By Phil Zeltzman, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified
When surgery patients go home, they sometimes look like Freddy Krueger visited them in their anesthetic dreams.
Veterinarians rarely pay much attention to clipping and clippers, but they should, because poor technique and cleaning actually could affect the outcome of the surgery.
Clipping patients actually goes well beyond surgery. We reach for clippers during wound management, before ultrasounds, to place IV catheters and to perform intradermal allergy testing.
As ubiquitous as they are, the humble clippers are a common source of frustration. A classic comment is “our clippers suck.” To be fair, clippers are abused, poorly cleaned and dropped regularly.
Here are 10 questions and answers about the proper use and management of clippers.
1. What’s the Big Deal About Cuts and Abrasions?
The most obvious reason is that they hurt. Just think of the last paper cut you had.
In addition, skin trauma can encourage patients to lick at their surgical site. At worst, it can lead to dehiscence of the incision.
When clippers cause abrasions or “clipper burn,” the damaged tissue can result in bacterial colonization or infection. Nosocomial infections are a growing concern in our profession. Appropriate clipping and cleaning techniques are important to reduce these risks.
2. What Bacteria Can Be Involved?
Clipper blades have been shown to harbor several types of Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas and Actinomyces, as well as E. coli.
Pseudomonas spp. has been shown to survive up to 16 months on inanimate objects. This is the reason why cuts and abrasions should not be taken lightly. They are not just a pain; they can lead to infection.
3. How Clean Should Clippers Be?
Appropriate cleaning and care of blades and clippers is important for adequate surgical preparation. Blades should always be kept clean, sharp and well lubricated. Ideally, they should be cleaned after each use.
They definitely should be cleaned thoroughly after clipping hair around infected sites, the anus, the feet and any body part that is oozing. Cleaning clipper blades soon after they’ve been used simplifies debris removal.
4. How Should Blades Be Cleaned?
Here is a step-by-step protocol:
- Unplug the clippers.
- Remove the clipper blade.
- Brush hair from the clippers.
- Turn the blade facedown.
- Use a stiff brush, such as a toothbrush, to remove the hair from the blade using an upward motion. Gently slide the cutting blade to each side, and remove debris between the cutting blade and the guide blade.
- Place the blade back on the clipper, and dip the running clipper teeth of the blade into blade wash for 10 seconds.
- Turn the clippers off.
- Remove the blade and gently dry it with a towel.
- Apply clipper oil to the teeth. Slide the cutting blade to one side and place thin strip of oil at the bottom of the guide teeth and the upper and lower running rails.
- Slide the cutting blade to the other side and apply oil in the same manner.
- Wipe excess oil off the blade.
- Run the clipper for 10 seconds before use.
5. What Type of Blade Is Better?
For the closest surgical preparation, a number 40 or 50 blade should be used. Most clinics use stainless steel blades. Have you heard of ceramic blades? They remain 75 percent cooler than steel blades, so they can be used for longer periods.
Multiple blades should be available in case they get dirty or hot. Always check the blade’s temperature on your wrist. If it’s hot, please change blades for your patient’s sake.
6. What Is the Best Way to Clip?
Before you even think of clipping, inspect the blade. If it has broken or missing teeth, throw it away because it cannot be repaired. Rust, however, often can be removed by refurbishing. Any blade that cuts poorly, pulls hair or vibrates excessively should be serviced.
It’s amazing to see how many people clip incorrectly. The most common mistake is holding the blade at a steep angle or even perpendicular to the skin. Keep the blade parallel to the skin to ensure the cleanest, closest trim.
First, clip fur in the same direction as the hair growth to remove the bulk of the fur. Then clip it in the opposite direction to obtain the closest shave.
7. Cordless or Electric?
Surely, cordless clippers are more convenient, but electric clippers won’t die mid-use. Keep all cordless clippers clean and charged at all times in case of an emergency situation, such as a patient in shock who needs an IV catheter. To be safe, consider keeping both types of clippers at hand.
8. What Are the Best Ways to Disinfect Clipper Blades?
Studies show that certain disinfectants can decrease bacterial growth substantially, while others don’t do a very good job.
Multiple products—sprays, solutions, alcohol, disinfectants, lube, etc.—can be used to clean clippers. Which ones are acceptable?
The following methods were found to be unsuccessful at inhibiting growth for 48 to 120 hours:
- No soaking
- Saline soak (20 minutes)
- Isopropanol and phenylphenol (10 minutes)
- Ethanol/dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride/o-phenylphenol spray (10 minutes)
9. What Are the Best Products for Disinfecting Blades?
The following products were found to be the most successful at inhibiting bacterial growth for 48 to 120 hours:
- Ethanol and phenylphenol based spray (moist for 10 minutes)
- 70 percent alcohol (20 minutes)
- 2 percent chlorhexidine solution (20 minutes)
10. How Short Should Hair Be Before Surgery?
The best way I can summarize the answer: I would rather see very short hair on a surgical patient’s skin than clipper burn, cuts and abrasions.
When all is said and done, we do not want to put our patients at risk over something as routine as clipping. Proper technique makes a significant impact on the patient’s well-being. Be sure to appropriately maintain and clean all clippers to prevent irritation, abrasion and infection. The end result is happier clients and healthier patients.
- Ley B. “Evaluation of Commonly Used Products for Disinfecting Clipper Blades in Veterinary Practices: A Pilot Study.” JAAHA. 52(5):277-280, 2016.
- Mount R et al. “Evaluation of Bacterial Contamination of Clipper Blades in Small Animal Private Practice.” JAAHA. 52(2):95–101, 2016.
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over eastern Pennsylvania and western New Jersey. Visit him at DrPhilZeltzman.com or follow him at facebook.com/DrZeltzman. Nikki Schneck, a veterinary technician near Pottsville, Pa., and Ciara Fredericks, a certified veterinary technician in Effort, Pa., contributed to this article.