Dog Bathing 101: False Myths and Best Practices

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Dog Bathing: False Myths and Best Practices

False myths and beliefs about dog bathing generate many doubts and questions in the minds of dogs’ owners, who are even more confused by a thousand information they try to collect from  different sources: web, vets, friends, groomers… each of them will probably have a different point of view.

Here is a short guide with the best answers to the most frequent questions about bathing our four-legged friends.

There are several beliefs about dog bathing, with some more true than others. For example, the one that identifies bathing as the cause for the animal to lose the natural oils on its skin, damaging the pH. This is not completely true, since its health could be compromised only if you wash it too much or if you never do it. Dogs get dirty and need to be washed to keep themselves healthy.

Another myth states that if the water enters into dog’s ears, it will get an otitis. If you wash the dog with special care, this won’t be necessarily the case.

Another false belief is that dogs are inclined to reject those dogs smelling of shampoo or unnatural scent.

These incredible animals have a very powerful sense of smell and they will continue to smell the natural scent of a dog even if it has been just bathed with the most fragrant shampoo. So, no worries about socialisation problems: the “herd” will welcome your dog even if it is clean and scented. On the other side, as an owner you will benefit from an healthy and cared dog.

How often should I bathe my puppy?

On the first visit to the vet, puppies owners generally ask questions about when and how often they can wash their dogs.

Bathing a puppy represents an epic moment both in terms of health and behaviour management.

Veterinarians advise not to wash the dog up to five months of age to avoid dangerous colds that could cause illness, due to a not completely effective immune system.

With the due care, a dog can be washed since the second month of life, provided that the bathing room is properly heated and the dog is perfectly dried, first with a towel or rags and then with the hair dryer.  In winter and on hot-humid days, the dog’s undercoat remains easily wet and this could lead to infections, especially to the skin.

From a behavioural point of view, it is very important for a puppy to get used to a contact with water. A positive reinforcement is always the best tactic to persuade a dog to do something: play with your puppy while washing its legs for the first time and do not use coercive methods. Just stop at the first signs of anxiety and distract your dog with a tasty morsel or its favorite toy. Patience and gradualness are fundamental rules: your efforts during the first months will be rewarded in the future and for the whole life with your faithful friend.

How often should I bathe my dog as an adult?

The dog’s skin is protected by a layer of lipids that are produced by the sebaceous glands distributed over the entire body surface. They have a very important protective and nourishing function.

In order not to dry the skin of your dog too much, making it more sensitive to the aggression of external agents (bacteria, yeasts, parasites), you should schedule a washing treatment once every 3-4 weeks.

However, this depends on the dog’s coat. Long-haired dogs need extra care since dirt and dust conceal more easily under their hair.

So, how often should the dog be bathed according to the length of the hair?

Here below you will find some examples, just as an indication:

  • Long-haired dogs: once every four weeks.
  • Dogs with medium-length hair: once every four or six weeks.
  • Short-haired dogs: once every six or eight weeks.

Remember that if your dog is so lucky to bath in the sea while on holiday, then it is essential to rinse it repeatedly at least with fresh water in order to remove any salt residue, which is a real enemy to the skin balance.

Can I use a normal shampoo for humans to wash my dog?

Dog owners often wonder if they can use the same shampoo as for humans – the one you buy at the supermarket, to be clear – to wash their pets. Someone even suggests neutral shampoos or specific ones for newborns, sure that they can not even hurt their dogs.

There is nothing more wrong than this, because you must never use the shampoo for humans on animals.

This is due to a different pH of the skin: the pH level of human skin ranges from 4.2 to 5.6 (slightly acidic), while that of a dog is more alcaline and it ranges from 7 to 8.

To respect the pH of our pet’s skin is very important; therefore, the choice of the right shampoo is fundamental.

Our advice is to opt for a professional and quality product, which acts to wash dirt and bacteria away and normalises the production of sebum. In this way the lipid structure of skin and hair won’t be affected as well as the pH will be preserved.

The only product for humans that can be used on pets as a “first aid” and in the absence of disinfectants, is the Marseille soap.

However, keep in mind to apply a small amount of product and only on the affected areas. Indeed, if it is used as a shampoo for prolonged periods, the Marseille soap can damage the protective layer of the skin (the so-called hydrolipyl film).

How can I choose the right shampoo?

It is not easy to make a responsible and optimal choice when it comes to dogs’ shampoo. In fact, there are plenty of products labeled “for animals” that are indeed simple soaps.

Especially in discount stores or multi-markets you will find bottles of shampoos promising exceptional results, but what they can do best is only provoking a terrible itching to your pet.

Do not let yourself be “charmed” by the prices and read the product label carefully before buying.

If you care about the health and well-being of your animal, it’s better to estimate a higher price and only buy certified products of well-known and possibly cruelty-free brands.

Your vet is of course the best person who can give you an advice on what to buy, according to the characteristics of your dog.

In special cases, for example if your dog suffers from itchy skin, you should look for a shampoo with natural ingredients like sulfur, oil, tea, oatmeal and aloe vera, which help to reduce itching, moisturise the skin and heal the wounds of the dog’s skin.

Should you have a dog suffering from excessive fur shedding, opt for a anti-shedding shampoo. There are several on the market, but if you want to buy a good one, make sure it contains Omega 3 and 6, which help in hair growth and reinforcement, Quinine, a natural alkaloid that strengthens the dog’s coat, and a Neutral pH, to prevent hair loss and protect the skin balance. A balm could be a good purchase to revitalise the dog’s coat and restore its brilliance and softness.

What are the risks involved in using the wrong shampoo to wash dogs?

The first “symptom” that something is wrong, and that the chemical composition of the product is too aggressive for the skin of your fur-friend, is the onset of itching or dermatitis. The latter, if neglected, can lead to complications, such as scabs or scaly hair.

Lowering the natural defences of the dog’s skin is something serious, as it becomes easier for the animal to contract bacteria or fungi. Therefore, appropriate pharmacological, antibacterial and / or anti-fungal treatment will be necessary to prevent complications and to curb skin tissue infection.

How can I keep my dog's hygiene?

To avoid your dog’s unpleasant smell and to keep its coat clean for a long time, it is very important to brush it frequently, everyday would be better.  Should you have a short-haired dog, you can do it every two or three days.

By brushing your dog, you will remove dead hair, dirt and dust, although it is not obviously the same as a bath.

What if your dog gets muddy a few days after bathing, for example? You’ll have to bath it again. Do not worry if the two baths are very close each other, because nothing will happen if it is only once.

What about using dry shampoo in this case? Dry shampoo should be only used on those occasions when you do not have time or opportunity to give a proper wash to your animal. Washing it accurately is essential to maintain an high level of hygiene and health.

Its well-being – and yours – will follow, of course.

If you’d like to see a list of the best accessories and guides for dog bathing at home, we’ve made one just for you.

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