By Dr. Fiona, a veterinarian and contributing writer for Pets Best, a nationwide pet insurance agency founded in 2005.
Is your dog starting to smell a bit? By all means, give him or her a bath! This can seem like a trivial point, but is actually a very common question posed to veterinarians. Owners want to know if too much bathing is harmful for their pets, or if too little bathing can predispose them to problems.
Here are some guidelines for keeping your dogs and cats clean and healthy.
How Often Should I Bathe My Dog?
The easy answer is: when they need it! If this seems too elementary, consider this- every dog is very different in their hygiene needs and their lifestyle. A little Pomeranian that rarely gets set down outside maybe fine for months at a time with just weekly brushing, but a hunting or working dog may need to be bathed daily to keep the coat free from mud and debris.
If your dog smells, is dirty or muddy or greasy, he probably needs a bath! If your pet needs very frequent bathing a milder skin sensitive shampoo, such as an oatmeal shampoo, will help prevent over drying.
Does the Dog’s Coat Type Matter?
Hair coat type will make a difference in the needed frequency of bathing. For example, dogs with a double coat that sheds frequently, like a Husky, might require less bathing than a dog with a continuously growing single coat, such as a Shih Tzu (provided the coat doesn’t get muddy).
Thick double coats often do well with regular brushing to rid the fur of dust and debris, and to move the skin oils onto the hair shafts.
What About Animals with Skin Conditions?
If your veterinarian has you using a prescription shampoo, obviously you’ll want to follow the labeled instructions. Some medicated shampoos are meant to be used very frequently to treat such conditions as seborrhea or infections.
Dogs with contact environmental allergies may benefit from at least regular rinsing after being outside. If your pet is sensitive to pollen or dust a quick rinse, especially on the feet may help remove allergens from the fur and help prevent allergic flare ups.
What Shampoo Should I Use?
Never use a human product on your pet without consulting a veterinarian. Dogs have different skin pHs and different oils than people do.
There are many pet formulations to choose from, and your selection should be based on what you are looking for in a shampoo. A mild skin sensitive shampoo will be best for frequent bathing, but a dog prone to oily skin may benefit from a shampoo with more surfactant in it.
Stay away from perfumes and scents in a dog with sensitive skin, but this may be desirable in a pet that is in close quarters with your family and doesn’t have an adverse reaction to them.
There are waterless shampoos and sprays available that can help dislodge dirt and debris with brushing. Many are heavy on perfumes though and mask underlying dirtiness though.
What About Bathing Cats?
Cats are typically fastidious groomers and like to be very clean. Most cats will take care of their own hygiene needs without you having to bath them. Especially since cats generally hate water, bath time can be far from fun for felines and can be a source of stress.
However, bathing may be necessary if your cat has certain skin conditions, or is too obese to groom properly. Obese cats that can’t reach their bottoms are at increased risk for urinary tract infections and other problems; so pay careful attention to hygiene in these areas.
Persian-type cats with smug faces will typically need the face area cleaned regularly. Pet wet-wipes can help keep these areas clean without the need for running water. Be sure to dry the facial folds out carefully so extra moisture doesn’t encourage bacterial or fungal growth.
A clean and good smelling animal will undoubtedly be more welcome in your home. Good hygiene is important for keeping pets at their healthiest.