Do you have a dog who hides under the bed or slinks down the hall like the bath is the worst thing in the world? Dogs can be hilarious in their attempts to evade the dreaded bath … but giving your dog a proper bath is important.
Why Your Dog Needs A Bath
Even if your dog doesn’t look or smell dirty, it’s important to give him regular baths. Bathing washes off the environmental toxins, debris, and dirt your dog picks up on her skin and coat in her daily life. And it gives you a great chance to establish trust with your dog.
Bathing your dog shouldn’t be like running her through a car wash. Take your time as you lather your dog to feel every body part for any new bumps and intentionally look for areas of concern. You may just find a new bump that can be treated before it becomes serious.
How To Bathe A Dog Who’s Afraid
Follow these steps to help bathe a dog who’s afraid:
If your dog absolutely hates getting a bath or is afraid, start very slowly and build up to a full-body bath.
Begin with just getting in and out of the bathtub without any water running at all.
Work up to water running and a paw being washed.
Go slowly until you work your way up to a full-body bath.
Always be careful around your dog’s eyes and ears and use a safe and non-toxic shampoo.
It goes without saying that every dog, afraid or not, should get a treat (or several) as a reward!
How Often Should You Bathe Your Dog?
Bathing frequency isn’t as simple as thinking a dog with short hair should get a bath every 4 – 6 weeks while a dog with a double coat may only need a bath every 6 – 8 weeks.
How often you bathe your dog depends on many factors, including her breed, activity level, health, allergies, indoor vs outdoor preferences, and the time of year.
Your Dog’s Lifestyle
If your dog goes outside a lot and is exposed to environmental toxins (such as yard treatments) you’ll want to bathe her more often.
Likewise, if she runs around and plays hard, you’ll want to wash off the build-up of dirt and debris so the dirty skin oils can be removed and allow her body to replenish naturally. The sebum or skin oil constantly regenerates, so it’s important to keep it free of bacteria, allergens, and other substances that can lead to problems.
A dog who isn’t bathed to remove the build-up of debris, environmental toxins and dirt may have clogged skin pores, itchy skin, dry skin or oily skin.
It really is a balance between keeping your dog’s coat and skin healthy and knowing when you are bathing too often and not allowing the beneficial skin oils to do their job before you remove them again.
You may have multiple dogs in your household that all require baths at different times. Treat each one as an individual.
Your Dog’s Health
In general, a healthy dog with no skin issues can be bathed every 4-8 weeks.
Even with a healthy dog, in the summer you may want to increase bathing frequency to remove environmental toxins. Remember, your dog does lick and you don’t want toxic chemicals getting into her body!
You should frequently brush or comb to look at your dog’s coat. This is especially helpful if your dog is scratching because it gives you another opportunity to check for issues. Is she scratching because of a flea or does she have a skin issue? Is it allergies?
While brushing, look for dander and look under the armpit and in the groin area for discoloration that may indicate a yeast imbalance in the body. If you do see skin issues or know your dog has environmental allergies, you’ll want to bathe more frequently with a true organic dog shampoo to help improve her skin.
Just like humans who get stinky and sweaty when we have more activity, if your dog is active she’ll need more frequent bathing than a dog who rarely goes outside. A dog who plays in the water, goes to daycare or the dog park will need to be bathed more often than a couch potato dog.
Natural Protection On Your Dog’s Skin
You likely know about your dog’s microbiome … the bacteria that live in her gut and their vital role in your dog’s overall health.
Well, your dog’s gut health is often displayed on her skin. A dog with leaky gut may have an overgrowth of yeast in the body. Your first indication that something may be wrong inside is what you see outside on her skin.
Your Dog’s Skin Microbiome
Did you know your dog’s skin, the largest organ in her body, is also home to beneficial bacteria, fungi, and even viruses? These all work together with the sebum (skin oil) to protect your dog. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
In fact, dogs with an imbalance of microbiota on the skin often suffer from skin diseases like atopic dermatitis, dandruff, and itchy skin. It isn’t just bacteria. There are studies showing the link between dandruff and a lack of, or imbalance in beneficial skin fungi.
Skin Oils On Your Dog
Just like the microbiome, your dog’s natural oils called sebum work to protect your dog. Sebum is a complex mixture of triglycerides, fatty acid breakdown products, wax esters, squalene, cholesterol esters, and cholesterol.
The oils are secreted into the follicle and make their way out onto the surface of the skin. They protect the skin and make it more impervious to things getting through the skin layers. The sebum also contains natural antioxidants that help protect your dog from solar ultraviolet radiation, and they have an innate antibacterial activity that also works as an anti-inflammatory.
Bathing too frequently can remove these beneficial oils … while not bathing frequently enough can allow the oils to clog the skin pores and trap potentially harmful bacteria against the skin. You want to keep a healthy balance by removing dirty oils to allow your dog’s body to secrete new oils that continue to protect her body. In a healthy dog, the oils will quickly and naturally replenish after the bath.
How To Choose A Safe Dog Shampoo
It is incredibly important to select a safe and non-toxic shampoo. Unfortunately, marketing claims don’t make it easy. Every dog shampoo you look at these days is advertised as being all-natural and organic.
So … what do these terms really mean?
Natural Dog Shampoo
A truly natural dog shampoo should contain no synthetic ingredients. That is less than 2% of the dog shampoos on the market. Instead of looking for “natural” on the label, look for a dog shampoo that says, “Contains no synthetic chemicals.”
There are thousands of dog shampoos on the market that claim to be all-natural but they still contain synthetic chemicals like cocamidopropyl betaine, phenoxyethanol, and hundreds of other synthetics. Claiming to be all-natural when you have synthetic ingredients is a contradiction in terms! Shampoo can’t be all-natural if it has chemical ingredients.
Unfortunately, there are no regulations of marketing claims and each person has their own interpretation of what the word natural means. My interpretation of natural means the original ingredient is minimally altered or is in its natural state … unaltered from when it was harvested.
A great example to study when trying to define the word “natural” is caprylhydroxamic acid. Many dog shampoo companies are using this new preservative derived from coconut oil and claiming their dog shampoo is “all-natural”. But it’s not.
In fact, caprylhydroxamic acid is most frequently synthesized via the transamidation (chemical reactions) of either methyl caprylate or ethyl caprylate with hydroxylamine; methanol and ethanol are byproducts of the process. Depending on which caprylate ester is used, the reaction is conducted in either methanol or ethanol under refluxing conditions. Caprylhydroxamic acid is then isolated and purified via recrystallization from ethyl acetate, followed by washing, filtering, and drying to obtain caprylhydroxamic acid (> 99% pure) (Cosmetic Ingredient Review).
To my mind, calling this ingredient “natural” is inaccurate because it is a multi-step process to get the purified ingredient so that it can be used. Others may disagree.
Organic Dog Shampoo
One thing we can all agree on is the need for regulation around the word “organic”. For a product (or even a single ingredient) to be organic, it must have USDA certification. A product can have some organic ingredients in it. That does not make the whole product organic. The only way to know a product is truly organic is through a USDA certification.
How can you tell a product is organic?
You need to see the USDA seal on the front of the bottle for products that are 95%+ organic along with the organic statement of certification on the back of the bottle that says, “Certified to USDA Organic Standards by (the name of the certifying agency)”. For products that are 70%+ organic, you need to see a statement on the back of the bottle that says, “Certified to USDA Organic Standards by (the certifying agency)”.
All other products are inaccurately making an “organic” claim. Unfortunately, until there is a regulation in the marketplace, companies will continue to claim their dog shampoo is organic when it isn’t.
I urge you to do your research and use truly organic products. Companies that make organic products have gone through the extra work to have every ingredient and every product verified by a third party. When you buy a bottle of USDA-certified organic dog shampoo, you know what you’re getting – the highest quality dog shampoo on the market.
Transitioning to an Organic Dog Shampoo
When switching to a true organic dog shampoo, you may notice a transition period. The first bath may leave your dog with a waxy feel on her coat when she’s rinsed.
Don’t give up. This is perfectly normal as the build-up of synthetic residue on your dog’s coat reacts with the organic dog shampoo. Once you’ve removed the build-up from your dog’s coat and skin, the sebum and the microbiome will be able to thrive and help keep your dog’s skin and coat naturally healthy.
Now, go give your dog a bath, a treat and watch those zoomies!
Paulino LC. New perspectives on dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis: lessons we learned from bacterial and fungal skin microbiota. Eur J Dermatol. 2017 Jun 1;27(S1):4-7.
Grimshaw SG et al. The diversity and abundance of fungi and bacteria on the healthy and dandruff affected human scalp. PLoS One. 2019 Dec 18;14(12):e0225796.