Dogs love to be outside, playing in the mud and the muck, swimming in the lake, rolling in whatever smells interesting, and just being dirty in general. And then they want to come inside and cuddle up on the couch for a good nap. But there’s a step missing--bathtime!
Bathing your dog with the best shampoo is important in order to keep her skin and coat healthy, as well as keeping her from stinking up the house. But bathing her too often will cause more harm. Dogs have natural oils that keep their skin and coats healthy. Bathing strips these away and can result in dry, irritated skin that is open up to contaminants if done too frequently.
The trick is finding the middle ground: bathing your dog with the best shampoo for her in the right frequency.
Take my dog for example. She LOVES to swim. I take her to the lake by our house almost every day. After about a week, she reeks! I can’t bathe her every week; that’s too much for a dog. Instead, I bathe her every few weeks and use some handy tips to keep her smelling fresh between baths. After every swim (and every outing she gets dirty), I rinse her off with clean water in the bathtub, washing away the dirt and debris. I also brush her daily, which helps by removing excess oils from her coat that, if left alone, could sour and contribute to the stinky, “dog” smell.
Those couple steps work for me, but if you need more, some other tricks that help your dog smelling fresh include using baking soda and oatmeal spray on your dog. You could also try dry shampoos for dogs. They aren’t as effective as wet shampoos, but are useful between baths or if you’re in a pinch and need your dog smelling better quick!
Being a responsible dog-bather means taking a few things into consideration. First, choose the best shampoo for your dog. Second, choose the best conditioner for your dog. Conditioners aren’t necessary for all dogs, but some need that extra moisturizing protection. Third, create and appropriate bathing schedule for your dog. Remember, bathing too often can be harmful, but so can bathing too little! And finally, learn how to bathe your dog.
In this article, we’ll discuss each of these items. By the end, you’ll be an expert in dog washing!
There are many things to keep in mind when deciding what the best kind of shampoo is for your dog. All dogs are different. There isn’t one perfect shampoo that is the best for all dogs. The shampoo that works best on my dog may irritate your dog. So here are the questions you should ask yourself when choosing the type of dog shampoo that’s best for your dog.
Most importantly, you should use a shampoo that is specific to dogs. There is a reason that companies make shampoo for dogs specifically. They have different needs than humans do, so you shouldn’t use human shampoo on a dog. We’ll discuss this further in the next section.
Does your dog have fleas or ticks? If the answer is yes, then you need to treat this problem right away. There are shampoos that specifically kill and repel fleas. They only offer short-term protection against the little buggers so you’ll also need a long-term solution like spot-on flea treatments and flea sprays, but flea shampoo for dogs is a good place to start. Find out recommendations for the best dog flea shampoos here.
How old is your dog? If you have a puppy, you should use a shampoo that is specific to puppies. It’s similar to humans. You would use a milder baby shampoo on your kids, so you should use a milder puppy shampoo on your puppies.
What is your dog’s skin like? Is it dry and flaky? Is she scratching all the time while no fleas are around? If that’s the case, you’ll want to get a dog shampoo that is moisturizing. You should avoid scented shampoos as they often contain chemicals that will irritate your dog’s skin. Look for natural soothing ingredients like oatmeal and green tea. It’s also a good idea to use a conditioner for dogs to moisten, soothe, and protect your dog’s skin and coat. If your dog’s skin condition worsens, talk to your veterinarian about it. It could just be a tough case that needs a medicated shampoo or it could be a symptom of a different problem.
What is your dog’s coat like? Does it tangle easily? If so, using conditioner after shampoo will definitely help detangle those locks. If the tangles get really bad during the bath, a shampoo/conditioner combination may make things easier. Is your dog’s coat dry and dull? A nourishing shampoo with vitamins, minerals, and proteins will bring the shine through! Conditioners will also help with dryness and frizz.
Is your dog’s coat white or very light in color? Dogs that have light coats, especially white dogs, have a tendency to fade or turn an unattractive yellow color. Believe it or not, they make dog shampoos for just this reason! You’ll want to cool for a shampoo with brighteners and/or whiteners. These shampoos often are a bit harsher so I would highly recommend following the shampoo with a soothing conditioner.
What does your dog smell like? Some dogs smell worse than others. That’s just how it is. If you have a dog that tends to stink or if you have a dog that likes to roll in stinky stuff, then you’ll want to look for a deodorizing shampoo that’s a bit more heavy-duty. The best dog shampoo for you will be something that eliminates the smell, rather than simply covering it up.
How much time do you have to bathe your dog? You’re busy; I get it! Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to get your dog in the tub and lather up those suds. While it’s best to bathe your dog with wet shampoo at least every few months, sometimes you need a quicker alternative. That’s where waterless and dry dog shampoos come in. You won’t have to deal with a bathtub full of water, just apply them to your dog and go. In my opinion, waterless and dry shampoos aren’t as effective as a full bath, but they are a great choice in a pinch or between baths.
What are the ingredients in the shampoo? To give you the quick version, you should avoid shampoos that use lots of chemicals or artificial fragrances and dyes. Natural fragrances are great, though, and will leave your dog smelling amazing! I like things like lavender, citrus (bergamot), chamomile, coconut, and vanilla. Beneficial ingredients include aloe, vitamins, oatmeal, herbs, honey, tea tree oil, coconut, proteins, and citrus extracts. Always avoid anything your dog is allergic to. The safest thing to do is to ask your veterinarian about the ingredients.
The short answer is no, you shouldn’t use human shampoo on dogs. There’s a reason they make shampoo specific to dogs. Dogs have different needs and sensitivities than humans do.
That being said, if you are in a bind, your dog is a mess, and the only thing you have on hand is your shampoo, then it’s ok to use it once. BUT using human shampoo on your dog on a regular basis will very likely be harmful.
The question is: why? Humans have skin, dogs have skin. It’s the same thing, right? Nope!
The Acid Mantle
The first thing to understand is that skin has what is call an “acid mantle.” It is a layer of oil covering the skin that acts as a slightly acidic protective barrier.
Why does skin need a protective barrier? Well, the outermost layer of skin is porous, which means that, without protection, it can be penetrated by bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants in the environment!
Then why is skin porous if that means bad stuff can get in? That outermost layer of skin has to be porous in order to absorb water to keep the outer body hydrated. The acid mantle protects the skin from the bad stuff, while allowing it to absorb the good stuff (water).
So now you know what the acid mantle does, but why do we care? Because when we wash ourselves with soaps and shampoos, we wash away the acid mantle. (Oh no!) But don’t worry, human soaps and shampoos are designed to have moisturizers that replace the acid mantle until our bodies can replenish it. If they didn’t, our skin would be vulnerable to environmental contaminants that would cause dry, flaky, itchy skin or a bumpy, irritating rash.
The pH Balance of the Skin of Humans and Dogs
The acid mantle determines how acidic skin is. Human skin is on the acidic side and our soaps and shampoos are designed to keep the pH of our skin in an ideal range (5.2 to 6.2)
Dogs are different. The pH balance of their skin ranges greatly depending on their size, gender, breed, and the climate in which they live, but it tends to be more alkaline, or basic.
So if you use a shampoo that’s formulated for acidic skin (human shampoo) on a something with basic skin (a dog), you will disrupt the acid mantle leaving the skin open to contaminants!
If you use human shampoo on your dog, you’ll leave her skin unprotected from the bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses in the environment. Soon enough, her skin will show some symptoms like dry skin, itchiness, flaky skin, bumpy rash, or a bad smell.
Some people make the mistake of washing their dogs again trying to alleviate those symptoms. But it will only make them worse. Source
Baby shampoo is very mild so it is safer to use on dogs when compared to other human shampoos.
In some cases, veterinarians even recommend using baby shampoo on dogs. That is a discussion between you and your veterinarian.
The best advice I can give is that using a shampoo that is specifically formulated for dogs has the highest likelihood of providing great results.
Using a conditioner for dogs after shampooing is highly beneficial. Like I said before, shampoo does a great job of cleaning, but it also can leave the hair dry and vulnerable to contaminants. Bathing your dog thoroughly will result in some damage to her coat no matter how gentle you are.
Conditioners not only soothe your dog’s skin and moisturize their coat, but they also leave a layer of protection. You cannot get a healthier, silkier coat with shampoo along. Using conditioner as well simply offers better results.
That being said, conditioning your dog’s coat does require more time and effort. You just spent so long lathering the shampoo into your dog’s coat. Do you have the energy for another round?
It’s ok to say no. Some dogs whose skin and coat tend to be dry really benefit from a conditioning. But conditioner is not a necessity for all dogs. You could try a shampoo/conditioner combination.
Dogs do not need to be bathed as often as humans. In fact, bathing too often can be quite harmful to your dog’s skin and coat.
How often you should bathe your dog depends on what kind of dog you have and what her lifestyle is.
If your dog is active and outside in the dirt a lot, then you might want to bathe her more often. A bath every 3 to 6 weeks would be a good place to start.
If your dog prefers an indoor lifestyle and stays fairly clean, then a bathe every few months should be plenty.
My dog has a double coat. The top coat has oils that repel water, which is great because she loves to swim. If I bathe her too often, her coat dries out and fails to repel water, which also causes her to lose some of the insulating power of her double coat. For that reason, I only bathe her every few months.
I would like to bathe her more often because she can get smelly from swimming in the lake every day, but I know it would hurt her more than it would benefit me. Besides, rinsing her off with plain water in the bathtub after every swim and brushing her coat daily actually prevent her from getting that smelly anyway!
The outer layer (epidermis) of human skin is 10-15 cells thick making it tough and capable of being washed frequently. On the other hand, the epidermis of canine (dog) skin is 3-5 cells thick. Frequent washing could cause irritations and even abrasions to your dog’s skin. Source
Bathing your dog too often will dry out her skin and coat, which can lead to itchiness and irritation. Your dog will scratch and scratch and possible give herself lesions or abrasions, making her more vulnerable to bacteria and viruses in the environment. Not to mention her coat will become dry and damaged and lose its lustrous shine.
While bathing too frequently is more often the problem, bathing too little can also put your dog’s skin and coat at risk. Unlike humans who breathe in allergens, dogs absorb allergens into their skin. The dirt and debris your dog picks up from outside can be full of bacteria and other microorganisms. If you let them sit on your dog, they will eventually be absorbed into her skin leading to irritation and worse.
Rinsing your dog with clean, plain water often and brushing her coat daily are great ways to prevent the unfortunate outcomes of bathing too little.
Here is a simple, step-by-step method of giving your dog the best bath!
What You’ll Need:
Remember, after bath is a great time to trim your dog’s nails! They will be soft and clean, which means they will be easy to cut and it will be easy to see the quick. Check out our guide on how to trim your dog’s nails.
If you made it all the way through this article, then it’s safe to say you are well-versed in dog bathing. I hope you enjoyed it and learned a lot. Remember to keep your dog’s specific needs in mind when choosing the best dog shampoo and follow our easy guide on how to bathe your dog. You can’t go wrong!
As always, we at ReadySetDogs are committed to helping you provide the best care possible for the furry members of your family. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact us or leave a comment below.
Anna is a canine enthusiast. She loves everything about dogs from their loyalty to their energetic spirits to their stubborn moments. She has a passion to learn everything she can to become a better "dog-mom" to her Toller, Penny, and to share her knowledge of dogs with all who are interested in the hopes of educating people on the best canine care.