How to help your dog’s skin condition

You’re not alone if your dog’s once silky coat has lost its lustre because he’s suffering from a skin condition – skin problems are the number one reason owners take their dogs to the vet.

Around one in five owners seek veterinary help because of concerns about their dogs’ skin, with itchiness being one of the most common symptoms. If a skin problem is picked up early and treated promptly, a good bathing routine can help and manage the symptoms. Here’s what you need to know to keep your dog’s coat and skin in tip-top condition.

When bathing helps

There are many different types of skin conditions in dogs. Allergies, parasite infestations, hormonal imbalances and autoimmune diseases can all affect your pet at any age.

Conditions such as fleas, mange or a skin allergy upset the balance between the bacteria, which normally live on the skin, and the immune system that usually keeps the bacteria in check. This can develop into an infection, making your pet’s skin uncomfortable and itchy. When your dog scratches he can break the skin and the tiniest wound can become infected. You’ll probably know this because his skin may become scaly, scabby and sore, and he might start to smell very ‘doggy’. Look out for hair loss, red inflamed skin, and pimples too.

As your vet may have advised you, regular bathing and shampoo therapy are essential in helping to keep these sorts of skin conditions under control. It’s particularly helpful for allergic reactions to food and environmental allergens (allergic dermatitis), which can cause dandruff and yeast or bacterial infections.

Shampoo therapy for allergic skin disease works by removing allergens from the skin, rehydrating it, and normalising the number of bacteria and yeast found on its surface.

Get a routine going

Bathing once a week will help relieve pain and itching, and increase healing and recovery from any infections. Once the infection has been treated, either with antibiotics or in many cases with a cream, you should be able to reduce bathing to every two weeks. Although it’s always a good idea to check in with your vet first.

In rare cases, such as if your dog suffers from MRSP (the dog version of MRSA, a type of bacteria that’s resistant to antibiotics), your vet may advise you to bath him daily for a certain amount of time.

Using the right products

Before you begin your bathing routine always check with your vet what kind of shampoo and conditioner is appropriate for your dog’s condition. There are shampoos for all sorts of different problems, such as anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-itch, rehydrating and anti-dandruff. Regular bathing with antimicrobial shampoos can treat active infections and prevent a relapse.

Your dog may be prescribed a specific shampoo or medicated wash. Whatever the product, follow the instructions carefully on how much to use and how to apply it.

It’s also best to use an appropriate conditioner after shampooing. This will have a longer-lasting effect on your dog’s skin than shampooing alone. If your dog has lost patience with his bathing routine by that stage, you can use a spray-on conditioner or mousse before he bounds off.

Making sure the time is right

Choose a time when your dog is settled and calm, making the whole experience relaxed and fun. The water needs to be lukewarm, and your dog’s coat thoroughly wet all over. Be careful to keep his ears and eyes shampoo free. Once you’ve shampooed thoroughly and massaged it into his coat, particularly in the most affected body areas, carefully time how long you keep the shampoo on. Many need five to ten minutes to do their job most effectively, so have a couple of small treats or toys at hand to keep your dog engaged and happy.

Rinse him carefully afterwards and take great care while towel drying, so he’s comfortable and you can apply the conditioner. This needs to be left in his coat to air-dry fully to be effective.

Be careful not to over-wash

Bathing your dog more frequently than recommended for his skin condition may feel like you’re doing more to soothe or improve the problem, but it can actually harm his skin. Some skin diseases lead to brittle hair, which can break off, leaving bald patches that can become infected when shampoo therapy is too harsh or too regular.

Over-shampooing, or leaving the shampoo on your dog for too long before rinsing could further irritate the skin or deplete its natural oils. Bathing your dog too often can dry out his skin, which removes the healthy protective oils that protect it from the environment. This can lead to dandruff and other skin problems. Instead, keep your dog comfortable and ensure his skin gets back to its healthy state by sticking to the amount your vet has recommended.