Bathing Dogs: How Often To Bath, How To Do It

“I thought you can’t bath a dog more than once a month”. We hear this almost every day when we tell someone how the right bathing strategy can help their dog’s skin (read how to bath dogs later). This has to be the most common and widely held myth of all and it deprives dogs of a great way to soothe their itchy skin. However, there is an element of truth to it.

A good example is the local neighbourhood DIY dog wash with the help-yourself soap dispenser. Dogs bathed in these can be fine, but some dogs at some places can end up in a real mess.

Read here about how bathing more frequently helped five dogs with skin problems.

Why Are Some Dog Shampoos Harmful?

I won’t pretend to know for certain what is happening but here are three theories.

  • The detergent used is too effective in stripping out the protective oil layer on the surface of the skin, or alternatively, the shampoo pH is incorrect. This causes inflammation, which causes itching. The combination of scratching or biting at the skin, and the damage to the skin surface causes a superficial infection. This makes the itch worse, and the vicious circle is off and running. Itch→scratch→damage→infection→worse itch→worse scratch→worse damage…etc
  • The detergent is faulty in some other way. It may contain tea tree oil or other irritants in harmful quantities (see Myth 21: Tea-tree oil is good for my dog’s skin ) or it may be old or contaminated.
  • The shampoos are only re-badged products made for people. Human shampoos, no matter how gentle they say they are, are completely unsuitable for dogs’ skin.

In a minute I’ll help you find a good shampoo for your dog. First, though, why would we want to bath a dog? The reason is simple; skin allergies are extremely common and bathing really helps. Oh, and dogs can smell really bad. You don’t want to have to wait a month if your pooch just found a dead fish to roll in.

By the way, don’t ever feel you have to bath your dog before you come to the vet. Unlike other people, vets simply don’t notice or care about normal doggy odours. However, we will notice unusual smells or red areas which the bath may make it harder to find.

We think bathing helps allergic skin for a very simple reason: the allergen (pollen, dust, etc) is building up in the coat. A bath will remove nearly all of whatever allergen is present, so as long as the shampoo is otherwise gentle, your dog will feel better. Of course, the effect is only temporary, but as long as your shampoo can be used frequently, you can repeat as needed. The only problem is the time, effort and wet dog (tricks to help later).

How often? With the right shampoo, the honest truth is as often as necessary. If a bath helps your dog for only two days and you don’t mind doing it that often, then go right ahead!

Shampoo therapy is only one of the tricks we use to safely and gently relieve the itch caused by dogs’ skin allergies. Follow the link to read eight more. By doing these, your dog should be more comfortable and may not need to go on more harmful medications. In addition, itchy dogs and cats must be on veterinary (not supermarket) flea prevention. I cannot say often enough that you will almost never find fleas on itchy dogs even when they are causing the problem.

dog itchy skin comparison


Here is Loki, my Jack Russell Terrier, who like so many of his breed has atopic dermatitis. The pictures taken show his skin before and 12 hours after his weekly bath. No other tricks! His nibbling and scratching also reduce dramatically.

How To Choose A Good Dog Shampoo

  • Read the labels and look for shampoos which claim to be ‘non-detergent’ or ‘soap-free’. However, remember there is a lack of labelling regulation (see Myth 7: If it is sold for pets it must be safe ) so claims are not always accurate.
  • Follow your vet’s advice. Vets get to know some (not all) shampoos that are good for itchy skin. At Walkerville Vet we like Dermcare, Virbac and Blackmores shampoos and can recommend the right one for your dog, possibly with a small sample to try.
  • Most importantly, judge the shampoo by the results. All dogs are different, and some dogs do not do well on our shampoos. The right shampoo will make your dog less itchy and their skin less red. If this does not happen, see a vet but don’t give up; try a different one later.  My advice is: don’t change the shampoo if it works!
jack russell bathtime

Remember that shampoo therapy only works for uncomplicated allergy. If your dog has broken the skin or has a secondary infection (look for red spots or pimples) only a vet can help. Most allergies require a coordinated approach using bathing as just one strategy among many and we can develop a plan for your dog. Medicated shampoos should only be used with veterinary advice.

How To Bath A Dog

dog being dried

It’s easy to bath a dog, but these points should make it better.

  • Thoroughly wet your dog’s coat.
  • Apply the shampoo using a wet bath sponge.
  • (you can also apply shampoo directly from the bottle but it’s hard to do it evenly).
  • Wash gently and thoroughly, especially the groin, armpits and legs.
  • Avoid massaging long coats to prevent matting.
  • Avoid rubbing short coats against the grain.
  • Rinse until the water is clear.
  • Towel dry, then with a hairdryer if tolerated.

Lastly,

How Can You Get Your Dog To Like Baths?

  • Start very young. If you begin at 12 weeks of age and do it regularly, your dog should like it like any attention.
  • Be patient, positive, never frustrated. Use lots of treats.
  • Walk them or give them a chew treat straight after towelling. They will get to associate the bath with what comes next. As an added bonus, walking a dog for long enough stops them rolling and rubbing in the dirt after a bath. Now that’s frustrating!
wet dog shampoo

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Andrew

2 Replies to “Bathing Dogs: How Often To Bath, How To Do It”

  1. Great news letter this week. My dog had developed itchy toes. I am now simply standing her in the trough with some shampoo dissolved in it. She’s happy for me to ‘swish’ her feet around in this mixture. Then I stand her in clear warm water to rinse out the shampoo. Then she gets a big cuddle while I dry her feet, lastly she gets a small treat.
    I do this often because her feet get muddy on our walks and simply drying them when we get home is not enough. The same with the beach. Sometimes I begin a bath the same kind of way, but I wash all of her eleven kilograms, being careful of her ears and eyes. She doesn’t mind any of it. She is an adopted girl now about eleven years old – not quite sure. We have been her parents for three years. I think dogs with non-shedding fur must become accustomed to baths and hair cuts because it will happen all their life.

    1. Thanks! My only suggestion is that since itchy feet are often a local sign of more generalised skin problems (which is also true for ear infections), all-over bathing is likely to be working better than foot baths alone. The combination you’re doing sounds best.

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