By T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
A groomer often spends more time with your pet than a neighborhood veterinarian. He or she is, therefore, better equipped to judge your pet's physical and mental attitude. So how do they do this?
Well, each groomer has his or her methods, but I'll let you in on a little secret. It has a lot to do with examining the dog (or cat)thoroughly and recognizing what is "normal. Let's look at a typical examination ... from the perspective of a groomer.
Skin and Coat
Groomers, by the very nature of the profession, have the best opportunity to evaluate the character of pets' skin and coat. Using your senses of touch, vision, and smell, you will be able to detect deviations from a "healthy skin and coat," and these changes should be noted in the pet's chart and personally conveyed to the pets' owners.
Let's define "healthy skin and coat" so we're clear about what is considered "normal." Don't confuse "normal" with "common." Every day in my practice I see pets that have unhealthy skin and coats (usually due to improper nutrition) -- so less than optimum is actually quite "common." I've often thought a normal skin/coat condition was actually quite uncommon! Using your senses of touch, vision and smell you will begin to recognize the character of a "normal" or "healthy" skin and coat.
Normal touch: There will be a soft texture to the hairs and even in wiry coats, such as in Airedales, the character of the coat should be pliable and smooth.
Abnormal touch:The coat will be made up of dry, coarse, brittle hairs, some broken off, some very fine. The coat may be sparse and thinning or short and underdeveloped.
Normal appearing skin/coat: The skin will have a clean look to it and be free of scales, scabs and crusts. The coat should appear full, almost lustrous and have a soft look to it.
Abnormal appearing skin/coat: The skin will appear thin, dry and scaly or greasy. The coat will appear dull, lusterless or even dusty. It will have no "shine" to it and will have a harsh appearance.
Normal skin/coat: A healthy skin and coat won't have any smell to it. And even when dirty, will smell like whatever is making it dirty.
Abnormal skin/coat: An unhealthy skin and coat will have a rancid, oily odor; the odor is caused by superficial skin bacteria and their waste products breaking down the oils on the skin.
All skin surfaces have colonies of bacteria present. But an unhealthy skin surface harbors too many of the wrong kinds of bacteria. That is why many veterinarians recommend weekly shampoos with benzoyl peroxide for some dogs with chronic bacterial dermatitis. These types of shampoos keep bacterial numbers to a minimum.
By far the most common medical ailment I see in my practice is "otitis." The root causes of ear trouble can run the full spectrum ... from contact irritants such as occurs from soaps, pollens, grass or carpeting, to infectious organisms such as yeast and bacteria, to parasites such as fleas and ear mites. Veterinarians further generally classify otitis as externa, media, interna depending upon which areas of the entire auditory system is affected. As a groomer you will see many cases of otitist externa and these will generally be either allergic or microbial in nature.
Allergic otitis displays itself as reddened, inflamed ear tissues that feel warm (or even hot!) to the touch. These cases tend to be dry, and have only a mild odor with minimal buildup of wax, pus and debris. An allergic ear really looks red and inflamed.
On the other hand (or other ear!) infected ears and other surrounding tissues due to microbial otitis -- and the bacteria and yeast -- become moist and purulent (the medical term for pus.) That ear canal is a perfect incubator for microorganisms -- dark, most, warm with a good supply of nutrients! If that ear canal sounds wet upon manipulation and has a foul odor, there is certain to be an infection present.
Always check with a veterinarian before plucking hairs from any ear structures that seem to be infected. Sometimes the ear problem requires sedation and cleaning. And chronic, severe cases of infected and scarred ear tissues often respond well to surgery to open up the canal for better exposure to the drying effects of air. Be sure to mention to the pet's owner to have the ears checked if you suspect otitis is present. The longer it goes on, whether it's allergic or infectious, the more scar tissue forms and the more difficult it is to cure. And simple ear cleaners that work well to clean the waxy or oily ears won't touch an infection and may further irritate allergic ears.
Shaving the hairs close with a #40 blade can be of help (keep that blade flat to the skin surface - not at an angle!). If the ear structures have a buildup of crusts or debris, eliminating the hair prevents the hairs from trapping the exudate and allows better contact of medications and facilitates the drying effects of air. So, in general, removing hair from infected tissues can be helpful. (Don't forget to disinfect the instruments frequently!)