Crooked, dry, cracking or pitted nails are a tip-off that the dog may have a fungal infection or be poorly nourished. If you see abnormal nails, be especially watchful for areas on the skin where there may be circular, dry patches of hair loss. The dog or cat may have "ringworm", a fungal infection (called dermatophyte), that requires oral medication to correct.
And it is important to notify a veterinarian if there is any pus or bleeding from the nail bed. This can be serious if you come into contact with bloody or purulent discharge.
You must also be able to properly trim nails. For a quick tutorial, click here.
However, simple trimming won't provide proper nail set if the dog has large or overgrown nails (such as with the Basset, Doberman and some small breeds. Instead have a veterinarian take a look. The dog may require a "deep pedicure" under anesthesia to cut the toe nails back close.
Broken nails need to be trimmed back to the fracture site, then a coagulant applied. Pulled nails -- those that have been torn from the nail bed, with a bloody circle at the end of the toe -- require a an immediate veterinary check. I've had to amputate many toes where a chronic deep infection invaded the toe bones and simply would not heal ... all because of a pulled nail.
As a groomer you will have numerous opportunities to help your subjects by pointing out abnormalities to the owner or veterinarian. Probably the most common disorder you'll see will be epiphora, or excessive tearing. There are so many causes for the tears draining down the face that entire books could be written on just this topic!
Here's where your penlight comes in handy. Darken the room and shine the light along the edges of the eyelids and look for tiny eyelashes growing along the edges of the lids. If these tiny lashes are contacting the eye, there is the potential for serious corneal damage. Report this condition, called distichiasis, to the owner or veterinarian. Often the tiny openings, one in the inside corner of all four lids, will be under-developed or plugged up.
Tear duct obstruction sometimes can be alleviated by using small amounts of an antibiotic called tetracycline. A veterinarian can evaluate tear duct flow under anesthesia.
Numerous other disorders such as entropion, follicular conjunctivitis, facial folds, or long hairs contacting the eye can predispose the dog to excessive or misdirected tears resulting in chronic wetness and a mucoid, crusty build-up on the face.
Clipping the hairs short if possible will make clean up or application of medication easier. And please help to dispel the myth that dogs with lots of hair falling in front of the eyes, such as OESD's and Shih Tzus, must have their eyes shaded or excessive light will make them go blind. They most certainly can see better, and the light does not cause blindness, if all that hair is kept away from their eyes.
Inform the owner if you see cataracts in the eyes. Darken the room and shine your penlight directly into the front of the eye and look over the top of the light (as if you were aiming the light into the eye.) Deep in the very center of the eye the light passes through the pupil (the circular opening made by the colored part of the eye called the iris.) Just behind the pupil is the lens and the light should pass unreflected through the lens to the back part of the eye called the retina. If you see a milky or hazy object or reflective particles where the lens is, the dog may have some vision problems and you should let the owner know.
Be very careful about scratches on the corneas. Pekes, Boston Terriers and other breeds whose eyes seem to be bulging out of the socket are especially prone to receiving abrasions on the cornea. Tearing and squinting are the most likely signals of corneal abrasions, and sometimes with the penlight directed at an angle, the abrasion or ulcer on the cornea is visible. Veterinarians will use a stain to highlight these areas.
It's also good idea to have a sterile eye wash solution available if you suspect the dog's eye is irritated.
Every grooming session should include an oral exam. Check the teeth and gums, and pull the corner of the mouth back in order to visualize the molars. It's quite easy to detect oral problems by visualizing bleeding gums, chunks of brown plaque on the teeth or loose teeth and an odor that will knock you over!
You'll be shocked at how many dogs have severe gum inflammation and infection (called gingivitis), loose teeth or even occasionally have cavities.
A healthy oral cavity is vital to the pet's optimum health. You will be doing the pet and owner a great service by suggesting a veterinary check-up for dentistry. You'd be surprised how many veterinarians overlook a thorough oral exam. Dental hygiene is a very important topic and unfortunately it is often overlooked by veterinarians and groomers.