Bathing your pet can be important for reasons like general hygiene, the occasional unexpected mud bath, and de-skunking. Some pet owners may be surprised to know that for certain medical reasons, like bacterial infections, your veterinarian may prescribe a medicated shampoo as part of the treatment plan. With antibiotic resistance becoming an increasing global concern, human patients are often prescribed baths as well for dermatologic diseases.
While bathing may sound self-explanatory, here are some helpful tips:
- Gather your supplies: treats, shampoo, towel
- Gloves: especially if you have any open cuts on your hands or if you are treating a suspected/known bacterial infection
- Brush: can use before wetting, make sure that the “teeth” are not too irritating for the skin as this can predispose to infection
- Bath mat: for more secure footing
- Cotton balls: for the ears (or just clean with appropriate ear cleaner afterwards)
- Plastic pitcher or bucket: if you don’t have a removable shower head
- Hair dryer: must use low heat and low fan setting. Do NOT use with bleach baths as heat will inactivate the ingredient.
- Place pet in appropriate washing area (ex. sink, shower, tub, outside).
- If using a hose outdoors, make sure that it has not been lying in the sun all day as the water inside can cause severe burns.
- Using lukewarm water, gently wet all areas.
- Give lots of treats and praise during the bath! Positive reinforcement is very important.
- Gently massage in the shampoo in all areas (be careful on the face). Not all shampoos will lather. For most medicated shampoos, they are ideally left on the skin for 5-10 minutes (if possible) before rinsing.
- Make sure the bottle of shampoo is not expired. Ideally purchase smaller bottles of shampoo that will be finished prior to expiration. Do NOT keep the bottle of shampoo inside the bathing area to avoid contamination with water. Be gentle when massaging in shampoo. A combination of expired/contaminated shampoo and skin irritation can potentially lead to a serious infection called post-grooming furunculosis.
- Rinse off suds thoroughly. Gently towel dry. Consider hair dryer as above.
The type of shampoo, focus on certain lesions, and frequency of baths will depend on the dermatologic issue; please consult with your veterinarian if bathing your pet for medical reasons. Most “prescribed” baths use over-the-counter shampoos because the ingredients (ex. chlorhexidine) are commonly used disinfectants. If your pet does not have a medical reason for bathing, then consider a gentle shampoo (ex. Johnson’s baby shampoo, oatmeal shampoo).
However, keep in mind that some ingredients and formulations are not safe for pets, even if they are available over-the-counter. Human skin has a different pH (level of acidity) than dog or cat skin, so most human shampoos are not appropriate for pets. Selsun Blue® is not recommended for use in cats, and high levels of tea tree oil can be toxic to dogs. If unsure about the ingredients, it’s always safest to consult with your veterinarian first!
Dr. Fiona Lee earned her veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania and completed a rotating internship at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in New York City. Dr. Lee returned to the University of Pennsylvania for her dermatology residency and joined Friendship Dermatology Specialists in 2016.