusting the technique for executing the grooming. For example, there are many body positions and techniques for nail trimming and some techniques (though they may be more time consuming) can reduce the stress on the muscles and joints.

Respiratory and Cardiovascular

  • Remove unnecessary restraint and utilize cross-body restraints instead of neck restraints. A common tool for safely restraining dogs is the grooming loop, typically attached at the neck. There are different devices and methods for restraint (some pets don’t require any restraint) that loop around the chest and under the front leg. These restraints do not put pressure on the dog’s neck, avoiding pressing the throat.
  • Avoid prolonged grooming if it is stressful for the pet. Sometimes it is best to hurry a pet through the groom, trading off stunning looks for health and safety.
  • Do not expose the pet to heated dryers or high ambient room temperatures. Proper air-conditioning and ventilation can make a real difference in the pet’s breathing and comfort.

Seizures and Medical Emergencies

  • Learn first aid and CPR for pets. There are classes available to groomers and other professionals to learn about providing this care to pets. Senior pets and those with health complications are best left with someone properly trained to identify emergencies and to appropriately handle them. A knowledgeable and professional groomer may assess your pet’s condition and refer you  to a veterinary clinic to ensure your pet’s safety during grooming.
  • Keep contact information on hand for local veterinarians and emergency clinics. Groomers need to know which vets are close by if a true emergency were to occur. It may not always be possible to take the pet to their primary veterinarian.

Watching for Behavioral, Postural, and Other Changes

  • Pay attention to sudden and gradual changes in behavior. Unusual aggression can be a clear sign of pain and should not be ignored.
  • Watch for changes in breathing, heartbeat, stance, and stamina. Joint and muscle problems, heart conditions, and other problems can sometimes present changes in the pet during the grooming process. Something as simple as an usual wear pattern on the toenails can indicate joint mobility problems that are causing the pet to drag their toes.
  • Keep notes on each pet. Groomers see so many dogs throughout the year it can be hard to remember if that lump on a dog’s side was there 3 months ago. Groomers should tell the owner about their observations and recommend a trip to the veterinarian for diagnosis. Groomers should also keep a note in the pet’s file about the changes they observed.

As the owner of an aging pet, communicate with your groomer and encourage their communication with you. Do not skip routine check-ups with your veterinarian. Adjust your pet’s grooming schedule or style to accommodate their needs and ensure their comfort.