by Mary Oquendo CMPTI, CCS
Back when I was a baby groomer, I was fortunate enough to have mentors who impressed upon me the importance of cleaning and sanitation. As a result, my facility looks professional because it is clean and smells nice. I work in a healthier environment because I take the time to reduce cross contamination. My equipment lasts longer as it maintained properly.
What are the concerns?
There are four types of infectious agents and they fall into one of two categories. They can be either a zoonosis or a contagion. A zoonosis is transmitted between species, such as between people and dogs or dog and cats. A contagion is species specific.
Viruses are microorganisms that live and reproduce in living cells, as well as have the ability to mutate. It is this ability to change that may make treatment difficult. Rabies is a zoonotic agent and a contagion is kennel cough.
Bacteria, as the name implies, is caused by bacterial agents. A zoonosis is cat scratch fever and a contagion is kennel cough. Different strains of kennel cough can be either bacterial or viral.
Parasites require a host to survive. A zoonosis is fleas and a contagion is lice.
Fungi are created by fungal agents and are predominately zoonotic. The most common fungus to be concerned about in our industry is ringworm.
How are infectious agents transmitted?
In order for transmission to occur, there must be contact.
- Direct Contact. This is the physical connection between you and the pet, or between pets. For instance, petting the client, two pets rubbing up against each other or on your pants, bites, and scratches.
- Indirect Contact. By A biological. Biologicals include blood, urine, dander, feces, and hair. Intermediary spread of these may occur via brushes, combs, blades, towels, or even from open, contaminated shampoo. It is also possible that food and beverages can be contaminated.
- Airborne. This is the hardest to control as air is all around you.
- Waterborne. Anytime water sits, it grows bacteria. This includes the water in your recirculator, diluted shampoos and conditioners, as well as careless storing of undiluted products near the tub.
- Your Shoes. The bottom of your shoes can track infectious agents from outside to the inside of your facility. It is why medical professionals wear shoe coverings when operating.
There are some infectious agents that are transmitted by more than one means. Leptospirosis is an example, which is spread by direct contact and is airborne as well.
What is the likelihood of spreading an infectious disease?
There are four factors that play a role. The first is the overall health of the pet or person. If a pet or human has a suppressed immune system, they are more likely to contract an infirmity. The second factor is personal sanitary habits. Washing hands in between pets removes the biologicals. Hair, urine, dander, feces, and blood are all common vectors for transmission. The third is the cleaning and disinfecting protocols of a facility. The fourth factor would be to have a policy in place to not groom obviously sick pets. Send them home before they have a chance to infect your facility. Keep in mind that a contagious pet may not present symptoms.
The basic rule of thumb is cleaners do not disinfect well, disinfectants do not clean well, and disinfectants work better on clean surfaces.
My personal choice for a cleanser, as I groom cats and felines can be very sensitive to chemical cleansing agents, is a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. Vinegar is slightly acidic, which breaks down bacteria and dirt easily. There are no harmful chemicals. The importance of cleaning is that it removes the biologicals.
My cleaning equipment includes nylon brushes, toothbrushes, paper towels, steam cleaner, HV dryer, vacuum, dehumidifier, ultrasonic units, and a long handled brush. I use the nylon brush to get into the grooves of the spray-on lining of my mobile grooming van’s floor and the toothbrush for crevices and corners. I prefer paper towels to cloth as I can throw it away rather than have something else to wash.
I have found that cheaper paper towels will deposit lint, so I avoid using them. The steam cleaner uses high heat and low pressure to lift dirt off of both porous and non-porous surfaces. Porous surfaces include tile grout and floor seams. Bacteria like porous surfaces. My HV dryer and long handled brush can remove hair from areas my vacuum cannot reach.
The dehumidifier removes moisture from the air and the resulting bacteria to a minimum. I clean my blades and clip-on attachments in an ultrasonic unit.
What is the difference between disinfecting and sanitizing?
Sanitizing reduces bacteria on a surface that is considered safe by the medical profession, while disinfecting kills bacteria. There are many choices in products.
- Quaternary Ammonium Compounds commonly referred to as Quats. They are broad spectrum, harsh, and very effective. You can combine them with a cleaner to cut down on workload.
- 10% Bleach. Bleach kills everything. Keep in mind that 9.9% is not effective and higher concentrations may be dangerous. It can cause paw burn if not rinsed properly and lung damage if inhaled. You cannot combine bleach and a quat as it produces a deadly gas.
- Chlorohexidine based products, while not as effective as a quat, is safer in the work environment.
- Fresh air circulation and air cleaners remove bacteria from the air. The reason more people become sick in winter is because homes and business are closed tight to conserve heat.
- Ultraviolet light. There are larger systems for a shop as well as smaller units for equipment.
- Aerosol spray disinfectants and coolants are potent, but toxic to breathe in continually throughout the day.
- Vinegar and rubbing alcohol have antibacterial properties.
- Essential oil disinfecting spray. They combine essential oils with anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. The oils need to be therapeutic grade for effectiveness.
- Enzymatic sprays kill bacteria. They are very effective on porous surfaces.
Many of these products require safety gear as per manufacturers recommendations. All should be used in the manner in which they were formulated and follow label directions. In addition, most are harmful to cats and should not be used when cats are present.
Do I really need to clean and disinfect everything?
No, just what comes in contact with the pet or water. That includes any tool, lead, loop, table and counter tops, hip supports, towels, mats, cages, and tub. To save myself time, I keep all towels, bows, and equipment when not in use in sealed containers.
All products are stored away from the tub to prevent contamination from water. Starting a new process will initially be time consuming, but once a routine is set, the time you spend will reduce dramatically.
My normal regimen is as follows:
- In between pets or household. I vacuum, wipe down the wall against the table, collect tools and place in my UV sanitizer, used towels and Happy Hoodies™ are placed in a laundry bag. I run shampoo through my recirculator to push out any biologicals and rinse the tub at the same time. If I have used any product where the applicator tip touched the pet, as well as any lead, loop, and harness, I spray my essential oil disinfectant on it. If I used a spa product, I throw away the applicator. I buy cheap wooden sticks from the dollar store to apply spa products instead of my wet fingers. If you work in a shop, keeping the pet in the same cage will reduce clean up time in between (5-10 minutes).
- End of day. I wipe down all product bottles. If one is emptied, then that bottle is disinfected and dried before I refill it. My combs, brushes, and mats are placed in tub and cleaned. Blades and clip-ons are cleaned in my ultrasonic cleaner and all tools are dried and oiled. I run vinegar through my water recirculator to clean and break down any soap build up. I throw out any pre-mixed products as water breeds bacteria. I empty the garbage can and vacuum canister, as well as wash the floor. Towels are washed and disinfected. Shops should add cleaning the cages including the doors (20-30 minutes).
- End of week. In addition to the normal end of day, I wash all the filters (dryer and A/C), garbage cans, walls, windows, and ceiling. Ceilings may not be feasible in a shop. (30-45 minutes)
- Quarterly. I totally gut out my van and thoroughly clean. I schedule it when I am going on vacation or to a trade show, as it is a good time to take inventory (one to several hours).
What if you suspect a pet has a highly contagious infectious agent?
I can only suspect, as I am not a veterinarian. As a precaution, I do a thorough cleaning with 10% bleach instead of my gentler essential oil disinfectant spray. In addition, I will change my clothes and inform the owners.
I am grateful that my early mentors took the time to teach me the importance of keeping my facility clean and free of biologicals, not to groom sick pets, proper storage of supplies and equipment, and cleaning and disinfecting routines. Thank you! ♦