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Bathing Your Pets: Dr. Khuly’s Top Eight Hows, Whens, and Whys

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Bathing Pets

Based on the eau de wet chien aroma that pervades the exam rooms on any given Saturday morning, it’s plain that people believe that bathing their dogs is a desirable thing to do. Perhaps you concur, believing that to bathe your pets is to show you love them.

And while I’ll generally agree, there are some rules that govern the hows, whens, and whys of bathing your pets. With that in mind, consider these simple “rules” as you make your pet cleansing decisions in the future:

#1 Veterinary Visit Considerations

Back to that aroma I mentioned: We veterinarians (and our staffs especially, who must cradle your damp dogs in their arms as we examine them) kindly ask that you refrain from bathing them immediately in advance of your visit.

But lest you think we’re all foul odor-obsessed divas, let me assure you there’s a legitimate medical reason for this request. That’s because a recent bath makes searching for signs of skin disease that much more challenging. A wet coat and damp skin will obscure signs of skin dryness, dullness of coat, and general clues to your pet’s overall health.

#2 Breed and Coat Concerns

Believe it or not, each breed (or mix of breeds) tends towards a different type of haircoat. After all, you can’t compare a Yorkie’s ultra-fine, tangle-prone locks to a Bischon Frisé’s or a German Shepherd’s. Then there’s everything in-between, as with all those breed hybrids and true Heinz 57s.

#3 The Smell Factor

Does she truly smell awful after a certain length of time between baths, or are you just olfactorily sensitive? (Solicit other dog people’s opinions if you’re not sure.)

#4 True Disease

Has he ever been diagnosed with a skin condition of any type? Allergies, seborrhea (dry, flakiness), dermatologic parasitism (mange or flea allergies), alopecia (hair loss), food allergies, hypothyroidism, or atopy (seasonal allergies)?

For many pets, using medicated shampoos is the ticket. And for many, their disease necessitates a higher frequency of bathing than you ever thought they might need. Twice a week or even every other day is not an unheard of frequency.

Note: Using a medicated, non-soap shampoo is typically indicated for high-frequency bathing.

#5 Lifestyle Matters

Does her lifestyle (for example, frequent puppy park visits or dirt-bath backyard antics) affect her cleanliness?

#6 Lackluster Appearance or a Decrease in Grooming Frequency

Does his coat lose its sheen within a few days of bathing? Cats, especially, will often stop grooming themselves when they’re ill, overweight (can’t reach), suffering oral pain, or simply arthritic. I mean, who wants to bend over backwards to reach those tough spots when it hurts to do so?

#7 Allergies (yours, that is)

If you’ve got allergies to your pets, you’ll want to bathe them more often. Once weekly is the common recommendation. In which case you may elect to use a non-soap shampoo to help keep you from stripping the protective layers on the surface of the skin.

#8 Kind of Shampoo

Non-detergent based shampoos are best for geriatric dogs and pups too, as the soapy ones can be unkind to their delicate skin. If you don’t know your soaps or have trouble interpreting labels, just ask your vet. We usually carry them.

However, for most pets, a simple, soap-based pet shampoo is just fine. The only advice you should adhere to is to stick to the high quality brands. Truth be told, most supermarket brands are harsh and degrade in quality soon after opening.

Moreover, some dogs and cats may even have severe skin reactions after bathing with months-old shampoo, so replenish your stash every four months, just in case. Once or twice a month bathing can be sufficient for most dogs. Some terriers and dogs with wiry coats (like my mother’s Jack Russell) can go for a couple of months or more without a bath.

And always use pet shampoo, unless you’re in a serious pinch. Our pets’ skin pH is different than ours and you’ll want to be sure your shampoo of choice doesn’t damage that protective layer I mentioned.

How about flea and tick shampoos? Like flea and tick collars, they’re strong up front and their effects are always short-lived. Definitely a no-no for pups and geriatrics, and poorly effective or downright unsafe compared to the milder effects of flea and tick products available at your vet’s office. (Note: This is not a plug for our products, just the current reality.)

As always, ask your veterinarian what’s best for your pet. After all, he or she knows your pet’s individual needs best.

Now it’s your turn: Have any bathing dos and don’ts for us to consider? We’d love to hear them!

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