Aqueos - When to refer a dog grooming client to their vet

Aqueos - When to refer a dog grooming client to their vet

As groomers it can be a challenge knowing when, and how, to approach a client about taking their animal to a veterinarian. Clients can become defensive if they are embarrassed or feel confronted. However, it’s likely that you see many animals more frequently than their veterinarian does, so you are on the frontline and have a vital role to play in the welfare of these pets.

Good communication is key here, so that the client isn’t made to feel guilty about not noticing something, or indeed noticing something but not taking action. If presented correctly, your client will be grateful that you picked something up, enhancing the value of your service and further bonding your client to you.

Which symptoms should I refer to a vet?

 Honestly, you see pets all day every day, so I suspect your gut instincts are usually correct. If you suspect or feel something isn’t quite right, it’s probably worth mentioning to your client. However, it can be hard to know what needs medical attention, so let’s look at some common issues you might encounter.


Many dogs have an overproduction of tears, or poor tear drainage, causing tear staining down the face. As long as the skin beneath the tear staining is healthy, the eyes are not red or bloodshot, and the discharge is clear, then these animals shouldn’t need medical attention.

If you notice any of the following:

Red, bloodshot eyes

Green, gunky discharge

The animal blinking more than usual, holding their eye closed, or squinting

Cloudiness to the eyes

New red or brown patches within the eye

Then you should speak with your client about visiting their veterinarian.


Just like us, all dogs produce ear wax, some more than others. Things to watch for include:

Excessive wax

Dark or black wax

Smelly ears

Blood from the ear or in the wax

Scratches around the opening to the ear or on the pinna

The animal scratching the ears or shaking the head

Crying or wincing when you touch the ears

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to avoid putting anything in the ears and refer them to their veterinarian. This is because the eardrum may be damaged. This means that any ear cleaner you use may reach the inner ear, causing damage or toxicity.


Of course, some dogs are going to be more willing to let you look in their mouth than others, or you may have no need to. If you are looking in a pet’s mouth, signs that would need referring to their veterinarian include:

Red, swollen gums

Bleeding gums

Broken teeth (these can be very painful!)

Unusual lumps or bumps

If you see tartar build-up, while this isn’t an emergency it would be worthwhile advising a trip to the vet for a dental check. 

Anal glands

As you know, many dogs need their anal glands emptying on a regular basis, and this can be their ‘normal’. So how do you tell when something’s wrong?

Blood in the contents

Unusually reactive to having the glands emptied

Unable to empty the glands

Especially thick, pus-like contents

Red, sore skin around the bottom

External swelling of the gland(s), which could indicate an anal gland abscess

Any of these can indicate an anal gland infection or abscess, which can be very painful and needs prompt treatment.


Many clients of pets with skin complaints will be aware of the skin problem, and their pet may already be on treatment. They may ask you to use a medicated shampoo, for example. However, clients can miss skin conditions in the early stages, since they are covered by the fur. You are in a great position to spot these! Things to look out for include:

Wounds that may need stitching, so gaping wounds, deep wounds, or wounds with flaps of skin

Areas of red, inflamed skin, which may feel warm to touch

Crusting or scabbing

Oozing skin

Patches of hair loss

Spots, pimples, or raised bumps

Any unusual lumps

If you notice any fleas or lice, be sure to mention these to the client too.


Most of the time nail clips will be straightforward. If the nails are too long and digging into the pad, you can cut them gently and then bathe the pad in warm water. It’s worth advising your client to contact their veterinarian if they see signs of discomfort, discharge, or swelling. If you don’t feel comfortable clipping them or you suspect the animal needs sedation to clip them, it’s perfectly reasonable to refer them to their vet.

Broken or torn nails usually need sedation or general anaesthetic to cut them back, as they are so painful. It’s worth always referring these, since if you try yourself you will inflict unnecessary pain. Plus the animal is unlikely to let you groom them again!

It’s worth checking the nail base for any discharge, smell, or swelling. These can be signs of infection, mites, or auto-immune diseases, so would need to be referred.

How to refer a client to their vet

The most important thing here is your tone. It’s important that your client feels you are being helpful and that you care about their pet, rather than being judgemental or placing blame. It’s easier than you’d think for miscommunication to occur, especially if the client feels guilty or is embarrassed. Let the client know what you have found, why you are concerned about it, and then advise that they contact their veterinarian. If you have time, it’s helpful to offer to write something down for them to show their vet, since sometimes clients won’t remember what you have said, and the message may get lost in translation!

Hopefully, you feel confident approaching your clients about possible issues. The majority will be grateful that you’ve taken the time to notice any problems and that you care enough to recommend a sensible course of action. Their vet and the animal will most certainly be grateful too, since the sooner any problems are picked up, usually the quicker the recovery.

Dr Sarah-Jane Molier