Saturday morning and it’s time to give your dog or cat a bath. What are you going to bathe it with? While that sounds like a simple question, it can be quite complex.

It really depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you just want to clean your dog, that’s easy, but what about the spot-on-the-neck insecticide you used a short while ago? Will that be washed off? What if your dog or puss-cat has a skin condition – will a shampoo help that?

It may all seem too complicated, but maybe the following can assist.

How often should I bathe my pet?

Pets with a normal coat and skin should need bathing no more than once per week. Once a fortnight will usually suffice. However, if your pet has a skin condition such as an allergy or infection, then it may need bathing up to twice a week to control the problem.

Bathing your pet in a tub or in your own bath makes the job much easier. The ordeal will also be a lot more comfortable for the pet if you use warm water. Apart from the comfort factor, warm water will also ensure a more effective cleaning process as the warmth will mobilise unwanted grease and scales.

Following the instructions on the pack regarding the correct use of the shampoo is important. For instance, many shampoos contain medications in one form or another. To be effective, most medicated shampoos need to stay in contact with the pet’s coat for five to ten minutes before being rinsed off.

To make it easier to bathe your pet, many veterinarians and animal welfare agencies are now operating hydrobaths at their centres. A hydrobath is a ‘walk in’ bath, equipped with a high-pressure hose. The pressure gently massages the dirt and debris out of the pet’s coat. If you cannot get your pet to the vet, then another option is to enlist the services of one of several mobile hydrobath companies that will conveniently visit your home and do an excellent job for you.

What shampoo should I use?

Deciding which pet shampoo to use is not that easy. If you look at the active ingredients, you will become quite bewildered. Some are designed only to clean your pet while others will help with flea control. Some are conditioning and de-tangling shampoos, while others are designed to help solve skin conditions where grease, scale or crusts appear in the coat. There are even conditioners available, just as there are for humans.

For the routine bathing of pets, shampoos containing gentle flea control compounds are useful. There are a variety of flea shampoos on the market. These products leave the coat clean and shiny and kill fleas that are present at the time of bathing. However, they have no residual flea killing effect.

If your pet seems to have sensitive skin, then a hypoallergenic shampoo could be just what is needed. Such shampoos are soap free, sulphate-free and usually contain moisturising agents such as glycerine or coconut oil.

There is another reason for using a soap-free shampoo. If you are using any of the ‘spot-on-the-neck’ insecticides, a soap-based shampoo may remove the insecticide. However, the hypoallergenic shampoos are much less likely to do this. Generally, it is advised to wash your pet with a soap-free shampoo before a ‘spot-on’ flea application and then apply when the coat is dry. Don’t re-bathe, let your pet swim or get soaked in the rain for at least 2 hours following application of the spot-on.

What if my pet has a skin condition?

A medicated shampoo will be useful if your pet has an oily or greasy coat or has scales or dandruff present. Problems like this are often seen around the base of the tail and along the spine and are often related to fleabite allergic dermatitis or other skin conditions.

For instance, if your pet has dry, itchy skin, shampoos containing colloidal oatmeal are recommended. The oatmeal is a soap substitute that breaks up particles of dirt in the coat. Also, particles of oatmeal remain in the skin and promote the flow of moisture into the dry skin surface.

Dogs with smelly, greasy skin need a different approach. Many have a bacterial or yeast infection present. Some also have a fungal skin infection. For such animals, shampoos containing an antiseptic compound such as chlorhexidine are useful. Other medicated shampoos contain a combination of effective compounds to kill bacteria, fungal infections and de-scale the coat and remove dandruff that has accumulated.

However, it is important to see your vet first if your dog is suffering from a skin problem, as using the incorrect product may worsen the condition or delay effective treatment and relief for your dog.

Can I use human shampoos?

Finally, a word about human shampoos is needed. While many do use human shampoos on their dogs, it is better not to. Human skin is more acidic than dog skin, and dog and cat skins are much thinner than that of a human. Other differences exist too – all of which means that for the optimum health of your pet’s skin, you should use shampoos designed for pets, not humans, when bathing your pets.

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