If you could somehow take a poll of your every-day dog, and ask them what they think about bath time, they’d likely call it cruel and unusual punishment. The extremists might even go so far as to petition the UN Human Right’s Council to categorize it as torture. Odds are, much to the pups’ surprise, their owners would probably agree with them.
Doggy bath times are often messy, time-consuming affairs that both parties wish to end as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, though, they are a necessity if you want to prevent your furry friend from smelling and tracking grime all over your house. But how often should I wash my dog? Read on to find out everything you need to know about how often you should wash your dog, what kind of pet shampoo you should use, and how to make it a pleasant experience for your furry friend.
Dogs and Grooming
For humans, bathing provides a host of benefits, some aesthetic, others health related. The vast majority of Americans would probably agree that the elimination of bodily odors and harmful bacteria that results from frequent bathing is incredibly beneficial to a modern, civil society, living and working together in tight proximity. And while there are some similar benefits for dogs, it’s not nearly as crucial for their well-being.
In the past, dogs managed just fine performing their own grooming. If they got dirty, they’d lick themselves or have others in the pack assist. This provided several boons, including:
- Facilitating the growth of hair follicles
- Promoting skin health
- Cleaning and sanitizing their genital areas
- Bonding members of the pack
Naturally, as humanity domesticated the canine, dogs went from being outdoor carnivores to indoor pets. As a result, auto-grooming simply wasn’t enough. And so, the modern-day practice of dog grooming came into being. Now, if dogs want to have up close and personal interactions with humans, cleanliness matters; even the cutest, most pet-able dog in the world won’t get any love if they look or smell like they just went dumpster diving. These days, grooming matters. And, like it or not, your dog’s hygiene reflects upon you, the owner.
How Often Should I Wash My Dog?
Although dogs are capable of doing a share of the cleaning work on their own, vets will attest that semi-regular bathing is necessary for most breeds to complement their natural grooming habits. However, too much bathing can lead to a host of issues such as:
- Increase risk of fungal infections
- Increase risk of bacterial infections
- Damaged hair follicles
- Skin irritations
These days, a good rule of thumb is that if your dog is covered with mud or reeks like something awful, then a bath may be called for. However, when it comes to specific questions about the best bathing practices and frequency of bathing, much depends on several factors.
The coat type and length are critical considerations in how frequently your pup needs to bathe. But it’s not as simple as a long haired dog requires more bathing. Rather, the question of when to wash a dog depends heavily on the particular breed. In this case, it is helpful to separate them by coat:
- Hairless Breeds – Various hairless breeds need to be bathed far more frequently than other dogs. Examples include:
- Chinese Crested Dog
- Peruvian Inca Orchid
- Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless dog)
- Ecuadorian Hairless Dog
- Argentine Pila Dog
- American Hairless Terrier
- Hairless Chihuahua
Care for these types of breeds can be intensive. They may require a weekly or bi-monthly bath to care for their skin and protect them from disease. Also, due to the lack of hair, their regular routine needs to be supplemented by moisturizers and sun-screen.
- Short-coated breeds – These will typically require more baths than a medium-coated breed. That said, those with soft and oily coats will demand more frequent bathing than short-coats with hard and dry furs. These breeds would benefit from a bath once every few months; that is, unless they get extra dirty from playing in the mud or ocean. However, they are susceptible to over bathing, which can result in deficient oil in their coats and dried out skin. Often, frequent brushing and de-shedding are all that’s required.
- Medium-coated breeds – Most of these dogs only need to be bathed when dirty or when they start to smell. While baths should be infrequent, they do benefit from regular brushing and rinsing. Also, take extra care to not to over bathe breeds with thick coats or double coats such as a Husky or Golden retriever.
- Long-coated breeds – Long coats require much more attention and care. Experts suggest that you bathe these breeds once every 4 to 6 weeks for best results. As you might imagine, there’s far more time, work, and upkeep necessary to properly maintain their coats. For example, a Shetland Sheepdog may need a deep soak, heavy moisturizing, conditioning, continuous brushing, and a blow dry to finish.
Health of the Dog
Some dogs suffer from various health conditions that necessitate more frequent bathing, often supplemented by a medicated dog shampoo. Common causes for such coat and skin problems include:
- Fungal infections – These regularly cause a host of medical issues such as pimples, itchiness, hair loss, crusty skin, and sores. Typically, medicated antifungal shampoo is the only effective treatment and source of relief for a fungal infection. The most typical cases that you should be aware of are:
- Yeast Infection
- Bacterial infections – Often, allergies or fungal infections can compromise a dog’s immune system, making them more susceptible to a bacterial infection. Treating these conditions may entail medication and regular baths to prevent relapses.
- Allergies – Certain breeds are susceptible to environmental allergies. Allergies can either be skin or respiratory related. Skin allergies can result in itchy, raw, and irritated skin, causing your dog to chew or scratch which will only make the problem worse. The following symptoms are typical results of skin allergies:
- Itchiness (seasonal or year-round)
- Hair loss
- Red and inflamed skin
- Chronic ear infections
- Chronic skin infections
- Excessive rubbing, licking, or scratching
It may be wise to take your dog to the veterinarian for an allergy test if they exhibit any of these symptoms. There, the vet can recommend or prescribe a medicated shampoo that will hopefully reduce symptoms as well as prevent allergic triggers.
- Parasites – Fleas and mites are the most common culprits for skin irritation and allergic reactions in dogs. In either case, baths are a fantastic way to provide immediate relief and specialized anti-flea shampoo can kill and remove adult fleas. However, without medication, a bath is only a short-term solution.
- Dry Skin – This can be the result of several different factors, including allergies, humidity levels, over bathing, or an improper diet. Treatment depends on the case; however, a medicated moisturizer is a fantastic way to salve the dry skin and help relieve them of itching.
If you notice that your dog is shedding more often than usual and is subject to skin lesions, itchiness, or is suffering from any other dermatological malady, it is vital that you take them to the vet immediately. There very well might be an underlying disease causing these issues that a bath just won’t be able to fix.
Some dogs are more adventurous and enjoy frolicking in the fields, ocean, dirt, and mud puddles, whereas others are content to remain clean and comfortable indoors and on the couch. Their general activities will naturally impact how often you should wash a dog. In such cases, it’s typically up to your discretion, regardless of breed. Let your nose and eyes be the judge.
Can You Use Human Shampoo on Your Dog?
Simply put, giving your dog human shampoo is not advisable. Just like how there are certain things dogs can’t eat and process, there are several products and chemicals that their skin would react to negatively. Part of the reason for this is the difference in our pH balances as it pertains to the acidity-alkalinity spectrum.
- Humans – Have a pH balance that falls on the acidic side of the scale. Commonly it’s under 5 on the scale.
- Dogs – Have a relatively neutral pH balance closer to 7 on the scale.
It might surprise you, but dogs have very sensitive skin. As a result, if you use shampoo that’s intended for acidic pH skin on a dog’s neutral pH skin, it could cause irritation, resulting in damaged or dried out skin. Such a reaction also increases their susceptibility to bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
Depending on a dog’s breed and coat type, some specialized dog shampoos can also cause reactions if used on the wrong sort of pooch. So, if you don’t know which type of shampoo to buy, play it safe and speak with your vet. They’ll have intimate knowledge of your pet’s breed, lifestyle, and medical history, and will thus be able to give an educated recommendation.
Your Doggy Bathing Options
Knowing exactly where to bathe your dog, depends on several factors, including:
- Your time
- Your home
- Your financial situation
Typically, you’ll select one of four options.
This is the option commonly chosen by the owners of medium to large-sized dogs that would prefer not to have to lift their dogs into a tub or force them into the confines of a shower. It’s also an excellent choice for the owner of a dog that continually attempts to escape the tub or tends to make giant messes.
Bathing outdoors is simple. Just go in the backyard, grab a hose, and use some doggy shampoo. During summer months, as a safety precaution, test the water from the hose first to make sure that it’s not too hot.
If you have a smaller dog or a pup that enjoys baths, a tub is a great option. It helps corral them in one place and is more comfortable for them and for you to use in the winter. Consider adding a non-slip mat to the tub’s floor to make your dog more comfortable and to prevent possible injuries. Meanwhile, a detachable showerhead attachment will make the bathing process a breeze to get through. During the procedure, make sure to allow the tub to drain to prevent any chance of a smaller dog or puppy drowning.
In recent years, many families have been adding a doggy shower to their laundry room or mudroom. This combines the best elements of the outdoor and bathtub options by providing a dedicated indoor area in which to clean your pup without making a mess of your own hygienic space. So, if you’re considering a remodel, a doggy shower could be a convenient new addition.
Bathing dogs isn’t a simple process, especially if your dog has a specialized coat or if you want them to compete in a doggy show. Sometimes it’s best to let the professionals do the work. Dog-grooming services have plenty of experience wrangling even the most difficult dogs. Professional dog groomers will give your pooch a pampered luxury treatment that could include:
- Specialized oxygen-infused baths
- Top-of-the-line doggy shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer
- Hair cuts
- Blow drying
- Nail trimming
- Ear cleaning and flushing
- Pad shaving and scissoring
- Sanitary trimming
If you don’t have the time or resources to give your best friend a bath, think about treating your pup to a professional grooming that is sure to have them smelling like roses and looking ready for a photo shoot.
Washing Your Pup
Regularly bathing your dog is a crucial way to maintain hygiene and promote health. However, overbathing can also cause problems. Therefore, consider your dog’s health conditions, coat type, and lifestyle when deciding the right frequency for baths. If you are concerned, speak with a vet and they’ll be able to give you the specific advice you need. Remember to only use doggy shampoo so that your pup is not only clean but also healthy.
Gobel, R. PetMD. Identifying and Treating Fungal Infections in Dogs. https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/identifying-and-treating-fungal-infections-dogs
Mindbodygreen. Alkaline & Acidic Foods Chart: The pH Spectrum. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5165/Alkaline-Acidic-Foods-Chart-The-pH-Spectrum.html
Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine. She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.