by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.
Bathing Your Pet
I'm sure most pet owners will have had, at one time or another, the experience of giving a bath to their pet. There are many reasons a pet may need a bath. Maybe a special family event is planned and your pet needs to be presented at its sparkling best. Perhaps you just want your pet to enjoy the feeling of invigorating freshness that comes with being shampooed and squeaky clean. Pets do sometimes get into things that need to be rinsed away.
A few years ago, our family, along with another family, were visiting mutual friends who had just moved to the country. Our little schnauzer had remained home but Muffin, our friend's family pet, had come along on the visit. As we wandered about the property admiring the surrounding wide open spaces, Muffin scooted through the fence to explore the cow pasture in the field next door. The herd had only very recently vacated this grazing area. Muffin quickly located a large, freshly deposited pile of greenish coloured, soft, warm and mushy material. In more genteel circles this material is called "cow pies". We all watched in shock and disbelief as Muffin laid down right in the middle of said "pie" and vigourously rolled over and around and about, in quite apparent pleasure and satisfaction. Needless to say, this was a reason for Muffin to get, immediately, a bath. Of course, someone who had grown up on a dairy farm and had animal experience was a natural selection to do the bathing. While the home tour continued, Muffin and I spent some time at the laundry tub.
There are other reasons that veterinarians may recommend bathing for pets. Bathing helps to remove debris, crusts and scale from the skin. It will improve the quality of the haircoat. It will reduce unpleasant body odours( I can testify it worked in Muffin's case!). However, in addition to these benefits, often shampoo therapy is considered as adjunctive therapy for a number of skin problems that can affect our pets. Using the appropriate shampoo can result in faster resolution of the skin disease. It may reduce the dosage and the required treatment time with other drugs used to treat the disorder. They may by themselves or with the help of other medications assist in achieving certain treatment goals. An example of this would be the anti-itching benefit of bathing which can be made even more effective with the correct choice of shampoo. Finally, shampoos may be helpful as preventives with some skin ailments. Seborrhea and recurrent pyoderma (a type of bacterial skin disease) are two such ailments.
Skin disease is very common for both dogs and cats and frequently clients consult their veterinarian for help with such problems. It is another place where a proper diagnosis is critical to success. It is not just a matter of saying a bath should do it and then choosing one or two types of shampoo to try on the pet. A good history taking and thorough physical exam will be the first step. Often, other diagnostic procedures will be required. Skin scrapings are performed to check for skin parasites too tiny to see with the naked eye. Culture and sensitivity testing may be required to identify bacteria and yeast organisms that can cause trouble. Intradermal skin testing, blood hormonal studies,
and skin biopsies may be necessary to diagnose certain skin diseases.
Once the diagnosis is made, a treatment plan can be formulated. If shampoos are going to be used in this treatment plan, the veterinarian will need to decide which shampoo to use. General use shampoos contain surfactants, detergent soap substitutes and foamers. Most such shampoos now contain conditioners and/or moisturizing ingredients to help rehydrate the skin after bathing. Such shampoos are used for routine bathing of dogs and cats (if you'll risk it). They may also be used on normal skin before using some of the medicated shampoos. This may reduce the amount of the more expensive medicated shampoos needed and may allow better penetration of the active ingredients in such a shampoo.
There are also shampoos that are used primarily for their anti-bacterial effect. These are used in animals with or susceptible to bacterial skin infections. Anti-fungal shampoos are used especially with dogs and cats experiencing yeast infections. These shampoos should be degreasing, possess anti fungal and residual activity. Anti-seborrheic shampoos contain agents that promote softening of the outer layer of the skin, remove excess scale and slow down cell turnover rates. Some shampoos are chosen because they are anti-pruritic ( lessen itchiness). Colloidal oatmeal or corticosteroids are ingredients in some shampoos in this class. Of course, each of these shampoo categories has many different products produced by various manufacturers. Your veterinarian is the best person to recommend what is most likely to be best for your pet.