🐶 Grooming Senior Dogs

The secrets to handling elderly dogs AND their owners

Getting old stinks! And it stinks for dogs too.

They get arthritis. They become impatient. They experience eyesight or hearing issues. 😢

At one time or another, we have all had a hard time grooming a senior dog.

Senior pets tend to stress and have anxiety attacks a lot more easily than younger pets. And educating those difficult owners that don’t seem to understand what senior pets go through is challenging.

When pets get older, grooming is more about comfort and less about vanity. Today, let’s dive in on how to handle elderly dogs AND their owners.

If you’re a usual around these parts - welcome back! And if you’re new here, my name’s Alex 🙂 This is the Daily Groomer, your best friend when it comes to professional grooming - or 2nd best friend if we’re counting dogs 😂.

Let’s dive in👇

Best Practices for Bathing

Generally, senior dogs tend to stress out more than others during a bath. To avoid extra stress, I’d recommend taking it slower. I talked to several pro-senior groomers and here’s what they had to say:

  • Talk to the dog in a soothing voice.
  • Give the dog an impromptu leg and hindquarters massage to loosen any stiff joints.
  • Gently lower the dog into the tub - much slower than usual. Senior dogs with arthritis will feel this in their joints so make it easy for them!
  • Avoid using soap on your dog’s head and snout. For those areas, dip a washcloth in sudsy water and use it to gently clean around the mouth, ears and eyes.

If you have a pet that happens to have an anxiety attack, wrap them in a towel and hold them until they calm down. Once they are calm, put them in a quiet area to relax for a bit. If they are still wet, put them in a cage with a cool fan on them.

Pro tip
- Another option that we have found to be really successful is to have the owner bathe the dog at home and let them air dry the night before their groom. (You will also need to tell them that because the pet is not blown dry, it might not be as even as they are used to.)

Best Practices for Drying

Similar to bathing, the best tips for drying are to go SLOW.

Use the blaster on a low setting (without the nozzle if possible). Use cotton balls or a happy hoodie to cover their ears - or both! If they don’t have too much hair, just take the extra time and towel dry them. It will make them feel better and prevent any unnecessary problems for you.

For a dog that can’t tolerate tradition drying, kennel dryers can be a useful tool. I know they’re not everybody’s favorite, but as long as the dryer is on low heat and the kennel is fully supervised this can be a great solution.

Best Practices for Grooming

When it comes to doing the actual groom, I’d recommend letting them sit or lay down as much as possible to make them comfortable.

When it comes time for them to stand, there are several different grooming aids available on the market. One that I see a lot is the Groomer Essentials Senior Support. It helps them stay standing so they don’t wobble off the sides of the table, and it keep them close to the grooming arm.

Things to Lookout For

Dryer Seizures
- The mini-anxiety attacks senior dogs have while drying. They'll start repetitive barking in a panicked way, and might not be able to settle. If they start doing this, immediately turn off any dryers in the salon (even if it's coming from another dog), wrap them gently in a towel, and take them somewhere quiet. Once they calm down, give them a break whether it's a walk around or time in a quiet kennel then reassess.

Labored Breathing
- They should NOT have labored breathing. If they do, that usually means that they are one (or many) of the following: overly stressed, in pain, or having a respiratory problem (like heart failure or heart worms). Some common signs of labored breathing are:

  1. Open mouth breathing.
  2. Abdomen heaves with every breath.
  3. Fast and short breaths (hyperventilating)
  4. Breathing is noisy (raspy or congested)
  5. Nostrils flare open when breathing.

Gray Gums
- An easy tell for unhealthy vitals. The color of their gums should be pink, so if you notice spotted or black gums that could be a sign of stress. You can easily test their gums by applying pressure with your finger. In that area, the color of the gums will temporarily turn white, and then within seconds, they should bounce back to pink. If “reading” the gums is hard, you can check the lower eyelid to examine the tissue inside. The color code for both the gums and inner eyelids is as follows:

  • Gray, purple, or there is a very slow color bounce back - then the pet is probably in shock.
  • If they are blue, then the pet is lacking oxygen.
  • If they are white, then there is internal or external blood loss.
  • If they are red, then the pet probably has gingivitis or is fighting some kind of an infection. In some cases, red gums can also mean that there could be toxins in the pet’s system.

If at any point, the dog is struggling or you have to force something, take a step back.
Older dogs are much more prone to stress & anxiety so they can get very overwhelmed.

Overall, Client Communication is KEY

Following the first groom on a senior dog, keep good record of how it goes. If something happens, write it down so you know to be extra careful for next time.

The older they are, the earlier their appointment should be. Older pets should always have early appointments, so they can be groomed straight through and not have to wait around while their anxiety levels are increasing. It is also better for the pet to be taken potty right after grooming. Their organs don’t work like they used to, and it is our job to keep them comfortable. Something as simple as putting the pet in the bathtub can set them off. If the pet is not acting normal in the presence of their owners and even the owner notices this, more than likely the behavior will not get better. It will only worsen when the owner leaves. The owner should then be told that, in the pet’s best interest, they should be examined by the vet before returning for a groom.

Alex Martin
Top story
March 22, 2024

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