Washing Your Pet

Pete Wedderburn
15th January 2020 - 4 min read

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

  • How often should a pet be washed?
  • 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.

How often to wash a pet? There are three reasons why you may wish to do this. 

orange dog being washed

Reasons For Washing Your Pet

1. Rolling In Something Foul Or Toxic

First, if your pet rolls in something foul or toxic, the only way to remove the substance is often to carry out a full body wash. If you don’t wash your pet, they may make your home smell. Also, if you are unsure what your pet has rolled in, it is even more important that you wash them as there have been cases of pets 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.

2. Skin Conditions

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.

3. Routine Cleaning

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.

girl washing dog

Pets Skin

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.

Washing Cats

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, while 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.

Washing Dogs

Most dogs will tolerate being washed without sedation, but there are some tips that can make it easier.

  • Perhaps the simplest, and the 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.
  • It can be easier to wash your 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, besides the car wash and the air and water replenishment facilities.

A Routine Bath

For a routine bath, the dog should be drenched with warm water first, so that the coat is thoroughly wet. Then a small amount 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.

Types Of Shampoos

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

1. Routine Cleaning

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 of 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 our PetFix Store: this has been designed for the purpose, so it’s more likely to be suitable.

2. Therapeutic Purposes

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.