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Dog Bathing & Hygiene - The Link Between Good Dog Hygiene and Health


What is a good hygiene regimen for a dog?

That depends on your dog and your lifestyle. For your average little purse dog that probably never touches the floor and just hangs out in your lap, regular grooming may not be as necessary as my big, dumb Labrador, who insists on rolling in the dirt and anything else he can find daily. He gets bathed pretty regularly. So your dog's activities certainly play a role in that. Dogs that like to swim a lot or certain dogs with certain medical conditions need more frequent baths.

In terms of other sorts of things besides bathing, regular nail trims are important. For some dogs, that is a sticking point in terms of anxiety and stress, and so you certainly need to work around your dog and potentially chat with us about alternatives to actual nail trimming.

The bare minimum of regular hygiene for your dog that needs to be done regularly is tooth brushing. So, just like we brush our teeth twice a day every day, brushing our dog's teeth daily is ideal and is considered not only a hygiene issue but an overall health issue.


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

How does keeping my dog clean contribute to good health?

As mentioned, keeping their teeth clean can keep them healthier long-term, and it can also keep them comfortable long-term. If you can imagine not brushing your teeth for months on end and the potential of tooth decay resulting from that, that's pretty uncomfortable and can lead to many health problems.

Dogs that are swimming regularly or getting into something regularly are at a higher risk for skin infections if they're not drying well or potentially exposing themselves to gross or potentially contaminated substances.

Regular nail trims are essential for comfort while walking, especially in our older pets for traction. Some of these hygiene tips are common sense. What sort of things do you do to yourself regularly to make yourself feel better and keep yourself healthy?

Is brushing my dog's teeth important to overall hygiene?

Absolutely. It's essential for when they want to give you kisses because their breath's much better. Dog tooth brushing benefits dental health by getting the plaque and bacteria off their teeth regularly, maintaining good dental health long-term, and making for a happier, healthier dog.

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

The first thing is to find something specific for dogs. You don't want to use human shampoo or anything like that on a dog. The pHs of our skin is different than dogs are, and so by using a human-specific shampoo, we could cause excess drying and discomfort on the dog's skin. So, number one, use a dog-specific shampoo.

I also recommend avoiding anything that has a powerful fragrance. Dogs can smell so much more than we can, and we don't want to overwhelm them, making them smell like a rose or mango or anything like that. So try and get a no-fragrance shampoo.

And then you want to look at the product and look at the company like you would for anything for yourself. Make sure they're well-established and that they don't do a lot of weird animal testing. In general, if I have a happy, healthy dog, I'm usually looking for an aloe and oatmeal shampoo, something mild without a fragrance to wash the coat, wash the skin, and get the crud off.

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

Because they get gross. If you can imagine wearing the same sweater every day, our hair gets stuck in there, our skin oils. So if we did that for months and months on end, we'd get pretty fragrant. Things get stiff and unwieldy and uncomfortable. The same goes for beds. We change our sheets regularly. We want to change our dog's bedding regularly. Wash not only food bowls but water bowls too. If you've ever kind of stuck your hand in a dog's water bowl that's been sitting for a while, there's a nice, gross film on the bottom of the bowl. So it's crucial to throw those bowls in the dishwasher or the sink at least once a week. Give them a good scrub, and make sure you're rinsing well so we don't have any soap residue. The same thing goes for collars and any sort of clothing they may wear. My dog has a set of pajamas he really likes. And bedding goes through the wash in most cases; look at the label or the tag on there.

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

Some of the signs of poor hygiene in dogs can be really obvious: matted fur, really dry, itchy skin, a dull hair coat, a really greasy hair coat. With dental hygiene, you'll notice foul breath, discoloration of teeth, and possibly drooling. But it really comes down to your senses. Look at your dog. Do they look well-groomed and healthy? Do they smell well-groomed and healthy? How are they feeling? How are they acting? If you have a dog that's not moving around as much or is having trouble moving around, then we'd want to get them checked out to make sure there's not an infection. We can also give you some tips on grooming or bathing your dog on a regular basis.

How often should I be giving my dog a bath?

As I mentioned before, that depends on your dog's lifestyle. My big, disgusting lab gets regular baths because he earns them with his activities. I bathe my little dachshund mix more in the summer when she's swimming because she likes to be under the covers with me, but in the winter, she gets a bath once every few months when she starts to get stinky. It depends on your dogs, your activities, and where your dog sleeps in some situations.

How can my veterinarian help me with my dog hygiene issues?

We are here to help you with pretty much anything related to your dog. So if you have questions about a smell, about how your dog looks, about how your dog's acting, we'd rather hear from you than have you wait.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, 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.

Dog Bathing & Hygiene - FAQs


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

How often should I bathe my dog?

Some of that comes down to health. Dogs that have skin issues or allergies may need to be bathed more frequently. And the rest comes down to preference in lifestyle. If your dog's a couch potato, doesn't do a whole lot, and is otherwise healthy, they probably don't need to be bathed frequently. If your dog's out swimming, getting dirty, rolling in things regularly, they may need to be bathed more often.

What is the best way for me to safely bathe my dog at home?

The best way to do that is to prepare ahead of time. If you start as a puppy, you want to start conditioning your dog to get used to the tub or the shower or wherever you're planning on bathing your dog. Have them begin to develop a positive association by having them enter that space, eat some treats and start to feel safe there before you even need to get to the point of bathing. Another thing to consider is good footing, as many bathtubs are not super comfortable for standing for dogs. Their nails and the surface don't make for good traction. Make sure to have a bath mat or some sort of non-slip surface in there. Worst case scenario, you can just throw down a towel, and once it gets wet, the towel provides a good surface for traction.

And then you want to make the whole situation as positive as possible for your dog, so pairing this exercise with food and doing your conditioning work leading up to bathing is essential. Also, do not get soap in your dog's eyes, and make sure the water temperature is comfortable. Dogs typically prefer water that's cooler than we would maybe find comfortable for a shower for us. If you find that your dog is getting stressed about bathing, or it's becoming a rodeo, touch base with us. We can help you troubleshoot and find a better solution.

What shampoo should I use to bathe my dog?

If your dog does not have allergies or is prone to skin infections, you can use a pretty basic shampoo. I typically look for something that does not have a fragrance. It may be nice for our dogs to smell like apples and lavender, but they probably don't want to smell that way, and smell is pretty important to dogs. I like an aloe and oatmeal shampoo in most situations, but a medicated shampoo can be beneficial for dogs with skin issues or chronic problems.

Do I need to use conditioner on my dog?

For the most part, no. That may be something that a show dog, like an Afghan Hound, may need something extra to keep the tangles out, but your average dog doesn't need anything extra like that.

Are there any products that can help with my dog's itching?

That depends on what's causing your dog's itching. Probably about 98% of the time, your dog's itching is due to allergies or some sort of parasite causing a problem—mange, fleas, ticks, et cetera. So if you have a dog that's itching more than the occasional flap of the ear, or licking the foot, give us a call or check in with us because there's probably an underlying medical issue that we want to address.

How do I get my dog used to being bathed?

So we talked about that a little bit earlier. Working on conditioning long before you need to give your dog a bath can be helpful, although that may not be possible in some scenarios. Say you get a dog from an unpleasant situation, and they're quite fragrant already, and you want to get them clean—do the best you can to make it a not traumatic experience. Make sure there's good traction in the tub or the shower that you're using. Use either a gentle spray if you're in the shower so that you can get close to the dog, or use a cup to gently pour water on. Be conscious of the water temperature and try and sweeten the deal with some sort of food. I typically use peanut butter on the wall of my tub when I'm bathing my dogs. And that's usually enough of a distraction that they give me the puppy dog eyes, but they're still willing to eat and stand still for the process.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, 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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