Ask Dr. Chris

Help! My Dog Freaks Out At The Groomer!

Hi Dr.Chris,

I have a almost 8 yr old cockapoo,  Abby  She HATES to be groomed HATES it!! I had been giving her Benadryl for awhile..seemed ok with it …but now it’s not having the calming effect on her as it used to and her grooming day is a nightmare!! We have to muzzle her and myself and husband have to hold her down(well try to hold her) so the groomer can try to get some hair off….the problem is her two front legs are a mess…tons of hair on them…she WON’T let the groomer near them it’s awful. I talked to my Vet and he give me meds for her..”ACEPROMAZINE”…I am SCARED to death to give them to her…went online to read up on this med and there are too many bad comments from other people who have used this on their dogs with NOT good results… What is your opinion on this med and do you have any idea on anything us I could give her?  Abby has a grooming appt coming up… Thanks Dr. Chris looking forward to hearing from you.

Lorie S.    Rochester, NY

Hi Lorie,

It’s heartbreaking to hear how Abby responds to her grooming appointments.  The response your little girl is having is fear and anxiety and Benadryl is rarely effective at calming a dog down.

It is unfair to her to put her through that stress without helping her feel better.

Acepromazine has been used for years as a sedative for calming a dog down for thunderstorms, grooming appointments, car rides and visits to the veterinarian.  It has gone out of favor for many of these situations, not so much because of safety concerns, but due to it being ineffective.

This medication can cause a decrease in blood pressure but serious side effects are uncommon.  The trouble with any medication is that there are potential side effects and you have to weigh the risk versus the benefit.  “Ace” has been given to tens of millions of dogs so it is not surprising that there are reports of adverse effects.  If an animal is suffering and medication would help reduce the suffering, we need to weigh the risks carefully.

What I have found with acepromazine is that the sedation is effective when a dog isn’t stressed.   Once they get to the vet or groomer, their adrenaline kicks in and they fight the sedation and become a drunk, anxious dog instead of an anxious dog.  This can lead to more difficulty at future grooming appointments due to the negative experience.

Some other options that you could consider:

  1. Behavior modification – this is the process of desensitizing her to the stress through a series of pleasant visits to the groomer with no or minimal grooming involved.  You would bring her to the groomer initially and just reward her with treats but not subject her to the stress of the actual grooming.  This is the long term best option but also the most difficult and may require the help of an animal behavior specialist and the use of anti-anxiety medications.
  2. Heavy sedation at your veterinarian’s office with a basic clip down to remove the matted fur.  This is a good option if you don’t have the time to pursue behavior modification.  She would go to the veterinarian, get a shot in the muscle and become heavily sedated under supervision, and then have the fur shaved, then have another shot to reverse the sedation.  This is much less stressful to Abby as she would feel the injection, fall asleep and wake up without knowing she was groomed.
  3. Use a combination of other medications such as anti-anxiety medications and natural products to improve Abby’s behavior.  One of the natural products I recommend is called dog appeasing pheromone. This is a substance that was isolated from the skin near the mammary glands of nursing mother dogs.   It can have a calming effect on many dogs and helps in alleviating stress in a dog such as Abby, allowing her to have a more relaxed and pleasant grooming experience.  Since there are no side effects to the collar, I recommend you try this in addition to the other strategies that you use.  You can check it out by clicking here:  D.A.P collar
  4. Learn to groom her at home, if she tolerates your efforts better than the groomer’s.  The key here is to use grooming clippers, not scissors.  As an ER vet, I see a dog every few months that needs sutures due to owner inflicted lacerations during grooming.

With Abby being only 8 years old, things will continue to get worse if she is forced to be groomed without reducing her anxiety level.  My preference would be to sedate her at your veterinarian’s office for this round of grooming and then work on the desensitization over the next 3-6 months.  Review these options with your veterinarian and come up with a game plan for her long term well-being!


Dr. Chris Smith
Your dog’s favorite veterinarian




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