Bathing a dog with a skin condition

A good bathing routine can help to manage a range of skin issues. But what’s the best way to bath your pet and how can you be sure you’re not over-washing?

Has your dog’s once silky coat lost its lustre because they are suffering from a skin condition? If so, you’re not alone. Skin problems are the number one reason why owners take their dogs to the vet.

Around one in five owners seek veterinary help because of concerns about their dog’s 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 to manage the symptoms. Here’s what you need to know about keeping your dog’s coat and skin in tip-top condition. 

When does bathing help a dog’s skin condition?

There are many different types of skin conditions in dogs. Allergies, parasite infestations, hormonal imbalances and autoimmune diseases can all affect dogs of various ages. Parasites are best treated using veterinary prescribed parasiticides, since these act quickly and often cover a broader range of parasites, such as mange and ticks, as opposed to just fleas. Some of these skin conditions can be helped and resolved by bathing, while others need more specific therapies.

Conditions such as fleas, mange or skin allergies upset the integrity of the skin’s natural barrier and compromise the local immune system that usually keeps the bacteria in check. This can lead to a secondary skin infection caused by bacteria or yeast. Skin infections make your pet’s skin inflamed and itchy. When your dog scratches, they can break the skin and the tiniest wound can become infected. Infections cause the skin to become scaly, scabby and sore, and your pet 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 often used to help keep these sorts of skin conditions under control. Bathing is particularly helpful for allergic reactions to food and environmental allergens (allergic dermatitis), which can also predispose dogs to recurrent yeast or bacterial infections that need to be brought under control.

Shampoo therapy for allergic skin disease helps by removing allergens from the skin, rehydrating it, and normalising the number of bacteria and yeast found on its surface. Make sure you use a shampoo that is especially formulated for dogs, as human shampoos are often too de-greasing and can cause further skin irritation for your pet. If you’re not sure what to use, it’s always best to ask your vet.

Bathing routines for dogs with skin conditions

Bathing once a week will help to relieve pain and itching, and increase healing and recovery from both yeast and bacterial infections. Once the infection has been controlled, either with oral antibiotics or anti-yeast medications, you should be able to reduce bathing to every two weeks. It’s essential to check in with your vet first, however.

What products should you use for bathing a dog with a skin condition?

Before you begin your bathing routine, always check with your vet what kind of shampoo is appropriate for your dog’s skin condition. There are shampoos for all sorts of different problems, such as antibacterial, 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. 

Some skin conditions will benefit from the use of 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 their bathing routine by that stage, you can use a spray-on conditioner or mousse before they bound off.

How to bath a dog

Choose a time when your dog is settled and calm, making the whole experience relaxed and fun. The water needs to be lukewarm – around 32 degrees Celsius – and your dog’s coat thoroughly wet all over. Be careful to keep their ears and eyes free of shampoo. Once you’ve shampooed thoroughly and massaged the shampoo into their coat, particularly into the most affected body areas, carefully time how long you keep the shampoo on. Many shampoos need five to 10 minutes of contact with the skin and the microbes they are treating to be effective. It is useful to have a couple of small treats or toys at hand to keep your dog engaged and happy.

Rinse your dog carefully afterwards and take great care while towel drying, so that your dog is comfortable and you can apply the conditioner. The conditioner needs to be left in your dog’s coat to air-dry fully to be effective. 

Be careful not to over-wash your dog

Bathing your dog more frequently than recommended for their skin condition may feel like you’re doing more to soothe or improve the problem, but it can actually harm their 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 their 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 their skin gets back to its healthy state by sticking to the amount your vet has recommended.

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