When it comes to how often you should wash your dog, the answer is probably: far less often than you think.
Skin problems in dogs and itching dog skin is very common and over washing dogs can be one cause.
The reason for this is that washing a dog strips vital oils from the skin, which can allow microfissures to form.
Voilà, you’ve created an itchy dog.
This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.
Relief For An Itchy Dog
If you have:
- an itching dog with no fleas
- a dog with skin allergies / dog with skin problems
- a dog with dry skin
- a dog with flaking skin
- a dog with rash on belly
- dog skin conditions
- a dog with dandruff
- a dog with red skin
.. rather than reaching for a shampoo for dogs with allergies or a home remedy for dogs with dry skin or resorting to medications like Benadryl or Apoquel or steroids, try something simpler first: wash your dog less often.
A good frequency is about once every three months. Definitely not weekly.
Best Shampoo For Dogs
How often to bathe a dog is the most important question. The second most important is what to wash a dog with.
The best dog shampoo is probably not one you’ll find at the pet shop.
There is a dizzying array of choices: dog shampoo with oatmeal, medicated dog shampoo, hypoallergenic dog shampoo, dog shampoo for shedding.
Go for something that is as natural and simple as possible. Skip ones with complex or unintelligible ingredient lists and scented products.
Here are two gentle options:
- Guardian Animal Soap
I’ve recently been using this soap which doesn’t contain any chemicals, hardeners or artificial aromas. It blends pure essential oils (lavender, eucalyptus, fur pine, tea tree and patchouli) with natural carrier oils (coconut, olive, sunflower and caster). Its makers say it offers some flea repellent effect via the essential oils but you would need to wash your dog far more frequently than recommended to maintain this effect.
- Castille Soap
Many owners who care about using natural products speak highly of Dr Bronner’s castille soap. I currently use the fragrance-free mild baby variety to wash my dog’s paws and find it gentle.
Homemade Dog Shampoo For Fleas
This is a lot simpler than we’re led to believe.
Both of the soaps mentioned in the above section will kill fleas on contact. So if you have some Dr Bronner’s castille soap on hand, you’re set.
The essential oil soap is also said to help deter fleas from your dog.
Important Tip For Doing A Dog Bath For Fleas
Fleas are great at hiding.
You want to make sure you prevent fleas from fleeing to your dog’s dry head and waiting there only to reinfest the rest of your dog’s body once it’s dry again.
So, before you start: make a ring of suds around the top of your dogs neck behind his ears and under his jaw. This way fleas trying to escape onto his head will hit the soapy water and die.
Pay particular attention to warm crevices where fleas like to hang out, like the base of your dog’s tail, in his armpits and between toes. Fleas are often most visible on the belly, so give that area a good soaping up.
Be sure to rinse down the shower stall or bathtub afterwards, so any stray fleas are washed down the plug hole with the suds.
Can You Wash A Dog With Dawn Dish Soap?
Yes — but it’s better not to.
Dawn dish soap and others like it will kill fleas by compromising their exoskeleton, causing them to then drown.
However, Dawn dish soap contains a whole host of hard-to-understand ingredients that have the potential to be harsh on the skin.
Simple castille soap designed for use on human babies as well as pets is bound to be far safer and gentler for your dog’s skin.
Dish soap also won’t repel fleas. It also won’t prevent re-infestations. For that you need to also treat the dog’s environment.
How To Wash A Dog Bed
Even if you aren’t bathing your dog to get rid of fleas, it’s a good idea to wash your dog’s bed at the same time, so he doesn’t just lay down and get dirty again right away.
I use a warm cycle. Choose a gentle, natural detergent and do an extra rinse cycle on the end to remove any washing powder residue which is a potential irritant to your dog’s skin.
How To Give A Dog A Bath
This might seem like a no brainer. But how exactly you go about it can be the difference between your dog calmly tolerating it or fearing and hating bath time.
So here is your dog bath how to guide:
- Tepid water (cooler than you prefer, not cold but just with a hint of warmth)
- Keep it short (baths are stressful, so don’t prolong the experience)
- Outside on the ground if possible (less scary than a slippery bath or laundry sink)
- Don’t wet your dog’s head or face
- Keep water out of your dog’s ears and eyes (and be sure to dry inside the ears afterwards)
- Be methodical (so you don’t miss bits)
- Rinse thoroughly so no soap residue remains to irritate the skin
- Praise your dog and talk soothingly to him throughout
- Dry him afterwards – especially ears, arm pits, paw pads and between toes
- Toilet break straight after (if you’re doing this inside)
How To Wash A Dog’s Face
Use a lukewarm wash cloth to clean your dog’s facial folds.
This is less frightening for your dog than dousing his head in water. It also allows you to keep water out of his ears. You never want the inside of your dog’s ears to be wet.
Hot Tip: Invest In A Shower Hose
Something that made a huge difference to our bath routine was replacing my shower head with a hose fixture.
This gave me a whole lot more water pressure to work with, rather than trying to just pour cups of water over him. Speeds things up and gets the suds out more effectively.
Another tip for washing your dog inside is to put down an old towel inside the tub or shower stall so your dog doesn’t slip around.
Opt For A Dog Bath At Home Over Outsourcing The Job
Dog groomers will happily bath your dog for a fee. But when you consider that baths are, on some level, uncomfortable (and moderately frightening) for most dogs… it’s better to do it yourself.
If a groomer does it you also lose control of the products used on your dog. Groomers can tend to treat dogs’ fur with all kinds of unnecessary products that your dog can ingest by licking off the fur or breathe in when they’re sprayed on.
Groomers also tend to do a lot of add-on procedures including expressing a dog’s anal glands, which is absolutely not necessary if your dog is healthy and properly fed.
You could also google “dog bath near me” and use a dog bath station like those at car washes, gas stations or inside some pet stores. There again, I recommend doing it at home where your dog is comfortable.
Even if you don’t have a perfect dog bath tub, home is home. It’s your dog’s comfort zone.
Washing your dog somewhere else just introduces another layer of unfamiliarity, discomfort and potential fear factor for your pup.
Having said that, if you are planning on having a groomer wash your dog, start the routine when your dog is young so they’re used to it from the start.
Introducing it later will be much more stressful.
Blow Drying A Dog
This is usually unnecessary for short-haired breeds. But if you live in a cold climate or your dog has a thick, long coat it can be worth getting them comfortable with a hair dryer.
Again, start when young and introduce it gradually, on low speeds so that your dog can get used to the noise and is not afraid.
Be sure to always use the lowest heat setting and to stop if your dog shows any signs of being worried. Make it a priority to create a positive experience.
Best Food For Dogs With Sensitive Skin
As for any other aspect of the body, healthy skin depends on taking a holistic approach.
Proper nutrition is key.
In its advice on dog skincare, Bentons Road Veterinary Clinic recommends feeding a “natural, fresh food diet full of pre and probiotics and real vitamins and minerals”.
Owners of raw fed dogs also report a seemingly natural resistance to fleas and other parasites.
This makes sense if you think about it.
A clean, healthy body is far less hospitable to critters.
Many common dog skin infections result from yeast or bacteria, microbes that are perfectly normal and healthy on the skin. The problem arises when the microbes overgrow.
What causes the overgrowth? The excretion of excessive waste through the skin. This waste provides food for the microbes, causing their populations to explode.
A clean internal environment, with the normal avenues of elimination (gut and kidney) functioning well will avoid this whole cycle.
How to achieve a clean internal environment? Proper nutrition and avoidance of chemical wormers and drugs etc, all of which overburden the body’s eliminative capabilities.
Reasons To Wash Your Dog More Often
“What a messer,” is a phrase I find myself exclaiming a lot to my dog.
If your white dog makes a beeline for mud or swims in the ocean you may well want to wash him down more frequently than four times a year.
Another major reason to wash your dog is if you live in an urban environment where he’s rolling on grasses in public parks that have been treated with pesticides or lawncare chemicals – which is almost all our dogs.
His fur will inevitably collect these pollutants and toxins in the course of ordinary daily life, on walks and what not. In people, control of allergies can involve showering multiple times a day to keep these irritants at bay.
You don’t want to do that with your dog, but if you don’t remove these chemicals somehow, your dog can end up ingesting them when he grooms himself.
An alternative to washing your dog every week with soap is to just rinse him down with water.
If your dog smells bad you might want to wash him slightly more often.
However I’d also be looking at his food to identify the cause of the odor, rather than just mask the symptom (and potentially create other problems) by washing too often.
In Conclusion: How Often Should You Bathe A Dog?
How often to give a dog a bath is a question that has a surprising answer for many owners.
We’re used to equating frequent fussing over our dogs with responsible dog ownership.
In actual fact, when it comes to how often to wash a dog, less is more.