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Ask Dr. Jenn: Do I really need to bathe my dog? If so, how often?

Could you be bathing your dog too little, or not enough?

March 4, 2022 3 min read
Ask Dr. Jenn: Do I really need to bathe my dog? If so, how often?

I love my dog, but I hate bathing him! He is almost fifty pounds of fur and fluff trying to leap out of the tub. He relaxes a little when I lather the shampoo into his hair coat and give him a little massage. Then when he is at his wettest and soapiest, he does a full body shake sending water and bubbles in my direction and all over the floor. I am not sure what is the wettest at this point – him, me, or the floor.

If the thought of bathing your pooch conjures up this scene, the good news is that many dogs do not need to be bathed regularly. A dog with a healthy fur coat and normal skin only needs a bath when he is dirty or stinky. For many dogs, this may only be a few times a year.

It’s much more important to brush your dog. Brushing moves the oil around to keep the hair shiny and the skin healthy. It also prevents matting of fur in long haired dogs. Matted fur can be uncomfortable for your dog and can cause moisture to be trapped under the mat, leading to skin infections.

Maybe your dog loves a nice warm bath. He loves to soak in the tub and get all the attention. Or maybe you are allergic to your dog, and regular bathing is necessary to remove the dander. Or maybe you just want a clean, nice smelling dog. The good news is you can bathe your dog weekly if needed, as long as you are using the proper shampoo.

Avoid using human shampoos, even gentle baby shampoo. A dog’s skin is different than ours. The pH of human shampoo strips the oils, leading to dry skin and a dull hair coat. If used too often, your dog could end up with painful, irritated skin. Look for a gentle dog shampoo that is “soap free”. This will keep the hair coat soft, shiny, and smelling nice. If he will tolerate it, you can follow up with a doggy conditioner to give his fur extra shine.

If your dog has a medical condition affecting the skin, such as seborrhea or atopic dermatitis, part of the treatment may involve frequent bathing, sometimes as often as three times a week, with a medicated shampoo. In these cases, it is important to use the shampoo prescribed by your veterinarian. Over-the-counter oatmeal or allergy relief shampoos are not the same, and bathing that frequently with the wrong shampoo can make the skin condition worse.

Prescription shampoos are free of many irritating ingredients that lead to dry, irritated skin if used too often. These special medicated shampoos can be used daily with little harm to the skin.

Another important thing to note is that medicated shampoos work best if they have prolonged contact with the skin, with a minimum of five to ten minutes. Ten minutes in the tub with your wet dog trying to climb out can seem like an hour. If the weather is nice, you can lather your dog with his medicated shampoo, take him for a walk around the block, then take him back into the tub to rinse.

If your dog absolutely hates getting wet but needs a clean-up, waterless shampoo may be a good alternative. Waterless shampoo can be sprayed directly on the fur and scrubbed with a towel. No rinsing is needed. Some products also come in a mousse or foam that can be rubbed into the fur.

If you have more questions about if and when to bathe your dog and what shampoo to use, talk with your veterinarian. She should be able to tell you a shampoo that will keep your dog clean and smelling great.

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