How to Groom an Old Dog Safely With Minimal Stress

grooming an old dog

Every dog needs to be groomed no matter how old they are, but sadly that isn’t always the case. For various reasons some old dogs can no longer handle being at the groomer, and if their people aren’t comfortable grooming them at home, they don’t get bathed or clipped. You can imagine the comfort and hygiene issues that arise as a result!

What’s changed?

Arthritis, back, or hip problems make it uncomfortable to stand for long periods of time.

Mobility issues make getting in and out of the bath a struggle.

Vision problems may make them fearful – not knowing where they are, or what’s happening to them.

Dementia means they are often confused, and the wandering they typically do makes it difficult or impossible for them to stay still.

How to groom an old dog safely

Grooming is so important though!

Grooming is one of the basic ways we care for our dogs, no less important than good nutrition, exercise and mental stimulation.

As our dogs age, skin thins, growths can appear and they may lose weight and become frail. Many senior dog parents are afraid of even brushing their dog for fear of causing them pain…so they don’t.

You may be surprised how many groomers have noticed “something suspicious” on a dog they’ve been grooming, a lump or growth the guardian never noticed before. How many lives have been saved by potential health issues being caught early?

Extra hygiene care is also super important for dogs who are incontinent.

we gave Josephine a bath in a new recycle bin

Let me share my experience with my sweet Josephine

My husband and I forever fostered a deaf and mostly blind dog named Josephine a few years ago. She was such a cutie, a Shih Tzu around 8 years old or older, no one really knew. When it came time to finding a groomer that’s when the nightmare began.  

I lost count of how many I called asking each one if they could help, but they all said no. To be honest I was shocked! I understand not everyone would be comfortable with a special dog like Josephine, but not one? Since hair on the face and eyes grows so quickly, it wasn’t something we were able to put on the back burner or ignore all together.

We realised we would have to do as much of the grooming as we could on our own. My husband was in charge of giving Josephine a bath which, thankfully, she seemed to enjoy or at least tolerate. We bought clippers and shaved her in a two-person operation. My husband volunteered me to do the hair cut while he fed her a constant stream of treats, which was the only way to get her to cooperate. Thank goodness for doggies who are food motivated!!

The problem was cutting her nails, face and eyes. With the amount of squirming she did no way was I comfortable going at her with nail clippers or scissors. Our only option was to take her to the vet to be semi sedated with a mask, and I still feel sick when I think about what we all put her through that day. I stayed in the room and made sure the vet staff worked as quickly as possible, but imagine how terrifying that would have been for a blind and deaf dog.

When it was over she cried and cried, and we swore we would never do that to her again.

When it was time for another trim I managed to do it, sort of, but I definitely would not have been nominated for any grooming awards. All that mattered was that Josephine was safe and calm with us.  

How you will have your dog groomed?

Since grooming is a must, the question is will you do it, will you have a professional do it or a bit of both?

Finding a new groomer

It could be you’ve had a great groomer all this time, but now that your dog has developed some issues she or he is not as comfortable as before. That’s fine, it is what it is. Maybe you’ve moved and had to leave your amazing groomer behind. Whatever the reason, the search is on for someone new!

The first place I always start my search is with people I know who have dogs. Even if they don’t have old dogs I need names!!

Other ways include –

  • Vet staff
  • Grooming facilities in chain pet shops
  • Popping into a local store front groomer you’ve noticed on your travels
  • People you know from the dog park
  • FB search of groomers in your area
  • Internet search for groomers in your area
  • Bulletin boards in pet supply stores may have groomers advertising
  • National Dog Groomers Association of America

You may only need to find one, but you should have several on your list. Not every groomer will be comfortable grooming an old dog, or they may say they are but you don’t feel they have the experience you’d like them to have. Once you connect with them you may not get the good “vibe” you’re hoping for. You have the right to be picky because we’re talking about your fur baby!

You have potentials, now what?

Once you have found someone you’re considering, the strict criteria you used to find one in the past are pretty much the same, with a few extra questions and considerations thrown in to reflect the changing situation.

Call each of your prospects. I know it isn’t always fair to judge without meeting, but you can absolutely get a sense of whether or not you like the person based on an initial conversation.

I prepared a list of questions you’ll want answers to, but whether or not you can do that on the phone or in person will be up to the two of you to decide.

You may feel better meeting face to face. Not only will you have the chance to chat and get to know him or her, you want to make sure it’s a clean and safe environment and that you trust she/they will be kind and caring.

You need to be sure to tell her about all your dog’s issues and your concerns.

Here are some of things you’re going to want to ask about

How much experience she has with older dogs who may have vision or hearing problems, skin growths, lumps and bumps, trouble standing, snippy when handled…

Does she use a high-powered nozzle to wash the dogs? Does she have an alternative if a dog is frightened or too fragile for the pressure?

How does she dry them?

Does she have a nonslip mat on the table? In the bathtub?

If you have a large breed dog with mobility issues, how will she get him into the tub?

What about blind dogs – does she keep talking to reassure them?

Old dogs can have fairly thin skin, lumps and bumps. Does she use soft bristled brushes?

Some older dogs may develop dry and flaky skin. Ask if she has a good moisturising shampoo

Does she check your dog’s teeth, mouth, ears and eyes for discharge?

How does she handle an overly stressed dog?

How about pee breaks?

If a dog is sore in some areas, particularly those afflicted with arthritis, how does she deal with that?

Some groomers provide live streaming for clients to check on their dog, so if they do take advantage of it. 

Staying with your dog – yay or nay

Some dogs are more anxious when their guardians hang around, others need that comfort. If you’re concerned about how your dog will react around someone new, tell the groomer you’re going to hang around the area for a few minutes in case she calls. This way, you can get there quickly.

When we first brought our puppy mill rescue Saffy to the groomer, my husband and I stayed the entire time. Although we’ve always had confidence in our groomer, Saffy was such a wreck from being confined for 8 years breeding, we were the only comfort she ever knew, and I didn’t want to leave her. In her case, it was the right decision to stay with her that first time. On future visits we left her alone and she did well.

Appointment time

Booking the first appointment of the day means no chance of previous clients running late, delaying your dog’s appointment and adding to his stress levels. Arrive early to pick him up so he’s not left waiting once the appointment is over.  

Are fancy haircuts still necessary?

When your dog was younger you might have been interested in fancy hairstyles, no matter how long it took. Now it’s less about winning beauty pageants (although I’m sure your golden oldie is adorable no matter what haircut he or she has!!) and more about safety and comfort. You want your groomer to do a great job, be careful, and be quick.

Another thing to consider is how well your older dog is tolerating the cold. You may have liked the way he looked when he was clipped really short, but nowadays leaving his hair a bit longer may be a lot warmer and comfortable.

Slipping and sliding

Mobility issues may make walking on slippery surfaces more challenging. In addition to the carpets and yoga mats you can put down in your home, have your groomer check if there is a lot of hair growing between your dog’s toes. If there is please be sure she cuts it as that can help with traction.

Grooming a severely matted dog

Whether you’ve just rescued an old dog who was neglected, or for whatever reason your pup hasn’t been to the groomer in a while, if your dog is severely matted it may be too stressful and even painful to comb out the knots. In this case shaving your dog may be the kindest and easiest solution, but if it’s chilly out be sure he wears a sweater and/or a coat to keep him warm.

Different positions

When standing becomes too much make sure your groomer lets your pup sit or even lie down. As long as it gets done, who cares if it’s not perfect!!

Tracheal issues

If your dog has tracheal issues for example, mention the possibility of using a harness rather than a loop around his neck.

Calming aids

If your dog is feeling stressed, how about a natural calming aid to help him or her tolerate sessions more easily. That could be Rescue Remedy, Nutracalm (UK), Zylkene, Valerian and Skullcap to name just a few.

Don’t expect miracles

You’ve found a groomer comfortable and experienced enough but she’s not a miracle worker. She has to work fast to ensure your dog’s comfort and if his haircut isn’t perfect it really doesn’t matter. Every dog deserves to be clean and comfortable and that’s all you can ask for.

Mobile groomer

There are plenty of groomers riding around in their “beauty parlour on wheels.” They pull up in your driveway, groom the dog in their van, and you’re done. It couldn’t get any handier than that!

Grooming your dog at home

An alternative to what has now become a stressful experience at the groomer is grooming your dog at home…by yourself!!

Wait…come back! It makes a lot of sense if you’d just keep reading.

Grooming is such a critical part of the care we give our old dogs, as important as good quality nutrition, exercise and play time. In addition to that it’s a great bonding experience, and it gives you the chance to have a thorough check for any lumps and bumps you may not have discovered otherwise.

When is home grooming a good idea?

It’s not uncommon for dogs who are losing their hearing, sight, dealing with arthritis or experiencing dementia to become anxious, stressed and easily spooked. Trips to the groomer that used to be met with excitement, okay maybe just tolerance, may now be events to be feared. In order to prevent unnecessary stress, doing the grooming yourself in a familiar and safe environment will be a big help.

Okay, let’s get started!

I’ve created a list of the supplies you’re going to need, but what the heck are you going to do with them? Before you grab the clippers I recommend you either ask your groomer to show you how its done, or watch one (or some) of the many videos on YouTube. Here’s one to get you started.

INCLUDE VIDEO OF HOW TO GROOM YOUR DOG AT HOME

Supplies  

Shampoo

There are a crazy number of options and brands when it comes to shampoo – medicated, for dry skin, sensitive skin, all natural, dry shampoo for in between grooming sessions and you can even make your own.

Personally I prefer to go the more natural route, and I buy one from a local pet supply store that sells mostly raw diets and natural products.

Rubber mats

We put mats or non-slip adhesives on the bottom of the shower or bath tub for ourselves, we should be doing the same for our old pups. Mobility issues, muscle weakness and joint pain makes them unsteady on their feet, and this will keep them from slipping.

Brushes

There’s no “one brush fits all” so it will likely be a case of trial and error to find “the one.” When choosing keep in mind not only how much fur your dog has, but also any growths or thinning skin.  

Sadly my heart dog Red is no longer with us, but she loved nothing more than getting brushed. Okay maybe not more than chicken but you know what I’m saying!! Her favourite had short rubber bristles which was great for soap and water, and I would use it to brush her when sitting on the couch together.

Happy bonding times  

Clippers

When I searched for clippers on Amazon I couldn’t believe the selection, I think I stopped counting at 30!! How do you decide? To be honest when I bought clippers for Josephine I based my decision solely on price. It came with a couple of blades and a comb and that was all we needed. I’m not a professional groomer, I didn’t need anything fancy or one that came with 12 different attachments. I definitely didn’t want to waste a lot of money for something I might have only been able to use once.

If price isn’t your main or sole criteria, other things to think about would be:

  • How noisy they are
  • Are they comfortable for you to hold (heavy? bulky?)
  • Cordless or corded

Nail scissors

It’s important to buy proper dog nail scissors, not use whatever you have at home. There is also a battery operated grinder you can try if scissors aren’t your thing.

Senior dogs tend to have quite long quicks (blood vessel) which bleed when cut so you have to be careful. If they do bleed, keep some styptic powder on hand. This article, “How to Trim Dog Nails” can help if you want to try on your own, or have vet staff or your groomer do them for you which is what I always do!

Ear cleaner

Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly helps keep them disease and infection free, and the best way to do that is by using a mild ear cleaner specifically made for dogs. It comes in a liquid form or buy wipes for convenience. Please be gentle and cut away any matted or dirty fur around the ears before getting started. For more detailed information on cleaning your dog’s ears check out this article “Dog Ear Infections: Do I Need to Wash My Dog’s Ears.”

Gauze pads

Gauze pads are another item to have in your grooming supplies basket because they’re great for bleeding injuries (like if you accidentally cut the quick), for use with a liquid ear cleaner and to clean the gunk from your dog’s eyes.

Towels

My dogs never seem to like the hair dryer even on the lowest setting, so I have a bunch of towels set aside for drying them. I use 2 big bath sized on my little 10lb Maltese, but if you have a bigger dog have a few on hand. If you have to leave your wet dog to get another towel, you know he’s going to jump on the couch and use it to dry himself off, right!! Keep a stack near you.

Hair dryer

You can use your own hair dryer but put it on a lower setting, and keep the nozzle a few inches away from your dog’s fur. If he’s never been near one before, get him used to it before turning it on and blasting him with it!! Here’s how…

Over the course of a few days or so first show him the dryer when it’s off, and if he’s fine give him a treat. Then Turn it on away from him, on low, and if he’s fine give him a treat. Then move closer with it, each time he’s fine give him a treat. You want to gradually get to the point where he’s not even bothered when he feels the warm air on him. This will help make the grooming experience pleasant.

Dog dental care products

Poor oral hygiene can not only cause your dog pain, it can lead to severe dental disease and organ issues. To keep your dog’s teeth and gums clean and healthy you’ll need a toothbrush, toothpaste, water additive, and dental chews/toys/bones.

There are several types of toothbrushes to choose from, even ones that fit over your finger, so hopefully you’ll find something he finds agreeable. If no toothbrush works, wrapping a piece of gauze or a cotton pad around your finger with some toothpaste may be the answer.

Toothpaste needs to be specifically made for dogs, and it comes not only in the paste formulation, but also in gels, sprays, wipes and powders.

The bath – Where to do it

Depending on your dog’s size that could be the sink, bathtub, baby bathtub, shower, new recycle bin like we used for Josephine and Red, or outside in the garden if it’s a nice warm day. The nozzle needs to be on a gentle setting.

Shorter sessions

Whether you’re taking your pup to the groomer or doing it yourself at home, one session is probably too long to get everything done. Try breaking it up into 2 or 3 smaller sessions over the course of a few days or longer.

Wash him one day, clip him another for example.

Things to be doing on a regular basis

Brush your dog’s teeth every day, or as often as he’ll let you. Once a week is still better than nothing. Giving him bones and chew toys, sprinkling something like Plaque Off on his food and an additive for his water bowl can all help.

Clean the gunk out of your dog’s eyes using a gauze pad and some warm water.

Check his ears for any smell or discharge and if you notice anything please call your vet as soon as possible. Untreated ear infections can lead to hearing loss.

Diarrhea and fecal/urinary incontinence are some of the issues that affect many of our old dogs. Be sure to wipe the areas well with some natural doggie wipes, and trim the fur to keep the areas clean.

How to groom an old dog safely – conclusion

Grooming is a crucial part of caring for your old dog. Whether you decide to groom him yourself, have the groomer do it or split it between the two of you, what’s most important is keeping your dog clean and healthy and making the experience as comfortable and stress free as possible.

 

Is your dog still okay about going to the groomer, or have you started grooming him yourself? Is he enjoying it better now that it’s you? Any tips you’d recommend first timers just trying it out? Leave your comments and tips in the comment box below.

 

Sharing helps others so please leave a comment below, or on my Facebook page.

**I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, my Facebook group for senior dog parents. It is a wonderful community where you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.**

 

 

**There are affiliate links in this post, which means if you purchase anything I make a few pennies…literally. That money helps me help homeless animals through donations and fostering, as well as keeping this blog running. **

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Peter

    Once again Hindy you provide great information. I think you will quickly become an authority for people caring for older dogs. Well done and all the best!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Peter, thank you, and thanks for the compliment. I would love it if this site could become the “go to” place, for people sharing their lives with senior dogs.

      Reply
  2. Gin

    Hi Hindy, I really enjoy reading your posts. You have great compassion for senior dogs and it is delightful seeing these lovely creatures getting the proper care and love they deserve. Keep creating wonderful and inspiring stories!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Gin, Thanks for your kind words. I do love the “oldies!”

      Reply
  3. Emily

    hi Hindy!
    I have to say: your posts are so heartfelt! I can feel how much you care about your own older dogs and all other older dogs! It touches my heart. I can see now that there is a lot to consider when having your dog groomed especially if there are health issues. I would not have thought about what considerations need to be given when a dog is blind or deaf. But so true! Dogs can certainly be scared with all the machines used and the closeness of the task done by a stranger. I am glad you stayed with Saffy 🙂

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Emily, thank you I’m glad you feel that way. I really do have a thing for the oldies! I must admit I really enjoy sharing my experience with others, in the hopes that it helps people realise that life with a senior dog may have challenges, but they are every bit as precious and deserving as younger ones. Believe me, it was a nightmare with Josephine, my blind and deaf dog. My husband and I ended up buying clippers, and we would sit on the floor together, one of us using the clippers, the other giving her treat after treat in the hopes of distracting her. Fun times indeed!!

      Reply

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