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The PetEdge Interview: Grooming Special Needs Pets with Sabrina Van Asveld

Editor's Note: We first met Sabrina last month when she sent us some amazing before and after photos of a Lhasa Apso rescue that she groomed. When Sabrina mentioned that she specialized in grooming special needs pets, we wanted to learn more about this unique and rewarding work.

Sabrina Van Asveld
Playful Little Paws
McKinney, TX

Sabrina writes: "I specialize in special needs dogs, such as blind, deaf, 3-leggers, diabetes, etc. I am also very involved in rescue and groom shelter and rescue dogs on a regular basis."

Confetti (a deaf Maltese mix) before

Confetti after

I have been grooming for five years, having started as a bather in a local grooming shop, where I everntually became the shop manager.

After a while, I realized the part I enjoyed the most was working one-on-one with the dogs, so I asked the groomers to teach me what they knew.

After a few years and plenty of practice, I opened my own grooming business called Playful Little Paws, which I operate out of my home in McKinney, Texas.

Stitch (Yorkie blind in one eye) before

Stitch after

I specialize in special needs dogs because my own pets have health issues and physical challenges (such as blindness, deafness and seizures).

I realized that they did not do well in a regular shop setting and started grooming them from home, where they seemed to be calmer and more at ease.

I soon found out there was a demand for special needs grooming.

Pom Pom is a Pomeranian whose jaw was broken in way that was not fixable. His mouth hangs open permanently.

Fitting the Process to the Pet

I think the most important thing to remember is that special needs pets have their own limitations and you have to be willing to tailor your grooming methods to make their visit as pleasant as possible.

You can't expect a special needs pet to have the same kind of tolerance to grooming as a healthy pet. 

Each one comes with its own set of challenges, and as a groomer, you have to be willing to adapt to their particular needs. 

Also, there is no shame in asking for help or taking a short break if the pet needs it. Your main goal should be about providing the best and safest experience for the pet.

Many of these pets get anxious in an unfamiliar setting, so you have to make sure the grooming process takes as little time as possible.

The key to this is to be organized. Make sure your equipment is always well maintained and ready for use.

The more prepared you are, the easier the whole process will be for the pet and yourself.

Tips and Tricks

Blind dogs are more sensitive to sound and touch, so I keep my work environment as quiet a possible, sometimes playing soft music to help soothe them.

Baryshnikov is a blind Bichon Frise who was born without retinas

Deaf dogs won't be quite as spooked with the dryer as a dog with normal hearing, but they can be jumpy or even snap at you if they can't see what you are doing. So I always make sure they see where my hands are going to touch them.

Epileptic dogs need to remain calm in order to avoid bringing on a seizure. The same applies for diabetic pets, since stress can affect their blood sugar levels.

Learning on the Job

I've learned that sometimes you have to be creative to get the job done. For example, if you are working with a three-legged dog, balance can be an issue so you have to find different ways of handling them.

I also learned that no matter how much you think you know, you will always encounter something new to challenge you and make you a better groomer.


One of the most memorable dogs that I groomed was a little Morkie (Maltese/Yorkie mix) called Starbright.

Starbright had the most severe disabilities I have encountered so far. She was a six-month-old puppy diagnosed with severe hydrocephalus and other neurological problems.

Starbright before

Starbright was unable to stand up on her own; her legs would thrash around and make it a challenge to groom her safely. I had to groom her while she lay on her side and I would prop her head up with a towel.

I had to keep her as calm as possible, as she would lose control of her body when she would get overexcited. 

Starbright after

Starbright passed away at the tender age of seven months, but she had a lasting impact on me.


Your Turn:

Do you have stories and photos from your grooming career that you'd like to share with us? Email us at to find out more. We'd love to hear from you.

About the Author: is a leading supplier of wholesale pet supplies and discount dog grooming supplies. Visit us online at for a complete selection of grooming tools, shears, shampoos, tubs, tables and other pet groming favorites.


Oh my goodness, what a wonderful groomer!! She must be something special to really take these issues into consideration. I had two elderly dogs that I groomed myself because of their special needs and not wanting to stress them out. So I understand the extra care required. I have to say the most touching is Starbright, she has now touched my life and I never even met her. So an adorable baby. It heartwarming to know she had such special attention given to her.

Just like humans, even pets may need special attention sometimes. In such cases it is very important to depend on an experienced trainer. These trainers also conduct dog wash and grooming in a special manner for such dogs.

I totally agree with the writer on the fact that special needs pet may not have the same kind of tolerance to grooming as a healthy pet. This is why extra patience and love is required for such pets.

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