Safety Tips for Grooming Salons

beautiful blonde dog groomer at work


When it comes to safety in the salon, most pet care professionals have already thought about the most obvious and common areas of concern. However, the most difficult aspects to police are often the subtle ones you’ve never thought of, which is where social media can help. Each time you read a sad story about something awful that happened in a grooming salon, it’s ultimately a lesson to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen on your watch.


It’s a huge responsibility to be trusted with someone’s beloved companion, and you need to make sure that you take every step possible to keep their pets protected. Salon safety goes beyond ensuring that staff are working in an educated and acceptable manner.


Physical safety is the most obvious concern, and it’s often a matter of thinking ahead, visualizing everything that could go wrong and then taking the steps to prevent them. Are the safety latches on kennel doors locked? Are there at least three barriers between pet areas and the outdoors? Are the loud noises stressing the animal out? Is a wiggly dog at risk of falling off a table?


Those types of concerns are easy enough to manage: Use a Groomers Helper for control; use a Happy Hoodie to reduce over-stimulating noise; push the table against the wall to minimize the chance of a pet stepping off the table; don’t lay scissors down on the grooming table (or at least close them before doing so); and make sure everyone knows how to shear and handle dogs correctly.


When it comes to addressing and preventing similar issues, being a step ahead is always key. Make sure dogs can’t get to any plants in the salon; keep crates free from peeling paint and cover sharp edges, keep all cleaning products out of a dog’s reach and, most importantly, make sure staff are adequately educated on all aspects of salon safety.


Of course, pets can experience medical emergencies in even the safest grooming salon environment, so every employee in your salon, from groomers to receptionists, should be trained in pet first aid and CPR. Mary Oquendo, an industry speaker and mobile groomer, teaches a class through Pet Tech, which is offered at many grooming shows. 


An Ounce of Prevention

Another important item to have is releases of various kinds for clients to sign outlining liability issues. Have, at minimum, one for geriatric pets, one for matted dogs and a general one for new clients. While they may or may not reduce your liability in case of an accident, injury or even death, they will help open a dialogue with your customer.


I once had a new client’s big, squirmy dog slip a hind leg off a table and when she brought it back up, she was bleeding badly from a cut on the inside of her leg. There was nothing on the table’s side but plastic edging held on with a screw properly sunk in, but she still somehow managed to rip an 8 in. ragged gash in her leg. 


I believed that the table was perfectly safe, and when I had asked the owner during take-in if the dog had any prior injuries I should know about, I was told "no." A later conversation revealed that the dog had extensive surgery a couple years ago to put the bones in the back of her leg back together after some trauma, causing the skin in that area to be very fragile. 


The release I had read to the owner and had her sign at the time asked not only about previous injuries, but detailed examples. If I knew the dog’s condition going in, I could have taken extra care to prevent that accident.


These waivers should be specific and ask about any surgeries, ACL tears, back problems, hip dysplasia, lameness, seizures, vision or hearing issues; in addition to ear infections, diabetes, kidney problems, heart trouble or skin conditions. Asking about specific ailments will often help jog the clients’ memories.


Common Concerns

Most of us know that it’s risky to shave a severely matted pet because you don’t know what’s underneath. Make sure you warn customers about the range of the risks that can occur from clipper irritation, such as nasty hot spots, nicks and even the animal jumping at the wrong time. What you may not remember to mention until it happens is the risk of hematomas once a badly-matted ear that hangs down is shaven. Once the ear leather has been freed of mats, sometimes the combination of a renewed blood supply and the animal shaking its head at the odd, lighter weight causes the ears to hit the head, resulting in blood rushing to the area and swelling, sometimes even seeping out the bottom.


Clipping tight mats gradually—just 1/2 in. at a time—is thought to reduce the likelihood of hemotomas, as is using a flexible bandage wrap or a Happy Hoodie to keep the ears in place. 


Hemotomas can also happen thorough cleaning and plucking of a sensitive, infected ear. One benefit of the matted pet form is that you can mention this type injury as soon as you see the animal and ensure that the owner knows any injuries are a result of the dog’s condition and not poor salon practices.


In the last decade, there has been a huge increase in the number of dogs with allergies, which are most often exhibited as skin issues. Once inflamed, secondary bacterial and yeast infections are likely to develop on the skin. Most groomers are used to helping dogs with dermatitis through frequent bathing with appropriate or prescribed shampoos and conditioners, but it turns out we may actually be part of the problem.


Shampoos are made with preservatives to prevent mold, fungus and/or bacteria from forming and are successful to the point where most shampoos have a safe shelf life of a year or two, if unopened and undiluted. Once opened, though, the shampoo is prey to any microscopic bit of nastiness that may be floating around. Usually an obvious odor wafting from the bottles used to dilute and dispense shampoo is a tip-off that the solution’s gone bad, but even shampoo that seems perfectly fine may harbor bacteria that can cause skin problems or exacerbate existing ones. 


Any bottles of diluted shampoo should be discarded at the end of each day, and the bottle must be disinfected. Check with manufacturers for recommended cleaning processes, but washing with hot water and bleach at a 1:32 dilution (1/2 cup bleach in 1 gal. of water) and allowing a 10 minute contact time is generally effective. Rinsing and racking to dry will help reduce the bleach odor.


Shampoo delivery systems also need to be disinfected carefully to ensure the safety of the animals in your care. I used to think that cleaning the recirculating pump at the end of every day was sufficient—after all, it has shampoo running through it, right? However, according to Debi Hiller, blogger and owner/stylist at A Cut Above grooming salon in Albany, Ga., groomers need to think of the sebum, yeast and bacteria that may be retained in the pump and the hose lining. 


Consult your pump’s manufacturer for cleaning and disinfecting instructions, but many groomers are successful with running a hot water/vinegar solution through the pump after each dog, as well as conducting a more thorough cleaning at the end of each day. 


Whether it’s the obvious risks or the more subtle ones, working to keep our pet businesses safer is the most important task we have.  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. She continues to enjoy learning about dogs and grooming at her small salon in rural Maine.