How Often Should You Bathe Your Dog? Keeping A Healthy Dog Clean

by | Common Questions, Dog Care

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I recently had a chat with another dog owner about how often we should wash our dogs. We couldn’t agree on a bathing schedule so I did some research to find out how often to wash a dog without causing any harm.

So, how often should you bathe your dog?

Healthy adult dogs with no allergies or skin conditions should be bathed once every 2 to 3 months with dog shampoo when needed. Dogs with skin allergies can be bathed more often with a medicated dog shampoo, but no dog should be bathed more than once a week unless recommended by a vet.

Hygiene and cleanliness are important when humans and animals live together. But did you know that we tend to wash our dogs far too often, which often causes skin and fur problems and interferes with a dog’s natural ability to clean itself?

The first question we need to ask ourselves is how often dogs really need baths to stay clean…

Table of Contents

    How often you should bathe a dog

    Healthy dogs don’t need set baths or a fixed bathing schedule, and they should only be bathed when necessary. Many vets recommend washing a dog no more than once a month, but say you can go as long as 6 to 12 months between washes without any problems.

    A healthy adult dog needs to be bathed only when it is:

    • Dirty, for example when your dog has been rolling in the mud
    • Smells bad from rolling in something smelly. If your dog’s skin smells strange it is usually caused by a skin condition that needs medicated shampoo or a change in diet to heal – visit your vet for advice on how to fix the cause rather than trying to hide the symptoms with dog shampoo
    • Has fleas, ticks, and/or cannot take oral parasite treatments (click HERE to find out where dogs get fleas)
    • Is being groomed and/or getting trimmed

    If you follow the vets’ guidelines and wash your dog only when it needs a bath, then you will probably end up washing your dog once every 2 to 3 months.

    A healthy dog does not need to be bathed for the sake of bathing for two reasons:

    1. Its skin has oils in it to keep the dog clean and

    2. A dog naturally knows how to groom itself.

    Here’s how dogs stay clean without taking baths…

    A dog’s skin oils help keep it clean

    A dog’s skin has 3 layers:

    Illustration of the layers in a  dog's skin: epidermis, dermis, subcutaneous layer
    1. The epidermis, which is the outer layer that you can see with hair on it
    2. The dermis sits under the epidermis. This is where the self-cleaning process begins with oil glands called sebaceous glands (see below)
    3. The subcutaneous layer, which is where the dog’s fat and muscle tissues are found
    Illustration of a dog's skin showing the hair, hair follicle and sebaceous gland with sebum

    Do you see the sebaceous gland in the dermis layer? Sebaceous glands are attached to hair follicles in the dermis.

    These sebaceous glands in the dog’s skin release an oil called ‘sebum’. According to research, sebum keeps the skin moist and healthy, protects it from the environment, kills bacteria, and keeps it clean.

    But how does oil actually help to keep a dog’s skin and fur clean?

    When a dog is healthy and the skin is coated with sebum, the sebum stops dirt particles from sitting on the dog’s skin. Sebum acts as a dirt repellent.

    Sebum also lubricates the dog’s hair. As the oil moves from the skin to the end of each hair, it takes dirt with it.

    If you want to activate this natural, healthy way to clean your dog without a bath, simply give your dog a brush. Brushing will help to move sebum across your dog’s skin and through the coat, removing dirt and making the skin and hair soft and shiny. Click here to find out how often you should brush your dog.

    But sometimes dog owners do things that can strip or remove all of this natural sebum from a dog’s skin, which may give the dog skin problems, brittle hair, and other health issues.

    When the dog gets these problems, we often wash our dogs more often thinking we are sorting out the issue. But washing more often just makes the skin problem worse or the hair even more brittle because we are washing away the dog’s sebum. It gets worse so we wash even more often.

    Soon we find ourselves in a vicious cycle of causing the problem with over-washing and making it worse with over-washing, when the dog has the ability to sort this out naturally without any harsh cleaners, medications, and chemicals.

    To maintain healthy sebum levels in your dog, make sure you:

    • Use lukewarm water when you wash your dog. Hot water isn’t good for a dog’s skin
    • Don’t wash your dog too often. Only wash your dog when necessary, and keep it at once every 2 to 3 months, if possible
    • Use a mild shampoo that’s designed for dogs, such as this one from Amazon. Strong soapy shampoos and human shampoos will strip your dog’s skin of all its natural sebum and may do more harm than good
    • Brush your dog regularly, about once a week, to move sebum along the skin and through the fur coat

    How dogs groom themselves

    Dogs don’t take daily baths with soap and water in nature while they run around in packs, so they have developed their own ways to groom their skin and coat.

    A dog tends to have its own cleaning routine that it follows. Some dogs love to groom themselves at certain times or after certain activities, such as eating, while other dogs only groom when they have to.

    You will get to know your dog’s grooming routine over time and what’s normal for that dog. If there is a sudden change in grooming, such as excessive licking or nibbling, then check the dog for scabs, ticks, or other problems.

    If your dog keeps acting out of the ordinary, chat to vet to find out what you can do about it before it gets worse.  

    Here are some of the ways that dogs might groom themselves:

    Nibbling their skin

    Dogs may ‘nibble’ their skin. They do this by gripping a small piece of skin between their front teeth and gently biting the skin and releasing it as they move their mouth in a line or around an area.

    Dogs might nibble because they are itching in that spot, but this is also a way that dogs remove things stuck in their fur.

    Nibbling also helps with dry skin. This nibbling action stimulates the sebaceous glands to release more sebum, the oil that moisturizes the dog’s skin.

    The nibbling action is also like a brush moving through the dog’s fur – it moves sebum along the skin and through the hair to remove dirt.

    Licking themselves

    Dogs may spend time licking their fur, skin, legs and paws as a way to wash themselves clean.

    Swimming

    Some dogs love jumping into a pool, dog pool, or plastic tub of water to rinse dust and debris off their coat and skin.

    Swimming is also a good way for a dog to cool down on a hot day – click HERE to get all my tips and tricks on how to keep a dog cool inside at night.

    Rubbing their face

    A dog with a dirty face will often rub their face long the ground and scratch their face with their paws, to remove food and dirt.

    Rolling around

    To remove dirt, fur, and dust from their coats, dogs may roll around on the ground.

    They may roll while lying on their sides and kick their legs, or they could lie on their back and swing their butts from side to side to get a good back rub.

    Shaking themselves off

    Dogs may shake themselves to loosen and remove dirt in their fur and on their skin.

    They also do this when they’re wet, to dry themselves off quicker.

    What makes a dog need baths more often?

    Some dogs need to be bathed more often than others simply because they:

    • Spend a lot of time outdoors and love playing in the dirt
    • Have long hair that traps dirt and gets matted
    • Have curly hair that needs to be groomed and trimmed regularly
    • Have a soft coat that holds dust and dirt
    • Sleep in your bed – and you want to give them baths once a month for hygiene reason
    • Have skin conditions that require washes with a medicated shampoo – skin conditions are the main cause of bad smell in dogs and should be fixed through diet and medication rather than trying to wash away the smell
    • Are hairless – hairless dog breeds need regular sponge baths to remove dirt and dead skin cells as they don’t have sebum and fur to help them stay clean
    • Have an itchy skin – wash your dog with a colloidal oatmeal shampoo (Amazon link) to relive the itchiness on a dog’s skin
    • Cannot take oral parasite treatments and need baths to control ticks and fleas – here’s an organic tick and flea shampoo that also repels mosquitoes (Amazon link)
    • Have a white or light coat that shows dirt easily and is dirty or stained
    • Are lapdogs that you want clean before they sit in everyone’s laps

    Again, only bathe these dogs when necessary, and never more than once a week unless your vet tells you to do so.

    What makes a dog need baths less often?

    Dogs with the following characteristics tend to need fewer baths:

    • Short-haired dogs
    • Dogs with a hard, wiry coat
    • Dogs with smooth coats
    • Dogs with water-repellant coats – washing too often removes their natural oils
    • Dogs with thick, double coats – these dogs need brushing more often than washing to keep their coats clean and shiny

    How to clean a dog

    Here are some tips on how to clean your dog in a way that will do the least harm to the skin:

    • Use a mild dog shampoo

    It’s best to wash a dog as little as possible, using mild, vet-approved dog shampoo. Here’s a vet-approved, medicated shampoo for dogs (Amazon link)

    • Conditioner only

    If your dog gets dirty but they’ve recently had a wash and you don’t want to irritate their skin with another wash, try rinsing them with warm water and using a mild dog conditioner rather than shampoo.

    Here’s one from Amazon that moisturizes, protects, and smooths a dog’s coat.

    • Spot clean dirty areas

    If your dog has one or two dirty spots, just spot clean those dirty areas with a cloth, some warm water, and a mild dog shampoo or conditioner rather than giving the dog a full bath.

    • Rinse with plain water

    Try rinsing your dog down with clean, lukewarm tap water, to avoid the use of chemicals and shampoos on the skin.

    • Give your dog a good brush

    Give your dog a good brush rather than a wash. Here’s a great combo grooming brush from Amazon.

    Giving a dog a brush is often enough to remove dirt, excess hair, and allow the dog’s skin oils to nourish the skin and remove dirt from your dog’s fur coat naturally, without chemicals and soaps.

    Signs you’re bathing your dog too often

    The following signs tell you that you may be bathing your dog too often.

    If your dog has any of the following signs, try washing your dog less often, changing to a more nutritious diet (click here to find out if it’s cheaper to make your own nutritious dog food or buy it), or visit your vet for recommendations.

    Wash your dog less often if he/she has:

    • Skin irritations
    • Dry, itchy skin
    • An oily skin, which is your dog’s body trying to replace the natural oils you keep washing away
    • Flaking skin
    • Brittle hair that breaks easily
    • A dull coat

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    MONIQUE

    Monique has had pets all her life and will have them for the rest of it.

    She currently has 4 adopted fur kids.

    Monique loves researching and sharing what she finds out about taking the best care of animals.

    Ayo is an African word for ‘happy’, which is why this site is called Ayo Pets (Happy Pets).

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