Guide to Bathing Your Dog

Brown and white dog in towel sitting in a bath tub

Most dog parents have to bathe their dogs at some point, but some dogs need to be bathed more often than others. Some pet parents even enjoy bathing their dogs regularly so that they can keep them looking their best. However, others find it a chore and dread the household chaos and minor flooding that doggy bath time brings. But what do you need to know about bathing your dog? How often should you do it? What products should you use? And how do you get them to tolerate or even enjoy it? Read on to find out all you need to know about bathing your dog.

How often should I bathe my dog?

For some breeds, bathing your dog may be essential to keep them clean, stop their skin from becoming irritated or infected, and help prevent their coat from getting matted. However, it is also possible to bathe your dog too much. Guidelines on how often to wash your dog vary, dependent on the breed of dog and your particular pooch’s lifestyle. In general, dogs should not be bathed more frequently than every week unless prescribed a course of medicated shampoo. In reality, most dogs don’t need bathing that often since most dirt and mud can be brushed out of their coat once it has dried. So, for most dogs, bath time should be reserved for when they smell or after a particularly muddy and wet adventure!

What happens if I bathe my dog too often?

Each time you bathe your dog, you remove the normal, healthy bacteria that live on the skin, disrupting the natural balance of microorganisms. This can allow the overgrowth of certain bacteria, leading to infection. Bathing also removes the oils that are produced by the skin cells. These oils maintain the skin barrier and keep the skin and coat healthy. By removing these oils, the skin barrier is less able to stop the invasion from bacteria or yeast.

If your dog is particularly sensitive-skinned and you bathe them frequently, you may be causing irritation or even an allergic reaction, especially if the doggy shampoo you use is not designed for sensitive skin.

What happens if I don’t bathe my dog often enough?

The risk of not bathing your dog, or not bathing or dog often enough, is that debris in the hair coat like mud and dirt will allow hair mats to form. The presence of these mats will stop airflow to the skin, allowing the build-up of dead skin cells and the overgrowth of bacteria. Over time this will lead to infection of the skin and tight mats, which will pull on the skin and cause pain.

Aside from the formation of mats, the presence of unclean matter like animal feces or stagnant water could cause skin infections if the bacteria aren’t removed by bathing within a reasonable timeframe.

Do dogs feel better after a bath?

Some dogs enjoy a bath, but others don’t like it. If your dog has dried mud or dirt in their coat or has itchy skin, a bath will likely make them feel more comfortable. Equally, those with sensitive skin or that require medicated baths for yeasty, greasy skin, or allergies, will probably find a bath with the right shampoo products soothing.

However, for some dogs, the act of having a bath is so stressful that they do not feel the benefit, and it takes them a while to recover. If your dog hates a bath, they might struggle while in the tub or shower, and you might notice them shaking, panting, pacing, or hiding afterward. You can help this by working on gradual steps towards desensitizing them. 

How do I help my dog feel more comfortable in the bath?

You may never get your water-shy pup to enjoy a bath, but you can certainly take these steps to reduce their stress and make them more comfortable.

Try different locations

Your dog might not enjoy slipping and sliding around in the bathtub, so try standing them in the shower if you have a separate shower cubicle. You could even try using a showerhead on your hose outside. However, if using a hose, it is far better to attach it to a tap where you can control the temperature since an icy shock isn’t likely to make your dog feel any better about baths!

Use positive reinforcement

If your pet reacts to bath time, start small and reward every victory. In particularly stressed dogs, just the act of going upstairs might trigger signs of fear, so begin by regular trips upstairs with a reward at the end. Once you get no adverse reaction to going upstairs, you can gradually approach the bathroom itself without actually bathing your dog or even turning the water on. Continue this gradual approach until you can wash your dog, and hopefully, they won’t mind so much.

Avoid sensitive areas

If your dog has sore joints, any wounds, or other sources of pain, be very gentle or avoid these areas altogether. Similarly, if you know your dog doesn’t mind getting the bath itself but hates getting a particular area wet, try to avoid that area or leave it until last.

What should I look out for while bathing my dog?

A bath is a perfect time to get hands-on with your dog and give them a good check-over. Here are some of the things you might find when bathing your pet. 

Mats

You might notice that your dog has hair mats that need brushing or clipping out. Common sites for hair mats are the armpits, groin, bottom, and behind the ears. If they are too tight or too large to comb out, don’t be tempted to try to use scissors to cut them off yourself. Sadly, dogs are quite commonly injured by well-meaning pet parents trying to have a go at cutting out a mat of fur. A better idea is to speak to your groomer or veterinarian who will be able to help. They may be able to show you how to use clippers to keep your dog mat-free between grooming sessions.

Fleas

As you wet your dog’s coat, you might notice fleas or other crawly parasites running through the fur to avoid the water. If this is the case, check when their last flea treatment was given, and speak to your veterinarian for advice.

Lumps and bumps

It’s pretty common to find lumps and bumps on your dog while bathing them since you are in close contact with them and running your hands over them. Don’t panic if you notice a lump. There are many types, and not all are cancerous. Instead, let your veterinarian know what you have found, and they will arrange to give your dog a check over.

Wounds

It’s certainly not unheard of that pet parents come across wounds when they bathe their dog. Minor injuries can be hard to spot, especially if your dog isn’t showing signs of pain and has long hair. If you do find a wound or other injury, be sure to call your veterinarian and get your dog an appointment.

Overgrown claws

Bath time is the perfect time to inspect your dog’s claws. If you notice any are ingrowing or too long, then it’s time to call the groomer or veterinarian to get them clipped. Remember, any claws that have grown into the skin or the pad will need to be treated by a veterinarian so that your dog can have pain relief and antibiotics if needed.

What bath products should I use?

Firstly, it’s vital to make sure that any products you intend to use on your dog’s skin or fur are intended for dog use. Human products can contain excessive perfumes or other chemicals and may irritate your dog’s skin.

If your dog has a skin condition diagnosed by a veterinarian, they may need a medicated shampoo. There are many different options, depending on your dog’s particular needs, so speak to your veterinarian about which would be best.

If you notice your dog is itchy or has red skin after a recent bath, they may be reacting to the shampoo you have used. If this is the case, avoid using that shampoo again and choose a hypoallergenic or sensitive skin shampoo. If you need advice, your veterinarian can help by recommending some options.

Can I put Febreze on my dog?

No, you absolutely cannot use Febreze on your dog or any other pet. Although safe to be used near to your pets, Febreze uses chemicals that should not be directly applied to your dog. These chemicals can irritate the skin and may lead to itchiness, rashes, or even infection. Dog-safe perfumes used by groomers are available to buy. However, if your dog smells bad, it might be time for bathtime – or to see a vet to find out why they smell so bad!

Do dogs prefer warm water baths or cold water baths?

Of course, we can’t ask dogs whether they prefer a warm-water or cold-water bath, and individual dogs may vary. However, your dog is least likely to react negatively to a bath if it is at their body temperature or slightly lower. If you have a baby bath thermometer, you should aim for around 98-99 degrees Fahrenheit (37C). This should feel slightly warm, but not hot, to the skin. Be cautious. If you use water that is too hot, you risk causing painful burns.

Why is my dog still stinky after a bath?

If your dog is nice and clean from a bath, but you still notice a smell, it could be worth speaking to your veterinarian. While it is normal to notice a particular wet dog smell while your dog’s coat is drying, unpleasant odors shouldn’t persist. Full anal glands, bad teeth, and ear and skin infections can cause a persistent smell that doesn’t improve after your pup has had a bath. If you think your dog is still stinky even though they’ve had a good wash, make an appointment for them to be checked over by your vet.

What causes wet dog smell?

It can be frustrating when your dog still seems stinky after a bath, but this is normal while they are drying. When your dog is wet, the smell comes from a combination of natural oils, bacteria, and yeast. The smell occurs as the moisture in the fur evaporates. It is important to remember that these microorganisms and the oils in the skin are vital for keeping your dog’s skin healthy, so don’t be tempted to scrub extra hard or bathe them more frequently to try to remove them.

Conclusion

Every dog needs a bath occasionally, but the key is to use appropriate, dog-safe products and not to bathe them too frequently. Remember that a lot of dirt in the coat can be brushed out when the coat is dry, so save bath time for when it’s absolutely necessary.