There’s a lot of concern about respiratory disease in dogs at the moment, so it’s a opportunity time to revisit some routine preventive measures that we really should be using all the time (but unfortunately sometimes fall by the wayside). This post focuses on precautions for dog groomers, but really it applies to a broad range of places where dogs go.

Infection control is typically pretty straightforward and boring (which is why it often gets neglected). There’s nothing really fancy and it’s mostly pretty low tech – mainly a matter of using some good general practices and a solid dose of common sense.

With canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), the main transmission concerns are from direct contact between dogs, contact with oral/nasal secretions (e.g. shared bowls, licking the same spot soon after another dog) and respiratory aerosols (from coughing, sneezing, heavy panting etc.). There is always a risk of disease transmission at dog grooming facilities, regardless of whether there’s an outbreak going on in the area or not. Various diseases are always circulating in the dog population, and sometimes we can’t tell when an animal is infectious to others, so we apply routine infection control practices in all situations, and increase those when we identify increased risk.

Some routine, every day infection control practices include:

  • Communication so owners know not to bring sick dogs to the groomer. If clients are being called or emailed with appointment reminders, add a statement about cancelling if the dog is sick. (Sound familiar? Lots of what we did for people during the pandemic can also be applied for control of disease transmission in dogs).
  • Business practices that don’t encourage owners to bring sick dogs (e.g. no charge if someone cancels at the last minute because their dog is sick. Yes, a policy like that can be abused, but we don’t want incentives for people to bring in a sick dog).
  • A housing setup that keeps dogs separated. At a minimum, we want no (or very limited) direct contact between dogs.
  • Good ventilation, such as having an in-room HEPA filter or two, especially in dog housing areas.
  • Routine use of personal protective equipment. Ideally, groomers should wear something over their street clothes that’s easy to change if it gets contaminated. If street clothing or scrubs are the only layer they’re wearing, it’s important to have a change of clothes handy. However, it’s easier and better to immediately take off a lab coat, smock or gown than it is to go go somewhere to change clothes completely.
  • Hand hygiene, such as washing hands or using a hand sanitizer between animals.
  • Cleaning and disinfection of areas and shared equipment between animals. Any routine disinfectant should work against typical canine respiratory pathogens, but I always like to use as good a disinfectant as possible. If you can get it, I’d use an accelerated hydrogen peroxide (AHP) product.

Routine stuff is, well, routine. It’s not rocket science (and pretty boring in the end) but it’s the core of good infection control. However, we also need to have a plan for higher risk situations. Ideally, this plan is written out and communicated to everyone in the facility before a situation happens, so it can be implemented by everyone without delay or confusion. Human factors are usually the biggest problem when we see infection control breakdowns.

How to respond to a dog with respiratory disease at a grooming facility

Even with good use of routine practices, it’s possible for a sick dog to get in once in a while. Sometimes people don’t realize or don’t care that their dog may be infectious, and it’s not always obvious as they walk in the door. There are generally two main scenarios:

1. Sick dog is identified as it arrives

 This one’s easy. Ask the owner to take the dog home right away. If there’s a need to discuss anything, ideally the dog should be removed from the facility and the discussion is done by phone. Otherwise, the discussion could take place outside, or inside after the owner puts the dog in a vehicle (if it’s safe to do so). While this is happening, attention should be paid to any other dogs in the vicinity, to keep them away from the sick dog.

There’s not a lot to do with the airspace by the time this happens. Aerosol transmission is the main concern here, and that’s only for a short period of time and over short distances. The risk of something wafting around the building in the air for a long time is low. The pandemic taught us the importance of good ventilation and air filtering, so it would be ideal if there was already a well-ventilated space and a HEPA filter running to further reduce the risk.

Any personnel that had direct contact with the dog before it was removed should change their outerwear and wash their hands.

The general environment is probably fairly low risk but it’s not zero, especially surfaces the dog may have licked, nosed or coughed/sneezed on. Disinfecting those surfaces ASAP would be wise. Having a spray bottle with disinfectant handy is good for many things, and would help speed up the process here too.

If the owner wants to reschedule, we don’t have a good handle on how long to wait, since we won’t likely have a diagnosis for the dog. Waiting a month would be ideal. It’s not a guarantee that the dog won’t still be shedding something, but we’re trying to balance protection and practicality. At a minimum, I’d want to wait two weeks before the dog comes back.

2. Sick dog is identified after being dropped off and the owner leaves

This creates challenges since “get the dog out ASAP” may not be an option. Owners should be contacted to pick up the dog as soon as possible. While waiting, the dog should be kept in an area away from other dogs. Ideally, every facility should have an area to isolate high risk dogs. It doesn’t need to be an isolation unit like in a veterinary clinic, but there needs to be a plan for housing dogs with respiratory disease, diarrhea or other things that get flagged as a concern after drop off. This could be a separate room, or even a well-ventilated storage room or closet, that can hold a crate. The idea is to get as much physical separation between the sick dog and other dogs as possible.

When we can’t physically isolate the dog, we try to contain it as much as possible and use procedures to reduce cross-contamination risks:

  • Keep the dog as far away from others as possible.
  • Position the dog such that there’s limited airflow toward other dogs (e.g. if there’s a window or fan blowing, make sure the high risk dog isn’t upwind).
  • If there are banks of cages, keep the sick dog on the bottom.
  • Put a blanket or something similar over the cage front to reduce aerosol spread.
  • Avoid handling the dog as much as possible. If you have to handle it, either put on single use (disposable or direct to laundry) outerwear like a gown and use gloves. Wash your hands after removing gloves when you’re done.
  • When the dog leaves, disinfect any items in the cage (e.g. bowls), launder any blankets/towels and disinfect the cage.

It’s all pretty basic, but basic is effective if done right.

I’ll write more about where we stand with the ongoing CIRDC situation, but it is a good reminder that we should be upping our routine infection control game.