People frequently ask me how often they should bathe their dogs. Unfortunately, many still believe the old wive’s tale that says you shouldn’t bathe your dog more than once or twice a month. According to some, more frequent bathing might harm your dog’s skin or coat.
This is nothing more than a myth, and is not based upon any medical fact. This article will help you determine how often your dog should be bathed, why bathing is good for him, and how to choose the best shampoo.
Why bathe him?
Bathing your dog is a good idea for several reasons:
•If your dog is trained to enjoy bathing, the experience will be pleasant for him, similar to going for a walk or playing chase in the yard.
•Any positive interaction between you and your dog strengthens the human-animal bond.
•Bathing removes dirt and odors from his skin and coat.
•Frequent bathing is necessary to heal inflamed or infected skin and damaged hair.
•Finally, while not often realized, bathing can have important health benefits for you and your family.
I recommend bathing your dog at least weekly whenever he gets dirty or smelly, but more frequent bathing may help keep him healthy. For example, dogs with skin diseases should be bathed more often, even daily if necessary. Dogs with allergies typically itch less when bathed frequently.
In my practice, I instruct my clients to bathe their dogs before administering medications such as a corticosteroid like prednisone or an antihistamine. For many of these dogs, the bath can relieve the itching enough that the next dose of medication can be skipped. The less frequently dogs use medications like corticosteroids, the fewer the side effects they’ll experience from those drugs.
For dogs with bacterial, fungal or yeast infections, ringworm or mange, frequent bathing helps kill the infectious organisms and parasites. In my practice, dogs with bacterial and yeast infections rarely require antibiotic or anti-fungal drugs if their people can bathe them often.
For dogs with infections, contact time between the skin, hair and shampoo is very important. The longer the shampoo stays on the dog, the greater its killing action. While it may not be practical for most people to leave shampoo on a dog’s skin for 30 minutes or longer, as we do when bathing dogs in our hospital, I recommend at least ten minutes (preferably 15 to 20) when treating skin infections with shampoo therapy.
Holistic veterinarians have discovered that when patients are bathed frequently using properly selected shampoos, they usually do not need conventional medications to treat their skin diseases. Even when they do, they require much less medication.
For dogs with skin diseases, I recommend bathing every one to two days to get the problem under control, and several times per week until the skin has healed. In my practice, I typically recommend daily baths for one to two weeks, then every 48 hours until I re-examine the dog in two to three weeks. After that, I will usually prescribe a maintenance protocol that requires bathing one to three times per week, depending upon the dog’s original problem.
Choosing a shampoo
Frequent bathing will usually not dry out the dog’s skin or coat if the proper shampoo is chosen. While some shampoos, typically those made of harsh chemicals, can dry out the skin or coat if used too much, organic shampoos containing natural oils are safe to use whenever needed; many are specially formulated to encourage frequent bathing.
When it comes to choosing a shampoo, you have three general choices.
•The first is the typical chemical-based shampoo. These usually contain chemicals as their major ingredients. They can include, but are not limited to: sodium lauryl (laureth) sulfate (SLS), cocamidopropyl betaine (cocabetaine), diethanolalamine (DEA), artificial colors, artificial fragrances or preservatives, petroleum, animal by-products, detergents, alcohols, and propylene glycol. While none of these is imminently fatal when used as directed, they can cause problems such as increased hair loss, skin irritation, cracking and inflammation. My general approach to these chemicals is this: even if your dogs are not harmed by their use, if there are better, safer, more natural choices, I prefer to use those shampoos instead.
•The second choice is the “natural” shampoo. As a rule, these use few if any of the above chemicals and instead rely on more natural ingredients such as essences of fragrant oils, purified water and “natural” cleansers. Nevertheless, I have seen a number of “natural” products that still include some chemicals such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and disodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate. Unfortunately, the term “natural” does not really have a legal definition.
While most people think a natural product is totally devoid of chemicals and by-products, there is no legal guideline that mandates this. Therefore, it is imperative that you read the label of any shampoo to know exactly what’s in it. Also be aware of nebulous terms like “natural oils” and “natural cleansers” unless the product specifically states what these terms mean.
•The final choice is the true “certified organic” shampoo. This term is a legal designation by the USDA. Products labeled as certified organic must meet strict guidelines. As a rule, ingredients in an organic product must be raised or farmed without using chemical fertilizers and insecticides, and the products must not contain artificial chemical ingredients. Most companies that sell organic products use no artificial colors and fragrances, and put organic preservatives in their products. Most also do not test their products on animals, although shampoo manufacturers obviously use the products on dogs to make sure they are safe and effective.
Finally, some organic shampoos come in plastic containers that contain PET (polyethylene terephthalate) rather than the potentially more harmful BPA (bisphenol A). While every veterinarian has his own favorite brand of shampoos, I recommend trying to find a certified organic product formulated for frequent use. In general, organic shampoos are safer for the environment, cost effective, and formulated to be gentle for your dog. They can be used regularly with confidence, to keep your dog and the rest of your family healthy.
Bathing your dog several times a week might seem like a lot of work, but it’s not when you consider the many advantages. And with time and patience, it can become an enjoyable opportunity to bond with your dog and spend some quality time together.
“What’s in it for me?”
Bathing your dog often can benefit your own health. Clean dogs are less likely to cause people to suffer unnecessarily from allergies and other respiratory problems.
Think of it this way. Your dog’s hair acts like a rug, trapping dirt, bacteria, fungi and allergens. Allergens are foreign proteins such as dander, dust mites, saliva from the dog licking himelf, bug droppings, molds, and tree and grass pollens.
These allergens stay on your dog’s skin and hair until they’re washed away. The longer they stay there, the more likely they are to cause your dog to itch. And if you or any family members suffer from allergies, your dog’s skin and hair will contribute to your discomfort until the allergens are washed away.
I recommend bathing your dog as often as possible if you or anyone in your family suffers from allergies.
Veterinarian Dr. Shawn Messonnier wrote The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, The Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog. He's the pet care expert for Martha Stewart Living's "Dr. Shawn — The Natural Vet" on Sirius Satellite Radio, and creator of Dr. Shawn's Pet Organics. His practice, Paws & Claws Animal Hospital (petcarenaturally.com), is in Plano, Texas.