If you get bitten...

If you work with animals long enough, eventually you may suffer a bite.  In my 35 years of grooming, I am thankful that I have had only a  few serious dog or cat bites . I chalk this up to experience and good reflexes, but a few weeks ago I sustained a rather nasty "nip" from a Scottish Terrier. It was his second visit with us. He'd been a model citizen on his first visit, and just as nice on the table this time. He was hand stripped, and I was just pulling one last little bit on his neck when he swung his head and bit the top of my left hand. No growl, no warning.

It is very important to practice excellent first aid if you are bitten by an animal.  Acting quickly may prevent infection from setting in.

  • If you are injured, secure the animal in a safe place so you can concentrate on taking care of the wound.
  • Allow/encourage the wound to bleed a bit, this will help flush bacteria out.
  • Wash the wound with clear, running water and mild soap.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment.
  • Cover the wound with a sterile dressing.

While doing this care, assess the severity to see if medical attention is required. In the case of this bite, I opted not to go to the doctor, but to monitor the wound for infection.  Luckily it healed well on it's own. A few years ago I had a single puncture in my forearm by an elderly dog with badly neglected teeth. Within hours I had signs of infection, and went to see my doctor. She threatened to hospitalize me, but I managed to avoid that by taking the prescribed antibiotics, wrapping the arm in a moist compress and a heating pad, and keeping it elevated for hours. Bacteria like to grow within a certain temperature range, and the prolonged heat and elevation, combined with the miracle of modern medicine had me back to work in no time.

Animal bites cannot always be sutured, but this is a decision left to your physician. When in doubt about the severity of the wound, please seek medical attention.  Infection is a serious concern with bites, bacteria such as pasturella, staphylococcus, streptococcus or capnocytophaga are frequent culprits. Cat bites are particularly apt to cause infection, so medical attention is strongly encouraged if you are bitten by a feline.

Ascertain that the animal who injured you is up to date on their rabies vaccine. Don't take the pet owners word for it, call their veterinarian to be sure.

Check to make sure that your tetanus vaccine is up to date.

It is my hope that no one reading this ever has to contend with an injury from an animal they are grooming, but if you should, please practice stringent first aid and see your doctor if necessary.



Important communication tip...

After more than 3 decades grooming pets, I have learned a few things about communicating with customers. My daughter grooms with me now, and sometimes she seems amazed by how I interpret conversations. Here is an example: new customers came in with their recently adopted young adult West Highland White Terrier. The dog had been shaved all over a few months before they got him, and his coat had grown in rather uneven and messy.  He was a cute little dog, and I was looking forward to making him look really nice.  "What do you have in mind for his hair cut today?" I asked.  The man said, "I want him in a traditional Westie trim." The wife said, "I want him short and easy to take care of."  I said, "OK!" and off they went.  My daughter looked at me and said, "So, what are you going to do?" I said, "I'm going to make him cute."   After a bath, fluff dry, nail trim and really good brushing, I put him in a traditional Westie pattern, with short furnishings. I made sure his head and tail looked the way they should. It was very rewarding to take him from looking scraggly and make him look handsome.  My daughter was dubious. When the owners returned, they adored the trim, and have kept him in that same style for the last several years.

What I have found is that listening to what people lead with is what is most important to them. To the man, he wanted his rescued dog to look like the pure bred animal he was. The wife, (who was clearly in charge of brushing and coat care at home)  wanted an easy upkeep hair cut. I knew I could make him look the way he should, but a bit more tailored so there was not excessive coat care between groomings. And that is what I did. 

Here is another example. When someone comes in and I ask what they want for grooming, and the first words out of their mouth are, "She needs her nails done!" I know that I need to pay extra attention to getting those claws trimmed as short as possible, and buffed with my Dremel tool to make them as smooth as possible.

Likewise, if the first comment is, "I can't see his eyes," I make sure to trim around those eyes so that they are clearly visible, and will stay that way until the dog returns in 6 weeks.  Of course there may be other instructions after that first comment, and I listen, but I have found that if I really pay attention to the first declarative sentence, I am very apt to make the customer happy with my work.

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