Every career has risks to your health. People who sit at computers all day can develop back problems and get chronic headaches. Healthcare professionals are exposed to a myriad of diseases on a daily basis. Social service professionals are at an extremely high risk of burnout… You get the idea.
The key to minimizing the health risks of any job is proper training and preventative measures. Unfortunately, a lot of dog grooming courses don’t really delve into this topic. That’s why today, we’re going to look at the occupational health hazards of being a dog groomer, as well as the steps you can take to protect yourself!
1: Back Problems
As a dog groomer, you’ll sometimes find yourself working at odd angles. Being bent over a grooming table can be murder on your back. Not to mention, you’ll also frequently be lifting dogs into or out of the tub, as well as on and off of the grooming table.
- Use mechanically-powered grooming tables and tubs. You should set a comfortable height based on the dog. Try to keep your back straight at all times.
- Use a ramp or steps for the dogs. If you don’t want to invest in a power-lifted table/tub, you can at least set up steady ramps or steps. This way, the bigger dogs can climb onto elevated surfaces on their own.
- Use the buddy system. If all else fails and you have to lift a heavier dog, get a colleague to help you.
- Use a brace. An orthopedic back brace can help prevent back strain. It also helps improve your overall posture. Poor posture can be a major cause of back pain, too.
- Exercise daily. Yoga and/or other stretching exercises can help keep your back strong and healthy. It also increases your endurance for those long days on your feet!
2: Sore Feet / Plantar Fasciitis
“Sore feet” can seem like such a snowflake malady, can’t it? But if you’ve ever worked a job where you literally don’t sit down for 12 hours per day, you know the real effect sore feet can have on your life. It can very easily be disruptive to your life outside of work!
- Wear comfortable and supportive shoes. Heels and flats have no business in a grooming salon. Use a comfortable shoe with a good arch; one meant for walking and standing. Sneakers are a good pick for this type of environment.
- Use insoles and orthotics. Insoles and other orthotic inserts are normally recommended if you’re going to spend the entire day on your feet. It’s not a bad idea to consult with a podiatrist if you start experiencing any type of foot pain from your job.
- Rest and stretch whenever you can. It might not be ideal to take your shoes off in a busy grooming salon, or in the break room where people are eating. But if you’re able to get away for 10 minutes once or twice a day to take off your shoes and stretch your feet, it’s probably worth doing.
3: Groomers Lung
Yes, that’s a real thing!
Being a dog groomer means you breathe in a lot of stuff that you probably shouldn’t. Over time, this can cause mild to very severe lung problems. Groomers Lung is unfortunately not well known in the grooming community, but it’s a very real and serious condition that should be taken seriously.
- Use a mask. This is especially important when blow-drying a dog, or if you’re brushing out the undercoat of particularly hairy dogs (I’m looking at you, Akitas). But it’s also a good habit to wear a mask any time a large amount of fur and other debris is flying around. The good news is that there are tons of cloth groomer’s masks you can buy, and most are super cute!
- Rinse out your sinuses. Even when using a mask, you’d be surprised how much dog hair and other garbage you can still breathe in. Using a sinus rinse like a neti pot or Hydrasense on a daily basis can help clear out debris from your nasal passages. This way, it won’t get inhaled into your lungs.
- Have a good air filter in your salon. While we’re at it, maybe have more than one. Air filters will trap all that nasty stuff flowing through the air, so less of it ends up in your lungs. In an environment such as a dog grooming salon, with so much fur flying around the room, you should make sure to check your filters every few days. Replace them frequently – it’ll be necessary! Don’t follow the manufacturer’s recommendations here; you’ll likely have to change your air filters 3 or 4 times faster than recommended.
- Clean like there’s no tomorrow! Try to vacuum (or at least sweep) your workstations before and after each client. Doing so will help catch errant hairs before they get into your lungs. You should also thoroughly vacuum and clean the entire grooming salon every day. Ideally, you’ll even do this twice per day: once in the morning, and once at night. You’ll be surprised how much hair and dust settles overnight!
4: Hearing Problems
You might not think about this one until you start spending a lot of your time in a salon. But doggy hair dryers are LOUD! Being exposed to these kinds of loud noises on such a regular basis can take a toll on your ears. You probably won’t notice it at first, but hearing loss is something that comes on gradually. Once the damage has been done, though, it can’t be reversed. So take care of your ears!
- Use ear protection. This one’s common sense, and pretty straightforward. Whenever you’re using a dryer or any other loud instrument, always make sure to protect your ears. Ear plugs are both affordable and effective. Alternately, you can also invest in a good pair of ear muffs that anyone in the salon can use.
5: Bites and Scratches
Working with animals, it’s just a fact that the odd bite or scratch will happen. That said, it should be the exception and not the norm. I know dog trainers, who make a living working with aggressive dogs, who haven’t been bitten more than once or twice in their entire 30+ year careers. If they can avoid being bitten by dogs who want to kill them, you can avoid being bitten by Fluffy on the grooming table.
- Listen to the dog. Dogs don’t want to bite you. They’ll give you plenty of warning before resorting to biting you. A growl is the clearest sign that you should stop what you’re doing. In addition, a stiff posture, pinned back ears, hackles up, whale eyes, etc. are other common signs you should look for.
- Stay below the dog’s threshold. This is the biggest problem most groomers face. If a dog gets overly stressed, he will react. You can likely groom any dog with enough time, but you have to give the dog that time. If a dog gets stressed during a groom, you need to slow down and let them get used to the situation. This might mean taking 3 or 4 times longer to groom a “difficult” dog. Ignoring the dog’s emotional state and pushing through anyways, just to get the job done, will ALWAYS make things worse for you and the dog.
- Avoid grooming difficult dogs. Many groomers can’t devote the time, or just don’t have the training (provided in dog grooming courses), need to groom a reactive or aggressive dog. That’s okay, though! Just be honest with yourself about the types of dogs you’re willing to groom. There are plenty of non-reactive dogs out there that need grooming! Avoiding difficult dogs will not hurt your business.
- Use a muzzle and other tools. There’s nothing wrong with muzzling a dog for a groom, if he has a history of biting. Other tools in such a situation might involve an e-collar (a.k.a. the cone of shame), which physically prevents the dog from reaching your hands. Keep in mind, though, that a muzzle isn’t fool-proof! It should only be there to protect you in the event that you make a mistake. In other words: using a muzzle doesn’t absolve you from doing everything you can to make the groom a relaxing and positive experience for the dog.
- Seek medical care for all bites and scratches. We know this isn’t exactly a preventative measure, but since these injuries are almost inevitable, it’s worth mentioning. Dog bites can be nasty. If you do get bitten, clean out the wound immediately and, if needed, seek medical care.
Now, I feel like I’ve just spent 1,500 words telling you that you’re going to die if you become a dog groomer. But this article is NOT meant to deter you from being a professional dog groomer! Like I said at the start, every profession has its own risks. Nothing is completely foolproof.
The critical thing is that with the proper education, dog grooming courses, practice, and preventative measures, you CAN – and most likely WILL – have a long and healthy career as a dog groomer, without ever encountering these issues!