It’s bath time for those smelly ol’ dogs

No one wants a dirty, smelly pet in the house, but there seems to be a lot of debate about how best to keep dogs and cats clean. Should you bath your pet weekly or just spray them with Febreze as needed?

The answer is not entirely straight forward, except with regard to Febreze which is not supposed to be sprayed directly on animals. You should bath healthy dogs and cats only as often as needed to keep their coats free of dirt and unpleasant smells.

The consensus among veterinarians seems to be that pets should not be bathed more than once a month to avoid affecting the normal oils, acidity and bacterial population of the skin. All of these things combine to fight disease and inflammation which can cause sores or itching. That said, there are times when more frequent washing is needed. What is it about dead animals, particularly stinky fish-carcasses, that make Labradors roll in them? That is a true shampoo emergency.

For routine baths, choose a product specifically made for pets. Try to avoid anything with added scents or essential oils like tea tree which can be toxic. Human products are not appropriate. Even “baby shampoo” can dry out the coat. On the other hand, there are times when you might want to reach for Dawn dish-detergent first to remove stubborn grime, particularly anything oily or smelly. Dawn can also be used as a “wetting agent” to decrease the amounts of more expensive shampoos needed. Use tiny amounts of dish soap or you’ll be forever rinsing it out and always follow with pet shampoo. Dawn truly is used by wild animal rescue squads to degrease and “de-oil” wildlife like the commercials on television show and is a very effective agent (ed.).

Medicated shampoos should be used according to your vet’s directions, but many need to be left on the coat for 5 to 10 minutes. Pets with skin diseases may need baths two to three times weekly.

People with pet allergies can help keep symptoms at bay by bathing their animals every week because it really cuts down on the amount of hair and dander in the environment.

Our handicapped clinic cat has a bath every Friday to save him from diaper rash.

Whether it’s marsh muck, smelly diapers or sneezing humans that prompt frequent bathing of pets, pick the mildest shampoo available and consider following up with a moisturizing conditioner. Sometimes, just a good rinse in clean water is best. Always rinse your pet’s coat and ears if he has been swimming.

Happily, cats tend to avoid swimming, don’t roll in fish, and are amazing at keeping themselves clean. The majority go through life without needing shampoo. If you anticipate having to bath a cat or dog regularly, do some early training. Start by giving treats or even offering meals in the bath tub or shower, then introduce water with wet wash cloths. Slowly progress step-by-step – adding a bit of water to the tub, a few sprinkles on the coat, wetting the whole body – until, eventually, it is not a scary process.

Of course, you could always turn the process over to a professional groomer or try one of the do-it-yourself “dog washes” that provide the baths and equipment to get the job done without making a mess at home. A few years ago, there was talk of automated pet washing machines and, apparently there are some in operation in various places. Have a look at this video: Dog in washing machine. Do I need to suggest staying away from these contraptions?

On a final note, remember, if your pet is treated with a topical flea preventive, bathing will likely affect how long it lasts.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
April 2013