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Dog Bathing & Hygiene - How a Good Hygiene Regimen Keeps Your Dog Healthy

What is a good hygiene regimen for my dog?

It's hard to put one schedule down and say, "This is the right way to do it." There's really no right answer to that question. I will tell you that a good hygiene regimen would include things like routine teeth cleaning or brushing, cleaning of their ears, and bathing (if and when needed), and nail trims. I think those are the things that would encompass every dog’s routine hygiene plan, but as far as the timing of it, that more depends on your dog and their lifestyle.

Dr. Scott Broussard
The Waggin Train Veterinary Clinic

How does keeping my dog clean contribute to good health?

When I consider cleanliness of a dog, the first thing I think of is their skin. It's primarily going to affect their skin. If you have a dog that is dirty, yeasty, or maybe has skin fold problems (like Pugs, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Shar Peis are the worst, they have skin folds everywhere) or other facial things around the ears, around the tail folds, and around the private area—those require very routine hygiene, bathing, and grooming, if you will.

The Spaniel breeds are really behind the eight ball for having ear problems. Not just Spaniels, I'm not trying to single them out, but I will tell you in general that Spaniels tend to be a little bit more prone to ear infections, so their hygienic plan would probably include a lot more regular ear cleaning than say an erect-eared dog that doesn't have as many ear problems. Every dog should also be on some sort of a dental cleaning plan. Now, what does that look like? It could include specialty dental diets, it could include dental chews, brushing the dog’s teeth, whether on a daily basis or a couple of times a week, whatever you can muster there—all of that would be beneficial and very helpful to the overall hygiene of a dog.

When it comes to nails, that is another one that depends. It’s not that often that you have to trim the nails of outdoor dogs. Indoor dogs need to be done a lot more readily. If you're walking the dogs on pavement or sidewalks, a lot they're going to tend to do that for you to some degree, but it's something you need to be aware of and just keep an eye on and perform if and when needed.

Why is brushing my dog's teeth important to their overall hygiene?

The teeth are kind of the window to the entire body nif you think of it. The bacteria that can set up shop on those teeth if they're not ever brushed is going to very quickly turn into plaque, which turns into calculus or tartar. That happens quicker than you might imagine, and that is nothing but bacteria. If that stays there long enough, then the gums get inflamed, now you have gingivitis, and those inflamed gums have bacteria that can enter the bloodstream, and once it does that, that can set up shop in heart valves, in the kidneys and the liver. There could be a whole slew of problems that you don't want to deal with, and it starts with teeth; it starts with oral hygiene. A lot of people don't make that connection, they don't realize the importance of it. It's not just because we want your dog to have pearly white teeth when they come in and smile, or perhaps try to bite us. It’s because the things that grow on those teeth can cause some very real and adverse signs and symptoms in your dog if they're not cared for.

How do I find the right bathing products for my dog?

Once again, it kind of depends on what we're looking at with your dog. If you're looking for just a routine bathing shampoo that's going to make your dog feel clean and smell good, a lot of times I'll recommend a soap-free shampoo. Why soap-free? Because you're not stripping the oils off of their skin. Think about it. We've all seen commercials for Dawn dishwashing liquid or something like that—you put a drop and all the oil just takes off and disappears. Most of your soap or detergent-based shampoos, whether for dogs or people, do the same thing. Well, the oil in a dog's skin is what we all look for. That's where a lot of your topical flea medicines spread, that's what gives that dog that nice, shiny coat. Sheeny? That's what we look for in a dog. That is a sign of good health in a dog's skin and coat, so you don't want to wash that off.

The other thing is if you are using a soap-based shampoo and you're bathing them three times a week, you're going to dry that dog skin out, and you're going to cause dry skin, which might lead to itching and other skin problems. So in that sense, a soap-free shampoo is paramount and one of the first things I recommend for routine cleaning.

What about if my dog has skin infections regularly?

I'm glad you followed up with that one because that's where I was going there. So, I talked about other shampoos, so if your dog is prone to have, say staph infections or something like that, there are various antibacterial or even antifungal shampoos that your veterinarian may prescribe. At the very beginning of this conversation, I talked about dogs with all the skin fold problems. Yeast is usually what grows in those skin folds, and in some cases bacteria as well, so a medicated shampoo in those settings would probably be beneficial.

For dogs with allergies, there are also shampoos that contain an antihistamine or things like that. The one that I carry has an antihistamine in it, so it helps decrease redness and irritation to the skin just by bathing. It doesn't last forever, but you might get the effects for two or three days, and maybe you have to do that to supplement your dog's skin issues through allergy season. So, those are all things that might be warranted as well.

Why is it important to clean my dog's bed, bowls, collar, leash, and toys regularly?

The biggest thing I would say in general is just cleanliness. And not to throw around the word hygiene, but everything you just mentioned in that list will be colonized with bacteria. Would you wear the same outfit for six months in a row? No, of course, you wouldn't. I won't make any jokes here, but you would be pretty nasty and you wouldn't have many friends. A dog that wears a collar for years on end, that collar's going to be pretty nasty, whether you care to admit it or not. That's got dirt, that's got hair, I won't even list all the other things it's got. Do a culture and find out. It's probably wise for you, your dog, and everybody that touches your dog to have a new collar on every so often.

Water bowls are going to get algae, they're going to bacteria and things like that in them. This will happen even more so with food bowls because they have food particles there that bacteria might crave and try to feed on, as well as other parasites, and the list could go on and on. So, yes, it's wise to clean those things often. Take dog collars off, wash them, and put them back on the dog. It doesn't take but an hour that it's off of your animal, but I think those are all good ideas to prevent the colonization of the skin and coat with bacteria and other parasites.

What are some signs and symptoms of poor hygiene in my dog?

Everything I was just alluding to—bad skin, dry skin, tartar buildup on the teeth, gingivitis, dark ear wax, or perhaps smelly ears. One I didn't mention prior to now but sometimes even dogs have issues with are anal sacs. I won't even go into what that smells like. If you don't know, good for you, but that's another issue that sometimes with routine hygiene that would have to be addressed as well, but any of those signs can show up if proper hygiene is not practiced.

How often should I be giving my dog a bath?

It depends on what your dog's living arrangement is. If they're in the house and they're not becoming dirty very often and you're doing a good job of maintaining them, then you might not have to bathe them but once a month or every couple of weeks give or take.

I have dogs that live outdoors a majority of their time, like while I'm at work or what have you, and they're in a nice clean pen that's got a good hard substrate that can be cleaned easily, so I don't have to bathe them very often. Of course, I bathe them sometimes if they're really stinky and they come in the house. But do you have to bathe them on any one given schedule? No, of course not. It just depends on where they live, what those conditions are, and in some ways what you as an owner feel is acceptable. If you don't want to deal with a stinky dog or one with hair loss, then bathe them and brush them a couple of times a week. I'm sure they'd appreciate it if they like baths. Again, it just depends on your expectations and the dog's living arrangements, period.

How can my veterinarian help me with dog hygiene issues?

Okay, so we're going to have medicated shampoos that you're not going to find over the counter, whether it's antibacterial, antifungal, hypoallergenic—we're going to have a lot of options for you with shampoos that can help improve your dog's skin and coat hygiene. That's number one.

Number two is dentistry. We're going to have dental diets, we're going to have specific dental chews, we're going to have tooth-brushing kits, and finger brush kits, and veterinary toothpaste that can help with hygiene that way. We're going to have ear cleaners, whether medicated or routine ear cleaners that can help you. Even if you want nail trimmers or you want to come in and have your dog's nails clipped and dremeled o they're not as sharp or scratchy, all of those things are things that your veterinarian can do that can help you and your dog maintain a better quality of hygiene.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (337) 223-9581, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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