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Pet Tip: Bathing Your Dog
Underneath all that fluffy, sleek, or wiry fur, dogs have skin. And as with humans, properly caring for that skin is important. Our dermatology team answers common questions about products and proper care to take when bathing your dog.
Why shouldn’t I use my human shampoo on my dog? It’s just this one time, and he’s so dirty!
A single bath with human shampoo will likely not hurt your pet, but human shampoo can be too acidic if used regularly. Human skin typically has a pH of around 5 and most dogs have a higher skin pH (6.9 and higher). Using a shampoo with the wrong pH can leave a dog’s skin dry and itchy or create an environment where bacteria can grow.
What is the difference between dog skin and human skin?
The major difference between human and dog skin relates to the thickness of the epidermis (top layers of the skin) and the ratio of subcutis (connective tissue) to dermis (layer between the epidermis and subcutis). Picture this as the difference between the skin on a wrinkly Sharpei vs. the tight skin stretched over our hands or face. Another important difference is that dogs lack a follicular “plug.” Humans have a fatty “plug” surrounding the hair and hair follicle (think teenage acne). This impacts the spreading of skin flora (bacteria). Since bathing can cause changes to the skin flora and where the bacteria enters, using a shampoo designed specifically for dogs’ skin is less likely to cause accidental bacterial overgrowth and invasion into their hair follicles.
What should I look for when purchasing a dog shampoo?
Dog shampoos should not contain a classic soap base, since this can cause mild to moderate skin irritation. Lack of soap in dog shampoo is the main reason why dog shampoos rarely lather up nicely, as the surfactants/detergents do not create the pretty bubbles!
So…how often should I bathe my dog?
Bathe him when he is dirty! If he is not a dog prone to itchy skin, this may be as infrequent as every 6 weeks. Unless he is really dirty, bathe him from the neck down only in order to avoid getting water and soap into his eyes and ears. Furthermore, in an attempt to prevent drying out the skin due to frequent bathing, you can add a conditioner to the bathing routine or to alternate between different (moisturizing) shampoos. For a dog with a skin disease bathing can be an important part of the therapy and management of specific skin conditions (dermatitis, allergies, scales, oily coat etc.) For patients with dermatological issues, space baths 3-5 days apart.
Is there anything else that I should know about bathing my dog?
Remember frequent swimming and bathing might reduce the effect of topical flea/tick preventions by washing off the oils in which the drug is located. Also remember that at times the effect of the bathing can cause mild irritation, which means the shampoo is too strong or the mechanical irritation causes more symptoms than relief.