This week: Grooming I have noticed while travelling around Hong Kong that there are usually more pet-grooming places in a residential suburb then there are hairdressers. The only business that consistently gets more retail shop space is real estate. It is quite amazing how many of my clients regularly get their dogs groomed professionally. Ten years ago in Hong Kong pet grooming was in its infancy, a side business secondary to a pet shop. Grooming was often performed in unhygienic conditions and some transmissible diseases were commonly associated with a trip to the groomer. This led to groomers having a poor reputation among veterinarians. My peers and I used to be adamant that dogs should be bathed and groomed at home because doing so minimised the chance of catching a disease or suffering a grooming accident, not to mention saving money. I think this logic still stands in most circumstances. In recent years, however, I have changed my mind about dog grooming. There are several reasons for this. Compared with 10 years ago, the level of disease prevention has increase greatly among pet owners. During those early years working in Hong Kong, I found it very difficult to persuade owners to do the most basic of preventive medicine. Those who came in for annual vaccinations and health checks usually did not want to spend any money on heartworm or flea prevention. It was an unfortunate fact that many of these preventives were relatively expensive. Owners avoided taking their pet to the vet unless it was really ill. This is of course a generalisation and there were many exceptions, but from a vet's perspective the difference between then and now is quite obvious. Owners now are much more likely to listen to veterinary advice; in fact I am often amazed at the depth of questions I am asked even during a vaccination consultation. I rarely have to try to convince people that preventive medicine is necessary; I just explain the necessity and presto. What does any of this have to do with the pet-grooming business? With good preventive medicine in place, owners and their vets can feel a lot safer when their pet goes for a grooming session. In fact, some groomers go out of their way to make owners aware of any problems they discover. The really prudent groomers usually tell them before the grooming session, to prevent liability. The other day I got a call from a client to cancel an appointment because he had forgotten he had made a prior grooming appointment. I wasn't offended in the slightest, as I know how difficult it is to make a grooming appointment. I have an Afghan hound that used to go to dog shows, and I used to make a grooming appointment three months in advance to be sure to get a time. When I take my dog to the groomers I always bring my own bottle of ear-cleaning solution, as common post-grooming problems are ear infections due to cross-infection between pets during ear cleaning. Many of these ear infections are particularly bad because the bacteria involved are multi-antibiotic-resistant. If I had a very nervous animal that might bite, I would give a clear indication to the groomer so he could take proper precautions. Many grooming accidents, both to the groomer and to the dog, are due to fear aggression. It always surprises me when people complain about the groomer handling their pet dog too roughly when the owners themselves can't even clip the dog's nails because it is too aggressive. How is the groomer to do a delicate groom without manhandling when your dog will bite his or her hand off? The best thing an owner can do to prevent grooming aggression is early introduction of grooming and socialisation during the pet's early months to let it get used to the idea. I often perform pretend grooming on my puppies and kittens, which means I don't actually clip nails or clean ears - I just play with their toes and their ears to get them used to handling. I spoke to the groomer who works down the street and asked him if he had any peeves about pet owners, and he told me of two. The first was owners who brought their dog in once a year and it was a disaster zone of matted fur that took the whole day to fix. The other was owners who were late for their appointment or came back early to pick up their dog. Give groomers plenty of time to do their magic, because dogs are worse than children when it comes to grooming. Notice that I only mention dogs, as cats don't need baths and hence grooming should be very rare or for special occasions. I have had more than 30 cats and I have never bathed any of them. Those with long fur I comb regularly.