After countless private messages and comments of concern on my recent Facebook post, I decided to share my story in hopes that I can spread awareness of the occupational health hazards that can affect groomers.
After grooming for about one year I decided to become a mobile groomer. Within the first year of being mobile I developed a persistent cough. After many visits to the doctor and countless runs of antibiotics the cough would never completely clear up.
After several years, I had allergy testing done thinking the worst… could I be allergic to dogs? I have had dogs my entire life but it was possible that I could have developed allergies. Test results came in…. no allergies. I was put on two different inhalers, an albuterol and a steroid, to try to clear the cough. As a busy mother of three, work and my busy competition schedule, I put my health on the back burner thinking it’s just a cough… it will eventually go away.
Well it didn’t go away and what I didn’t realize was the fact that my bronchial tubes were becoming damaged from this chronic cough.
After six years of coughing, bouts of bronchitis and even an episode of pneumonia, I woke up in the middle of the night coughing up blood. I was never so scared in my life. I drove myself to the emergency room. I was immediately given breathing treatments. A pulmonary specialist was on call that evening. After hearing my history he ordered a bronchoscopy. This is a procedure where a scope is sent down your bronchial tubes to see what is going on.
I was soon diagnosed with a pulmonary disease called bronchiectasis. Bronchiectasis is a condition where the bronchial tubes become enlarged resulting from any medical condition that creates the production of mucus. Frequent episodes of Bronchitis, pneumonia and chronic coughs can contribute to this disease. Once the bronchial tubes become enlarged they can form pockets that hold the mucus making it difficult to expel. This is a breeding ground for bacteria. Lung infections become a common occurrence. There is no cure for this disease and it is not reversible. This disease can be managed by inhalers and nebulizers which help to expel the mucus. Antibiotics are prescribed when the infections arise. Pneumonia and flu vaccines are important for me to have. Any common cold can quickly turn into pneumonia for me due to the weakness in my lungs. The bleeding that occurred was from coughing so much and it is common in bronchiectasis patients.
So the question is… can grooming dogs and cats cause pulmonary issues? Absolutely! Coughing occurs when something irritates and stimulates your airways. If you find that you have had a persistent cough for more than eight weeks, it is time to get to the doctor and clear it up.
I remember days when I would come home after grooming a double coated breed and just could not stop coughing. The dander, hair and fine clipped hair that is in the air is constantly being inhaled into your lungs. Think of all those yeasty dogs and dogs with flaky dandruff…. all those particles are being blown in the air by the high velocity dryers. In my mobile van I could really see the quality of the air as the sun shines through. The particles just saturate the air that we breathe.
My pulmonary physician discussed with me how my occupation was aggravating this condition and could be causing the frequent flare ups of infection. He recommended that I either take precautions or just stop grooming completely. I began to really take notice of how I was grooming. I started to brush the double coated breeds in the tub when they were wet and soapy to eliminate the undercoat blowing around in the grooming van. I developed a system that I felt was working really well. Not only was this method proven to be beneficial to me but it also became extremely proficient in removing undercoat and keeping it at bay for 5-6 weeks between appointments. It made a huge difference in the amount of hair that was in the air in my small confined area of the grooming van. This system is shown in its entirety in my video “Deshedding: Theory & Technique”. A large amount of work is done it the tub….the end result: less hair and faster drying time. With Spring upon us, we will all see the double coated breeds shedding profusely. This is the time to change your procedure and save your lungs.
Protect your lungs… wear a mask. You don’t want to have to live with a pulmonary condition for the rest of your life. I will always have a cough. I will always have to use inhalers and nebulizers to help keep the mucus down to a minimum. Some weeks are good where I have very little mucus and it is somewhat clear. Other weeks I suffer with a huge amount of mucus that is on its way to becoming an infection and that’s when antibiotics have to come into play. It scares me to think of taking antibiotics so frequently but I have no choice. I know talking about mucus is gross but the struggle is real.
There are so many options for masks. The surgical masks are comfortable but do not give you complete protection. They do not hug your face, instead they leave gaps where hair and dander can still be inhaled.
There are masks available at Home Depot or Lowes that are made for different jobs. 3M offers masks for sanding and fiberglass jobs. These masks are capable of preventing the finest dust from passing through the mask.
The girls at my nail salon gave me the masks that they use. They are very comfortable. They add a gauze pad inside the mask for more protection. ( Thanks Oliver for being my model!)
Finding the right mask is something that will be a personal choice based on comfort.
Ear and eye protection are also important. Many groomers suffer from hearing loss because of noisy high velocity dryers. It’s time to think about your health. You could be one of the lucky ones and never have a problem but sometimes it just isn’t worth the gamble.
Thank you for listening. If I could do it all over again I would have worn a mask and put my health first. I can only hope that my story has made you realize that it can happen to you too.