Help Me Choose A Crystal
The Importance of a Well-Identified Pet

The Importance of Snout To Tail Assessments

When I look back on my life, there have been days that ended up as turning points in my life. One such date was April, 9, 2004. That was the day Binngo; a nine year old maltese, died from a heart attack on my grooming table. Many changes were made including beginning each groom with an assessment. It has been just about eight years now and still I begin each session with a pet assessment. A pet assessment is where I go from head to tail with deliberate intent and purpose to determine if they are healthy enough to groom. There may have been changes since the last time I saw them, especially if this is an older pet. On more than one occasion, I have rescheduled a groom due to problems found during the assessment. There is no amount of income that could compensate for the mental anguish over the loss of a pet. I know, because I have been there.


For new clients, the assessment should be done with the owner present. You want all preexisting conditions noted before the owner leaves. You do not want to be blamed for something that was there before hand and also serves to reduce “misunderstandings” between yourself and the client. In addition, during the assessment the owner sees how well their pet handles being handled. It presents a good opportunity to educate your clients on pet care and offer and charge for needed extra services. I have always found that educated clients are good clients. The added benefit is that this assessment demonstrates to the pet owner a level of professionalism that sets you apart from your competition.


I first look at the pet overall. Is he bouncy with bright eyes? Or is he lethgaric, coughing, or having trouble breathing? Are his eye dull? Coughing may be an indicator of kennel cough, respiratory infections, canine influenza, or a heart condition. Add in runny noses and eyes and you have a serious health concern. None of which you want in your facility. Watch them walk. Does he appear to be in pain? The worse bite I ever received was from an arthritic golden retriever I was helping into my van.


If it is a cat, the two things I look for are dilated eyes and heavy panting. Both indicate stress and a cat under stress can have a heart attack fairly quickly. 


Before I touch a pet, I keep a muzzle close and my face at a distance. If I am uncomfortable or unable to touch him, he goes home. I will not risk my livelihood by a potentially career ending bite.


I start with the mouth. Gums should be pink except for those breeds with mottled or dark gums such as Chows Chows. A yellowish tinge in an indicator of liver failure. Bluish is hypoxic. There is no blood flow. And pale gums are an indicator of shock. Teeth in poor shape cause mouth pain, which in turn, creates snappy dogs. Take this opportunity to educate your clients on dental care. Do you offer dental products for sale?


Eyes should be bright and dilate equally. Unequal dilation or rapidly moving eyes are a sign of neurological problems. Hardened discharge may have irritated and raw skin underneath.


Foul odor, redness, discharge, and head shaking are all signs of an ear infection. I will not clean or pluck ears in this condition. Very thick looking ears may be a hematoma or severe matting. Use caution when removing severe matting from the ear as blood vessels could rupture as pressure from the matts is released.


Arthritis or leg injuries will cause pain when moved or touch. A pet in pain can bite. Pain in the spine can be neurological in origin.


Check pads for ingrown nails, debris, or cuts. Even well behaved pets may have feet issues. I groom a couple of pets that do not get their nails done.


If the belly area is distended or hard, refer to vet immediately as this could be a sign of bloat. It may be accompanied by drooling and a very uncomfortable looking pet.


Notes any lumps, bumps, cysts, and warts on their body. You do not want to shave them off during the groom. Check the skin for irritations, wounds, and parasites. Can you even see the skin? You have no idea what you will find once the matts are removed. I have found open sores than required veterinary treatment. 


The first time you perform a pet assessment it will take longer than that of an established client. I do not require the owner to be present during subsequent assessments. Only the first time. For me, it’s part of the greeting process. As I am saying hello to the pet and making kissy faces, I simply run my hands over his body and pay attention to body language.


Encourage your clients to continue this at home.  Their pet stands a better chance of recovery when problems are brought to light as early detection means early intervention. Recommend any concerns found followed up at their vet and keep notes on their client card. The assessment form I use can be requested at Pet Tech will allow you make as many copies as you like and give them to your clients. Just leave the Pet Tech logo intact. Barkleigh makes clients cards that you can keep notes on the pet for yourself.


I may have lost Binngo, but I gained a respect for not taking a pet’s health for granted.


*Note- This originally appeared in the December 2011 Groomer To Groomer and is reprinted with permission. This was the very first article I wrote for them.


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