Health and Wellness Tips for Pet Groomers
There are many potential hazards for groomers that can affect their well being. Awareness and being proactive can help reduce the risk of these hazards turning into something damaging.
For all of us that work with pets, wellness shouldn’t be something that we think about when we are run down or in discomfort, it’s something we need to consider constantly if we want to stay healthy throughout a long career and life. Most health issues are far easier to prevent, than to cure after you are afflicted, and groomers are prone to a bunch of work-related ailments. Some of the more obvious issues pet professionals struggle with are back problems, hand/wrist/arm issues from repetitive motion, and, of course, dog bites. However, other insidious problems exist and we need to do our best to guard against all of them.
One issue that more of us have become aware of in the last couple of decades is the risk of respiratory issues, including irritation, rhinitis, allergies, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and more. Many groomers now wear some kind of mask to protect their lungs, but more of us should. One of the instructors at the grooming school I attended would say facetiously, while standing in a cloud of floating Samoyed hair, that when she died they’d x-ray her and find her lungs to be furry. Somehow it’s not as funny now as it was then, since I’ve developed allergy-induced asthma that amazingly reduced when I stopped grooming full time.
It didn’t occur to my doctors or me at the time, but people in this profession are at serious risk for inhaling all types of things that aren’t good for us. The cloud of swirling undercoat when we use force dryers can contain dirt, dander, skin cells, pollen and other allergens—especially if you blow out the undercoat before the bath. The air in a salon can contain bacteria, viruses, fungi, dust and dust mites. There are diseases transmittable from animals to humans that are airborne. If you use any aerosol sprays for cooling, cleaning or as colognes, those can be inhaled as well. Cleaning products—including some “green” or “natural” products—or strong scents can cause problems when inhaled, as well as trigger symptoms in existing asthma sufferers.
The best prevention to these potential issues is to use a mask to avoid inhaling as many particulates as possible. Cassie Carey, professional pet stylist at The Urban Hound Hotel in Boston, has used masks throughout the majority of her 12 years of grooming, since she has a genetic lung disorder and wants to preserve her lungs as long as possible. She uses one with a respirator built in for better airflow and less moisture—the GVS’s SPR451 Elipse P100 Half Mask Respirator. It also has replaceable HEPA filters that protect against particulates as small as 0.3 microns and is washable.
“It’s more expensive, but I can easily wash it, sanitize it and dry it in minutes,” says Carey. “It’s quite a bit more utilitarian looking than other masks, but a few years ago I decided that health had to come before vanity.”
Carey doesn’t work where clients can see her, but still would use it if she did. When clients see her with it hanging on her neck and ask questions, she says something along the lines of “there’s hair blowing everywhere in there and I’m trying to prevent hairballs!” Her co-workers have begun to use masks as well, although not as often as she does. They usually use them when blowing dogs out, and always when grinding nails, since there’s a high risk for inhaling nail dust.
Many groomers prefer a lightweight mask made of comfortable materials, such as those made by Breathe Healthy. Breathe Healthy has been making multi-layer, high-tech masks that protect against particulates of 1.0 microns or larger since 2006, and when groomers became fans of the masks, Breathe Healthy started to offer them in pet-friendly patterns, such as paw prints and dog prints. Disposable paper/plastic masks will reduce the number of particulates being inhaled, but many find the comfort of fabric and the green aspect of these reusable and washable masks more appealing.
“Groomers often work in an environment with poor air quality. Whether it is dander, small hair clippings, nail dust or electric motor particles, groomers are exposed to it every day that they work,” says Mike Vahey, owner of Breathe Healthy. “A well-ventilated work area is the most important safety measure for respiratory protection. However, a mask provides another additional level of protection. We try to make them as comfortable as possible so they can be worn for hours at a time without being unbearable.”
I've Got My Eye on You
Vision safety is another important consideration for groomers. Though eyes may not be the most vulnerable while grooming, impaired vision is certainly something that would have a huge impact on your life. My close-up vision isn’t what it used to be. Although it doesn’t affect scissoring, clipping or prep work to any great extent, I can say trimming dark nails accurately isn't as easy as it used to be. Avoiding eye strain is a good way to avoid future issues, so make sure you are wearing glasses or contacts if you need them. And if, like me, you just need a bit of help now and then, keep a few pairs of reader glasses around the shop for when you are trimming nails. Safety glasses—or, for more protection, wrap-around safety goggles—are also a good option and can provide protection against soapsuds that are flung into your eyes when bathing a dog.
Lighting is another important factor. Using the best lighting you can afford everywhere in the salon is the first step, but there are other steps that can be taken as well. Curtis Hanvey, founder and design engineer of Hanvey Engineering and Design, a manufacturer of grooming equipment and mobile grooming vans, points out that the color of your tabletop can have an impact on your eyes.
“Cool colors, such as blue and gray, act like a blue screen used in filming providing excellent contrast so any hairs can be seen against it. They reflect light up under the dog instead of absorbing light as black does,” says Hanvey. “Avoid glare, and if you need additional lighting, purchase some small LED under-counter lights and place them on your table when needed. They provide enough light to help see well, and they don’t break if kicked off the table.”
What Did You Say?
One of the issues most likely to develop in groomers over time is hearing loss. Groomers may think they are fine now, but hearing loss will become apparent as time goes on.
Joe Zuccarello, vice president of sales, marketing and business development at Paragon School of Pet Grooming, points out that as rewarding as a career in pet grooming is, it can have its own challenges, both mental and physical.
“At the Paragon School of Dog Grooming, we identify and promote healthy habits we hope our students take with them to extend the life of their careers,” says Zuccarello. “Even if you have been grooming for several years, it’s a good idea to take a step back and look at what you are doing to protect yourself and your career.”
If you don’t want to be constantly saying “What? I can’t hear you,” to everyone you speak to, then take care of your ears. Grooming equipment is loud and it’s surprising how many groomers do not wear any ear protection. According to a report from The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, extended or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels (approximately the level of a vacuum cleaner) can cause hearing loss.
“Any guesses as to how loud your force dryers might be?” asks Zuccarello. “Louder than 85 decibels. How about the continuous barking dog in a stainless kennel? A barking dog near your ear is approximately 110 decibels and can result in possible hearing loss in less than two minutes.”
For comparison, a diesel truck driving by you 30 ft. away is about 100 decibels, while a gunshot is about 165 decibels. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers 85 decibels the maximum noise level that should be tolerated during an eight hour workday, the surprising part is that an increase of only five decibels is unsafe for more than four hours.
Teri DiMarino is a name that most groomers know. She’s been a Groom Team USA competitor, is a member of the board of directors, the president of the California Professional Pet Groomer’s Association and has been a groomer for 45 years. Those 45 years have resulted in hearing loss, especially in the higher ranges, which she attributes mostly to working around dryers without hearing protection. She also has another issue, one caused from permanent nerve damage—tinnitus.
“It’s different for different people, but for me it’s like hearing cicadas all the time,” she explains. “I was sitting by the door with my husband, Jeff, and said I thought there were really a lot of cicadas tonight as they were really loud. He told me we don’t have cicadas in California.”
Tinnitus can manifest as a ringing or other noise in the ears when no noise is present. It is primarily caused by environmental and behavioral factors, with noise exposure and hearing loss being the main catalysts for the condition. Who is at risk for getting it? One high-risk group according to the American Tinnitus Association is people employed in loud workplace environments—and there is no cure for it. There are also triggers that make it worse, according to DiMarino, like caffeine, alcohol and additional noise. Silence helps, and a white noise machine will help at night.
“Get the best quality headphones or earphones that you can,” says DiMarino. “Get them at a shooting range or Home Depot. You can still hear a dog in trouble or the phone ringing, but it cuts down the damaging noise.”
She adds that ear plugs can also help but won’t prevent all of the damaging noise. Things that completely cover your ears are the most beneficial. Today, just a few minutes of a velocity dryer will trigger DiMarino’s tinnitus, making it louder and harder to ignore. When she realized 30 years ago she was having problems, she made it mandatory that employees in her salon wear ear protection.
Noise is stressful on many levels, besides the physical. If you can reduce even one of the stressors groomers suffer from, it will increase your health and general wellness. Ed Berger, chief executive officer of Groomers Helper and ActiVet Brushes agrees that stress plays a large part in the well being of groomers.
“When it comes to wellness in grooming, there is a dark, little storm cloud that follows all of us, and it goes by the name of… STRESS.” he says. “It does not matter how long you have groomed, or what your age is, there are two basic kinds of stress that you need to figure out how to deal with—mental stress and physical stress.”
When it comes to mental stress, groomers all share two key stress issues. We stress about the prospect of being injured by the animal we are working on, followed closely by being concerned about actually hurting the animal. While you may have become accustomed to this elevated level of mental stress, no one is immune to it. One industry-wide solution to help with this stressor is the Groomers Helper Safety & Positioning System.
By limiting the bite radius of the dog by up to 90 percent, and keeping it controlled and centered on the table, we don’t need to worry about anyone jumping or falling off the table. The system also has two quick releases in case of emergency; one on the safety loop and a panic snap on the Loop Adjuster. There are over 100,000 groomers using the Groomers Helper to make this stress more manageable, and if you need proof that they work, just try to borrow one from somebody while they are working—not going to happen!
Physical stress is no stranger to any of us working on pets all day, particularly with up to 40 percent of our time spent brushing. The repetitive stress on our hands, wrists and forearms is a pain of everyday life. Using tools that do the jobs faster and more efficiently, that also require less physical exertion, are the key to relief. The ActiVet brush system has ergonomically designed handles, and the flexible heads significantly reduce the strain on your arm.
Zuccarello also notes that protecting your feet while grooming is an important preventative measure.
“Take care of your feet! Believe it or not, oftentimes leg and back pain can be attributed to wearing the wrong kind of shoes for the job,” he says. “Invest in good shoes. While you’re at it, find waterproof shoes—or as close as you can to waterproof—because wet feet can cause traction issues inside your shoes and increase your chances of losing your footing or balance.”
He also adds that you should always vacuum loose hair from the floor after every groom and dry the bathing room floor as often as possible.
“Take a lesson from the Paragon School of Pet Grooming’s student learning. Remember how important you are to your pet parent clients and their pets,” says Zuccarello. “They want you to be around for a long time and so do we.”
Whether it’s seeing a chiropractor or masseuse, wearing earmuffs and a mask, practicing yoga, or using the best equipment for the task at hand, your longevity in our industry will be increased, as well as your enjoyment of it, by looking out for your health and wellness every day. Happy, safe and stress-free grooming to you! PB
Carol Visser has been involved in the pet industry since 1982 in various capacities, including grooming in and owning a busy suburban shop, working as a product expert for PetEdge, teaching seminars and training dogs. She certified as a Master Groomer with NDGAA in 1990 and as a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in 2007, and she continues to enjoy learning about dogs and grooming at her small salon in rural Maine.