A major consideration for all groomers during their initial evaluation of a pet that has come into the salon, or during their pre-bathing check of the pet they will be grooming, is awareness of the condition of the dog's skin. A dog's healthy skin should be smooth, cool to the touch, and healthy looking, without scabs, flakes, dryness, bumps or anything else indicating irritation or illness. If anything exists to send up a red flag, the groomer needs to be aware of what he or she can treat, and what needs to be tended by a veterinarian. Some of the possibilities are allergies (the most common being to fleas and from commercial dog food), immune system diseases, bacterial infections, yeast infections, wounds/scratches/bites from other animals, and bites/infestation from fleas and/or ticks.
The most common problem the groomer will have to address will be fleas, and a secondary problem to fleas will be the very common allergy to flea bites that many dogs have. This can be addressed by the groomer during the bathing phase with the use of anti-flea products and soothing products for the skin. As well, ongoing education of the client as to how he or she can prevent flea and tick infestation at home (including treating the entire premises, frequently washing the dog's bedding, and treating the car!) offers the dog a chance at relief from this terrible problem.
A little more difficult for the groomer to diagnose, but something the groomer must also be aware of, is the problem of mites on the dog's skin, also frequently considered to be synonymous with "mange." If the presence of mites is missed, or mis-diagnosed, other pets and even humans are at risk for catching the mites. There are four types of mites which commonly infest dogs in the United States. They are:
- Otodectes (also known as ear mites): this is covered in care of the ear, but the groomer should know that it is difficult to see ear mites with the human eye, though they might appear as debris in the ear, frequently resembling coffee grounds. There are over-the-counter drops, containing the chemical pyrethrin, which will kill ear mites. The owner should know that all pets on the premises should be treated for ear mites as well, as they are very contagious, though they will not infest people. If a groomer is unsure about this diagnosis, it is best to refer the dog to a veterinarian.
- Cheyletiella (also knows as the walking dandruff mite): The skin will show evidence of scaling, itching, and there may be hair loss due to the constant itching and biting this mite causes. Unlike the ear mite, the walking dandruff mite is visible with a magnifying glass, or in the skin scales collected in a fine toothed comb. Because scaling is the most common symptom, it is easy to confuse this kind of infestation with seborrhea, allergies, flea infestation, and other unknown causes of itching. It is interesting to note that Cocker Spaniels and Poodles may be carriers of these mites without actually being symptomatic, that is, they will not have the itching and scales. Unfortunately, people are not so lucky, and may catch the itch caused by walking dandruff mites. Because of this, all pets in the house should be treated at the same time, to eradicate this pest. It may be necessary to clip longhaired dogs, to utilize special shampoos, and to consider lyme-sulfur dips, and pyrethrin insecticides such as are used for ear mites.
- Sarcops (also known as scabies): A microscopic creature that is difficult to diagnose, scabies may look just like flea allergies, skin infections, food allergies, and other skin problems. Many vets will give a shot of cortisone for skin allergies, but if this is done for scabies, the itching may be lessened, but the mites will remain. The areas most affected by scabies are the elbows, hocks, and chest and belly, with ongoing infections making their way to the eyes and face and the margin of the ear or the ear flap. The sarcops actually burrows into the dog's skin to lay eggs, and this causes the intense itching. A dog should be sent to a veterinarian if scabies is suspected, and all animals in the house should be treated. As with flea infestation, all dog bedding must be thoroughly laundered. People may catch scabies, and if this is suspected, send the client to a doctor immediately.
- Demodex (also known as red mange): A healthy dog usually will not catch this type of mite, but a dog that is in any way immune system impaired is susceptible, such as young dogs without fully developed immune systems, sick dogs, and older dogs. There are two forms of demodectic mange, localized (starting as dime to quarter sized areas of hair loss) or generalized (with one third or more of the body involved), though each causes skin redness, itching, oozing scabs, and secondary skin infections. If you suspect this type of infestation, send the dog to a veterinarian immediately, as there may be a primary problem with the immune system which the presence of this mite is suggesting. Frequently, dogs need to be put on prednisone and antibiotics for this infestation. The vet may instruct you to aid in treatment with clipping, bathing with an appropriate shampoo, application of a topical solution, or may suggest special diets or supplements for afflicted dogs.
All groomers need to be aware of Furunculosis, as this is a skin disease caused by grooming procedures, and it is potentially fatal. Furunculosis is directly linked, in all recorded cases, to the use of contaminated shampoo or conditioner, and may be exacerbated by the groomer handstripping the dog. It is most common in dogs which have coats made up of thick hair shafts, such as the wirehaired breeds or larger dogs; dogs with fine or short hair, such as Poodles, Maltese, Chihuahuas, etc., do not seem to get this disease. Excessive manipulation of the coat during bathing also increases the chances of this illness, as does grooming with a wire brush before or after shampooing and/or conditioning. But the true cause is always the same: the contaminated shampoo or conditioner.
The symptoms of Furunculosis include painful lesions developing in a dorsal stripe down the dog's back (think of the way shampoo is frequently applied, down the dog's back/spine), characterized by severe redness and swelling, giving way to large pimples, which then may become bloody or may ooze. The dogs may have a fever and show signs of general malaise.
How can we stop Furunculosis from afflicting dogs that have been bathed in our salons?
- If you use shampoos and cream rinses from concentrates, which you dilute for salon use, make these up daily--do not use shampoos and conditioners that you diluted yesterday and allowed to sit overnight.
- Sterilize community shampoo and conditioner bottles daily, especially their pump nozzles.
- When bathing dogs which have just been handstripped, since their skin is much more susceptible to the organisms which cause furunculosis at this time, do so only with freshly sterilized bottles and newly diluted shampoo and conditioner, to insure that this illness will not be created by the grooming process.
As with so many of the potential problems one may face in the salon, excellent sanitation and sanitary procedures are the answer to safeguarding the health and well-being of the dogs being groomed. There is no short cut for sanitation. All tools and equipment must be sanitized between uses and between dogs to insure the health of man's best friend.