No matter how experienced you may be, we all know that accidents can happen.  A groomer can draw blood when grooming, a carer can lose control of a dog that ends up in a fight, a trainer can mis-judge a dog’s capabilities and it causes injury to another, dogs in your care end up having a barney and one gets injured and requires vet care …. the list goes on, and of course, fortunately, most of the time when mishaps occur, they are not serious.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to do anything.

Whilst you may have your clients sign “waiver of responsibility” if things go seriously wrong, these are not worth the paper they are written on.  So it’s not something you should rely upon in your business.

To protect your reputation and your business it’s important to take the right steps and act professionally if things do go wrong.

So, what are the steps to take if an animal is injured while in your care?  Here’s some for you to think about.

  • Record the incident

We’d recommend keeping a book on hand for this purpose.  Make a note of EVERYTHING, no matter how big, small, important or unimportant you think it may be.  Make sure you record the event in full detail so that you can tell the pet owner with confidence what occurred.  Include details such as the time of day as well as the incident itself, the reaction of the pet, other people who were around at the time, and all the steps you took.  Taking pictures can also be helpful.

Make sure you always have an up to date telephone number or other contact details for your client so that you can reach them immediately. Ideally have a couple of contact numbers, and don’t forget to regularly ask your clients if their details have changed so you know your records are up to date.  It’s also good practice to know the vet of the client so that if the pet needs care you can take him or her to the normal vet.

  • Have a good first aid kit within reach

This probably goes without saying, but always have a good Pet First Aid Kit on hand, and if you are out and about with pets, make sure you have one in your vehicle as well.  We’d recommend that you do a course on Animal Care and First Aid (these are run by the RSPCA Australia wide, and there are also many course available that you can access online).

  • What should be in the Pet First Aid Kit?

    • Phone numbers:  Your client’s vet, your nearest vet and the local emergency after hours vet hospital.
    • Muzzle/s – an injured and frightened animal may bite
    • Blunt-ended scissors
    • Tweezers
    • Bandages (2.5cm and 5cm wide) – you can get these from the vet as products designed for dogs are more suitable than human products.
    • Gauze rolls and pads
    • Adhesive tape
    • Sterile eye wash and eye lubricant (available at your vet clinic)
    • Saline water to wash out any wounds
    • Iodine antiseptic
    • Sterile water-based lubricant (such as KY® Jelly) – helps hold fur away from wound
    • Old towels or blankets

You can either “DIY” your Pet First Aid Kit,  purchase from many pet retailers, or St John’s Ambulance can also provide you with a great “ready to go” Pet First Aid Kit.

  • Minor Injuries

For example, a nick to the skin.  The pet is not distressed, but there is a cut which needs attention.  It’s not a total disaster – and certainly not life threatening. You need to decide whether to take the pet immediately to the vet, or wait for the owner.  Of course you need to talk this through with your client.

If there is a slight injury that doesn’t require attention, make sure your client is made aware of it when the pet is picked up.

  • Keep Calm and Professional

Be professional, be calm, and be matter-of-fact, stick to the facts, and have a recommendation ready so you are taking charge of the situation for example “this is not life threatening and he is not uncomfortable, but I would be more comfortable if he were to go to the vet.  Would you like me to take him or would you like to see what’s going on first and then you can decide?   Remember to apologise! Make it meaningful and authentic, but remember to stay professional.

  • Have a Plan 

If the injury is more serious and you know that the pet needs immediate vet attention, then you need to take action.  But rather than planning what action to take at the time, make a plan in advance.  Also make your clients aware that in the event of an Emergency this is what will happen. Write down the steps you will take. If you are alone and you have other pets in your care, consider how they will be cared for in your absence (if you need to take the pet to the vet) number.  Keeping all of this in your first aid kit will help you remember where it is.  Keep all this information with your Pet First Aid Kit.

  • Who Pays the Vet Bill?

When a client leaves a pet in your care, they should not expect to get the pet back in a worse condition than when they left the pet with you. An accident may not have been your fault, but because the pet was in your care remember it was your responsibility.

If you look at it in this context, then it would seem that the vet’s bill would be your responsibility, even if it is not your “fault”.  This is where having insurance is vital, in particular if the bill is large and the client is litigious. One simple event can have the capacity to wipe out your business.

  • Should you Charge for your Service?

This should be judged on a case by case basis. If the injury is minor (e.g. a scrape, a nick that does not require medical care) but the work was completed and the animal is basically fine, then it would seem fair for the owner to pay for the service.  On the other hand, if you think the person is going to become litigious or start a social media campaign against you, then perhaps better to offer a free service (and hope you don’t see them again!).  It’s worth knowing for yourself how you will handle things so you are prepared in advance.  One tto think about before you need to so you have an idea how you would like to proceed.

  • Waiver Forms

As mentioned earlier Waiver forms are not the best way of protecting yourself, although some clients may be discouraged from taking action if they have signed a release form so it does have that benefit.

  •  Honesty is the Best Policy

If a pet is injured while it is in your care, please be upfront and tell the owner.  Don’t let them go home and make a gruesome discovery.  Being open creates trust and is the most professional way to act.  Taking pictures for your records can be a very good idea as well, and of course a note in your little book, with all the steps that took place is a good idea.  Make a note of what was conveyed to the owner as well.

Most pet owners are lovely people who only want the best for their pets.  But incidents with their beloved pets can make things emotional, but keep it professional, be kind and stick to the facts.

Expect the best, but be prepared for the worst.

We all do our best and work to the best of our ability – but the fact is that accidents do happen!.

If you don’t already have insurance for your business, then now is the time to check out affordable business insurance options here.

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Liz Walden

Liz has a passion for all things animal - whether it's cats, dogs, rabbit or horses! Liz was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure Pet Insurance for the past 12 years, and Pet Professional Insurance since 2018. Liz is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, supporting those who work in the pet industry, as well as those who work to promote a better life for all animals.