Holistic Grooming for the Whole Pet

Once viewed as a peculiar resource for the hippie set, holistic practitioners and natural spas now transcend the pet grooming world, serving all those who seek blissful treatments that benefit the whole body and mind.



As with many trends that have surged in popularity in the human world, the natural and holistic spa movement has made the leap into pet care. Consumers continue to make a connection between their own health and wellness needs and those of their animals, and products and services that were once considered a luxurious indulgence are becoming staples. Increasing numbers of pet parents are willing to use any means necessary to ensure the health and happiness of their animals.


While the focus on pet wellness has centered on chemical-free products, many groomers who offer natural and holistic spa services say their treatments involve much more than gentle shampoo and conditioner formulas. Just as aestheticians who treat human clients seek to provide an uplifting experience through minimally processed products and tranquil surroundings, natural and holistic groomers create an environment in which pets receive treatments that heal the body and soothe the mind.


To unearth the secrets for operating a successful holistic and natural pet spa, Grooming Business discussed this growing segment with three groomers who are dedicated to maintaining the wellbeing of their clients by treating the whole animal.


What made you decide to go “natural” with your grooming business?

Paulina Riofrio: I am a reiki master and started to see how dogs were treated at other salons where I worked. It didn’t sit well with me. They wanted to pile on dog after dog and every groomer had to groom seven dogs each day. Here, I opened up with the understanding that it would be one dog per appointment, using organic shampoos with no chemicals. It is a different way of doing things, but just as busy. My clients book for the entire year. I am not losing money. Also, dogs answer to energy, with my reiki training, crystals, incense and aromatherapy — they respond to that.


Julianne Walsh: In my former career as a sales and marketing professional, I worked in the natural and organic products industry. I was fortunate and grateful to be able to incorporate my organic lifestyle with earning an income. From my 17 years in the industry, I witnessed the growth of natural and organic in food and personal care products. I wanted to create a business that combined my beliefs in the value of organic products (and seize on a growing industry), the need to protect our planet, and a love of dogs. 


Annette Heller: It goes way back to how I was raised...and when I went back to school in 2011, I was blown away by the chemicals used when grooming pets. People would pick their scent and groomers would spray it on the dog for an extra cost. It made me sick. When I left grooming school, I started investigating shampoos at the salon where I worked. The customers noticed a difference with natural products immediately and I knew I had to open my own salon. Even the cleaning products groomers use to clean up accidents that animals have in the salon—you can use natural cleaning products. There is a better way.


What does being a “natural” groomer mean to you?

Riofrio: The word holistic means whole. When a dog comes in, I am looking at his wholeness, spirit—himself. They see me more than the vet. I am not a doctor, but I see differences in the dogs more often as they come and go. I know the families, so I find out if there is a divorce or someone went to college. It might not be a disease, but maybe his best friend went off to college or his mom died. Doing what is best for the dog is important. A lot of people want their dogs fluffy, but it should be humanity versus vanity.


Walsh: Being a “natural” groomer means using products that are safe for your pets and planet, conducting business in a non-toxic environment that is safe for both our pets and employees, and supporting vendors that are also making a difference. We have our Green Pawz dog shampoo manufactured locally, made with organic and natural ingredients. Our pets’ safety is our No.1 priority. 


Heller: It means no sodium laurel sulfate, fragrances, or parabens, but you have to go deeper. Also, natural is the way we treat the dogs. We don’t take in too many dogs at a time or put them all in cages. It’s a quieter salon and the dogs are calmer. We play music and use essential oils. When I first started six years ago, I went to my vet and said that I was opening the salon and she started sending me the older dogs who couldn’t handle the stress of going to the groomer. I have a license for canine massage therapy, so I can relieve knots and aches and pains.


How has demand for natural grooming products and services changed over the years?

Riofrio: Well, because I led a natural lifestyle for many years, I’ve seen it become more mainstream. I am happy to see it become bigger. It’s also a problem because everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and they want to be holistic. I saw another store branded holistic and thought, “Wow, this is so nice to have a sister to work with.” I walked in and it was all chemicals, with nothing to back up the name.


Walsh: The demand for more natural grooming products stems from more educated customers, increased availability of natural products and people’s love for and desire to protect their pets.


Heller: When I opened, there were clients other than the dogs that were coming to me from the vet. They were locals who lived near the shop and these clients immediately noticed a difference in the way their dogs felt and smelled. I don’t do any marketing, it’s all word of mouth, and I have a waitlist.


What are some of the most misunderstood aspects of natural grooming?

Riofrio: With skin issues [pet parents] think the shampoo will magically cure it, but they don’t understand that it’s the food and diet. It takes effort on both parts—mine and theirs. As far as the industry goes, it’s important that they go to groomers who have studied and gone to school. Nobody is watching this industry. In grooming, it’s a free-for-all. It’s important for people to ask, “How long have you done this?” “Where did you go to school?” “Why do you call yourself holistic?”


Walsh: There is some misconception on what the terms “natural” and “organic” mean, and I think some people understandably question the legitimacy of these terms. If a product is listed as organic, it is required to contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. The term “natural” is more ambiguous and less regulated, and customers should closely inspect the ingredients to ensure the product serves their needs. In short, look at the ingredients, no matter what it says.


Heller: Because of greenwashing, people don’t truly know what is green and not green, unless they are educated regarding what the ingredients are. I teach green cleaning classes where I show what the chemi cals are and alternatives, so people know what they are buying and, because I was raised this way, I know what is in these ingredients. gb


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