Dr. Fayez Assad

Dr. Fayez Assad

Many pet grooming facilities have been closed for several months, and pets have not been able to receive services due to COVID-19.

With the closures, many pet owners are left asking: Why can’t we get our dogs’ or cats’ nails trimmed? What is the relationship between grooming our pets and social distancing? Why is grooming my pet considered nonessential?

While there are many differing opinions on this topic that can sometimes get heated, the fact is our state leaders categorized pet grooming as nonessential for the past couple of months and grouped that service with hair and nail salons. Under the governor’s three-phase plan to reopen Pennsylvania, grooming services may now be performed in areas that are in the yellow phase of reopening as long as businesses “performing grooming services adhere to business guidance to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Pet grooming has always been important and essential to not only a pet’s health, but also to human wellbeing. While for many, the idea of getting a pet professionally groomed involves a pink bow on Fefe’s front bangs, a bandana around Bruce’s boxer neck, or nail caps on Peter’s paws and a couple of take-home goodies, for me it involves early detection of diseases and underlying conditions, treatment of parasitic infections, and a decrease in allergens that can affect human parents. 

As your groomer brushes your pet’s fur, she can detect numerous conditions – from noticeable external parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice, tapeworms and mites to the less obvious including lumps and bumps.

Getting rid of parasites has never been a luxury or for cosmetic purposes. In fact, quite the opposite. 

These pesky parasites are also a source of many diseases to pets and humans alike. Lyme disease comes from ticks; Bartonellosis (cat scratch disease) from cat flea bites, which causes flu-like symptoms in humans to more severe ailments that can affect the heart; and tapeworms that can infect young children if they ingest larvae – all of which can cause major issues.

On many occasions, groomers have felt lumps and bumps as they lather medicated shampoo on a pet’s damp fur during bathing. When this happens, groomers alert veterinarians so that these concerns are either monitored or removed before they spread to other areas of the pet’s body. 

Pet grooming is not only about maintaining a pet’s appearance, but more importantly a pet’s health. When your pet visits his groomer every couple of weeks, that groomer is able to assess the pet’s condition every single time. Most pet parents do not make monthly visits to the veterinarian. 

However, during the grooming visits, the groomer is able to assess if there’s hair loss or dry skin – both of which can be due to hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland) or Cushing’s disease (overactive pituitary or adrenal gland). Or sometimes, hair loss or dry skin is the result of mineral or vitamin deficiencies. 

A groomer is also able to notice irregularities in a pet’s skin and can alert the pet parent or veterinarian. Once alerted, the veterinarian has to decide if a pet has pyoderma (bacterial infection of the skin) or malassezia (a yeast infection). While these conditions may seem to be manageable at home, in reality they may be secondary to skin allergies or underlying endocrine conditions. More importantly, certain breeds of dogs such as cocker spaniels and cats such as Scottish Folds develop ear and/or eye problems due to having excess hair that needs regular trimming, or regular ear cleaning to control infections and discomfort.

Having proper oral hygiene is also part of a pet’s overall well-being. Regular brushing of the teeth is known to decrease the bacteria that can migrate somewhere else in the body. Pets are also known to suffer from anal gland problems. 

Checking and expressing anal glands when needed during grooming is essential to avoiding infections and discomfort. I can assure you, the majority of pet parents we see are unable to do this on their own. 

Professional pet grooming also helps decrease the incidence of allergies that pet parents may develop. Grooming significantly reduces dander and dead, dry skin that are main culprits of allergies to some people. We see lots of pet parents who suffer from allergies themselves but will never abandon their pets because of their own conditions.

Those who believe grooming is non-essential or argue that pet parents can take care of these things on their own need to understand that some pet parents have immunocompromised conditions themselves, are on blood thinners, have rheumatoid arthritis, or have a physical impediment of some sort that does not allow them to groom their own pets. 

Finally, while I understand the need for social distancing and recognize the importance of following the CDC guidelines, I believe that pet grooming is still essential and can be done without sacrificing people’s safety.

As veterinarians, we are responsible for educating and helping to maintain the safe interactions between people and their pets – and this will always be essential. 

Fayez Assad, DVM, medical director at Johnstown Veterinary Associates, was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. In 1994, he graduated from the Cairo University School of Veterinary Medicine. In 1999, Assad moved to Johnstown and attended Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts, where he obtained his degree. Assad is an active member of AVMA, PAVMA, AAFP and AAHA. He is also a USDA-accredited veterinarian.

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