How to Bathe your Pet

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

How to Give a Bath

A refreshing shampoo and shower, or bath, if you prefer, is a routine part of most people's good grooming habits. Most people recognize bathing is also necessary for their pet, if it is to be happy and well groomed. But, if you're like most pet owners, you probably have some questions about the matter. Let's see if we can answer some of the most common questions, I hear.

1) How often should I bathe my pet? There really is no automatic, always correct answer to this question. Rather, a pet owner needs to understand the reasons to shampoo their pet and be able to determine when their pet needs to be bathed. A normal dog unless he gets physically dirty, smells bad, or has some type of skin problem, may not need to be bathed that often. Cats usually spend a great deal of time grooming themselves. They also, in general, fail to see much joy in getting soaking wet, lathered in shampoo and then scrubbed, rinsed and blown dry. Therefore, your cat is likely to bathed even less frequently than your dog. You should examine your pets skin and haircoat, in good light and either brushed or combed on a regular basis. If you determine a bath is needed, you can seek the help of a professional groomer or do it yourself .

2) Won't bathing my dog too often cause dry skin? No, on the contrary, most dogs with dry skin benefit from frequent bathing. The mere soaking in water at comfortable body temperature may help in rehydrating dry skin. Almost all general use pet shampoos contain conditioners and/or moisturizing ingredients that rehydrate the skin and promote a return to normal skin surface conditions. It is important to thoroughly rinse all the shampoo residue from the skin and haircoat. If in doubt, rinse again. With certain skin problems and after using some medicated shampoos your veterinarian may suggest conditioners, or emollients or moisturizers be applied after shampooing.

3) I don't like to wash my pet's head. How can protect the eyes and ears? Most shampoos can be irritating to the eyes. It's a good idea to put a small amount of protective eye ointment or mild mineral oil just inside the eyelids. Cotton balls may be placed in the outer ears, but be sure to remove them after the final rinse. Try using a sponge or face cloth to rinse the face rather than spraying it directly.

4) What about bathing my dog in the winter, won't he catch a cold? Shampooing a normal healthy pet in the winter should cause no problem. A laundry tub, bath tub or shower stall is the best location. Try to make sure your pet is dry before going outside where it is cold or wet.

5) Will clipping my dog's hair in the summer, make him cooler and easier to bath?  In general I think it is fine to clip off a long hair coat. I think it is often the best way to get rid of mats and tangles which always should be eliminated before a dog is bathed. It's a bit more questionable how much cooler it will make them. A dog's hair coat provides some insulation against hot weather and there are no sweat glands in canine skin, except in the footpads and nose so a dog does not cool himself by perspiring as we do.

6) What are the proper steps in giving a bath? You begin the process by protecting the eyes and ears as mentioned. Clip the toenails, if possible. Brush and comb the haircoat thoroughly, making sure no mats remain. Choose the best location for the bath. Wet the entire body, first. The water is best at tepid or lukewarm temperature. A shower spray works well. Apply the shampoo to the back of the neck and the topline of the body. Work up a vigorous lather, adding more water as necessary. Carefully lather the face and ears, avoiding the mouth, eyes and ears. Contact time of lather should be 5-15 minutes to allow shampoo ingredients to be effective. Rinse thoroughly. If a conditioner or rinse is being used, apply it now and again allow proper contact time. With most conditioners, rinse again now. With long-haired dogs squeeze out water from the hair. Be ready for some shaking. Towel dry first, then a hand held hair dryer for the final process. Make sure ears are dry, and no moisture remains at the skin surface by repeating a quick brush or combing.

For cats, the steps are almost the same. It is usually best to have a laundry tub or basin at table top height if possible. A body harness or a soft rope or lead extending around the neck, including a front leg at the armpit, is probably the best way to restrain the cat. This is usually the safest way to avoid injury to either the cat or the person when the initial wetting down is being done. Most cats will hunker down, grin and bear it, after that step is accomplished.