Wednesday 19 June 2019

Washing pets: how often and what shampoo to use?

Pete Wedderburn - Animal Doctor

Do you ever wash your dog or cat? This is one of the routine parts of pet care which many people have questions about.

How often should you wash a pet? What sort of shampoo or soap should be used? How long should it be left on?

It can be difficult to give specific answers to these questions: every pet is different. However, there are some general principles that can be helpful for owners to understand.

There are three main reasons why you may wish to give an animal a bath.

First, if your pet rolls in something foul or toxic, the only way to remove the substance may be to carry out a thorough full body wash.

My own dog, Finzi, is prone to rolling in fox droppings, and if I didn't wash her, we would be stunk out of our own home. And I have seen cats and dogs who have been contaminated with oil (e.g. by falling into a basin containing diesel), and it's critically important to wash them to remove the oil before it causes serious poisoning.

Second, some pets suffer from serious skin conditions (such as fungal or bacterial infections, allergies or a number of rarer diseases). Regular shampooing (e.g. twice weekly) is often a critically important part of the management of the problem. If your pet fits into this category, ask your vet to advise you about the best way to proceed.

Third, many people just want their pets to be clean, shiny and sweet smelling, and a regular bath can be the best way to achieve this. This type of routine bathing should only be done around once a month, to avoid drying the coat too much by stripping out the natural oils.

A normal pet's coat contains a mix of detritus: excretory products from the skin glands, dead skin cells, general debris from the environment (such as dirt and dust) and a mix of bacteria, pollen, and fungal spores. If these substances are allowed to accumulate, the coat becomes dull and can look dirty. While brushing and combing can help to remove some of the particulate matter, washing with shampoo is the most effective method to clean it thoroughly.

Cats are far more challenging than dogs to wash: they often have far more of an aversion to water. Few cats willingly jump into a river or lake to swim; in contrast, many dogs are natural water lovers.

In general, cats should only be washed when it's really necessary, and steps should be taken to be as gentle and calm as possible when doing it. If you are afraid your cat will become upset or distressed, it can be worth working with your vet to use a sedative or anti-anxiety medication.

Most dogs will tolerate being washed without sedation, but there are some tips that can make it easier. Perhaps the simplest, and most obvious, idea is to use warm water rather than cold. Dogs are not so different from ourselves: how would you feel if someone turned an ice-cold hose onto you? You'd probably run away, shouting. It's not surprising that most dogs will struggle and attempt to escape when cold water is used. Instead, fill a couple of buckets with warm water, and gently pour this over your dog's body. You'll find that they are much more likely to stand still if you do this, and they will often actually enjoy the process.

I find it easiest to wash my dogs outside, on the patio, but people sometimes use sinks, or for bigger dogs, they may even use the bath or shower cubicle. These days, an additional option is a commercial dog washing station: some garage forecourts now offer these as a service, beside the car wash and the air and water replenishment facilities.

For a routine bath, the dog should be drenched with warm water first, so that the coat is thoroughly wet. Then a small amount of shampoo should be applied (enough to work up a lather), rubbed into the coat, massaged gently all over for 5-10 minutes, then rinsed off. Thorough rinsing is important: if any trace of shampoo is left in the coat, it can cause irritation afterwards.

Two broad groups of shampoos are used: those for routine cleaning, and those for therapeutic purposes.

For routine cleaning, some people use dishwashing liquid: this is a standard detergent and while it can help for certain situations (such as removing greasy, smelly substances), a little goes a long way, and it can be difficult to rinse it out fully from a dog's coat. Human type baby shampoos can be useful, in that they are non-irritant, but they don't lather up and clean as well as others. Standard human shampoos are not ideal, as they are designed for human skin which is more acidic than dog skin, so they may have some unbalancing effect on the skin pH.

The best routine product to use is a specific pet shampoo from your vet or pet shop: this has been designed for the purpose, so it's more likely to be suitable.

If a dog needs washing for therapeutic purposes, your vet will supply you with a specific shampoo that contains ingredients designed to provide topical (in contact) therapy for the skin. These products are often pricey (probably more expensive than the shampoos you use on your own hair) but they are very effective. Ingredients include anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, soothing, anti-scaling, anti-grease, anti-parasitic, as well as moisturisers and conditioners.