Here’s How Often You Need to Wash Your Dog, According to Professional Dog Groomers
Dirty dog alert! We asked professional pet groomers how often you should bathe your dog—and got their top tips for doing it without stress.
Archer, my sweet senior doggo, is a tricolor mix of furry goodness, but his white fur is prominent, and when that gets dirty, I know it’s time for a bath. He’s not an active dog though, so he rarely looks dirty. And that got me thinking: If he doesn’t look dirty, how often should you bathe your dog?
Full disclosure: My motivation for digging into this topic is purely selfish. See, I’ve been taking Archer to a professional groomer, but I really want to learn how to bathe my dog at home. I stocked up on the proper dog-grooming supplies, but the question remained. Exactly how often should I bathe my dog? To get to the bottom of it, I asked professional dog groomers to share their grooming secrets. Read on to find out just how often dogs should have tubby time.
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Why is it important to bathe your dog?
Beyond a way to wash off muddy paws, dirty fur and doggy odor, bathing is an essential component for keeping your dog healthy and comfortable. Just as it is for humans, the skin is the largest organ of the dog’s body. It has a vigorous microbiome of bacteria and fungi that live together in harmony to protect your dog’s overall health. But dirty or damaged skin can muck up the delicate balance, leading to skin infections and compromised immune function. If your dog has known skin conditions or allergies, bathing is a super important element of its overall treatment plan.
Health aspects aside, bathing also helps your dog feel good in its own skin by reducing uncomfortable matting, itchy bottoms and allergy flare-ups. “Bathing helps remove debris from the skin and coat. It can also help remove dead undercoat, which can help reduce shedding,” says Kurt Dennis, pet services and pet safety manager with Pet Supplies Plus in Tampa, Florida.
A clean dog is a good thing for human health too. “There are parasites—including fleas, ticks, ringworm, etc.—that dogs can carry on their skin and coats. Some of these parasites can affect humans as well as dogs,” says Dennis. If any humans in your house suffer from pet allergies, regular doggy baths are a must. They reduce the level of allergy-causing dander.
How often should you bathe your dog?
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If your dog isn’t a fan of tubby time, it would probably say never! Sorry, Rover, but that’s not what the experts advise. So how often should you wash your dog? Well, that depends on a few factors, such as your pup’s breed, health condition, length of fur and activities. But the general rule of thumb is that your dog needs a bath every four to six weeks, according to Dennis.
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that may dictate more or less frequent bathing.
Type of coat
Both the length and type of coat factor into how often you should bathe your dog. For example, hairless dog breeds, such as the Chinese crested, may require weekly or bimonthly bathing to keep their skin healthy. Short-haired dog breeds should aim for a bath every six to eight weeks. But that range can vary, as dogs with soft and oily coats may need more frequent baths than short-haired dogs with hard and dry coats.
Retrievers, terriers and herding breeds who sport double coats (a soft undercoat and a long, thick outer coat) typically don’t need to bathe as frequently because their top coat repels dirt. The natural oils found in the bottom coat are necessary to maintain their weather resistance, which keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Too much bathing can strip those oils, so a scrub-a-dub-dub may be needed only every two to three months or more.
Long-haired dog breeds, such as the Yorkshire terrier and Shetland sheepdog, have coats that tend to trap more dirt and debris and may need bathing every one to two months.
Allergies and skin conditions
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When doggos have allergies or an acute skin condition, they may require more baths and dog shampoos that are medicated and contain higher pH levels. “If a dog has skin conditions like allergies, I always recommend that the pet parent seek the advice of their veterinarian,” says Dennis. “They can suggest the best shampoo/conditioner or even provide medicated shampoo with specific instructions on use and frequency.”
Type of activity
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Many adventurous woofers aren’t put off by mud puddles, rotting carcasses or digging in the dirt. And for some reason, their stinky adventures seem to happen just days after their last bath. It’s OK to give your dog another bath when needed, but if you do, use a doggy shampoo and/or conditioner to help it regain the much-needed moisture that will keep its skin healthy.
For dogs that swim, a thorough rinse is essential. “I would rinse the dog off after they exit the pool and do the same with any body of water so any chemicals and/or foreign bodies are removed,” says Dennis. Of course, if the water is particularly stinky or muddy, a bath may be necessary.
What can happen if you don’t wash your dog enough?
If your woofer doesn’t smell wonky and its coat isn’t dirty, you might not think regular bathing is necessary. But even seemingly clean dogs have normal but icky stuff, such as bacteria, fungi, feces, dirt, dead skin cells and other gross things that can live in their fur. Without regular tub time, your dog can be exposed to a host of nasty things, such as external parasites (including fleas), infections, itchy skin, sores and more that could make your dog miserable.
Routine bathing also provides an ideal time to give your dog a once-over. While your dog is in the tub, take a peek at its ears. If they’re dirty, you can clean your dog’s ears and get two jobs done at once.
Overgrown toenails are troublesome too. “If their toenails are growing out, they can cause problems with the paw and joints that could lead to abnormal walking and arthritis,” says cat and dog groomer Molly Bissantz, owner of Grooming by Molly in Boise, Idaho. Schedule an appointment with your groomer or use vet-approved dog nail clippers and cut your pooch’s toenails yourself.
Should you use doggy shampoo every time you wash your dog?
Yes. “Companies that research dog skin and fur for their shampoo line will have better results, less irritation and improved skin and coat quality,” says Bissantz.
Here’s the science behind why it’s essential to use shampoo formulated for dogs: Humans and dogs both have an acid mantle, which protects the outermost skin layer and helps prevent contamination by bacteria and viruses. Plus, it helps keep the skin hydrated by increasing water absorption and decreasing evaporation. When you bathe your pup, you wash away this protective layer. Luckily, soaps and shampoos contain moisturizers and other ingredients to protect the skin until the acid mantel renews itself.
For this whole process to work, shampoos and soaps must maintain the skin’s normal pH level. This is where it gets interesting. A human’s pH level is more acidic, while a dog’s is more neutral. Plus, we have 10 to 15 layers of skin cells. Dogs have only three to five, so keeping their skin barrier healthy is vital. Using human shampoo on a dog impedes the acid mantle rejuvenation process and puts doggos at risk for skin issues.
A heads up to parents of multiple pets: If you need to bathe your cat, don’t use dog shampoo. “Not all pet shampoos are safe for use on cats,” says Bissantz.
What should you keep in mind when giving your dog a bath?
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While we relish a long soak in the tub, most dogs don’t. They’re not exactly in a relaxed state, and this isn’t a leisurely activity. They might be anxious or not crazy about getting lathered up, scrubbed and rinsed off. So it’s up to pet parents to make bathing as safe and pleasant as possible. Consider these pro tips before you round up your pup for a bath.
- Brush dogs with longer hair before bathing. Wet fur mats way more than dry fur and can be both a nightmare for you to untangle and very uncomfortable for your dog to endure.
- Lay down a non-slip bathmat to give your dog a sense of sure footing so it’s not slipping and sliding in the tub.
- Ensure the water isn’t too cold or too hot. “I recommend a water temperature between 75 and 95 degrees for the dog’s comfort,” says Dennis.
- Place a suction cup–backed frozen lick pad on the tub wall to help keep your pooch occupied and calm.
- If you plan on cleaning your dog’s ears, squirt the ear flush in the ears at the beginning of the bath to help dissolve the excess ear wax. “This makes cleaning the ears 1,000 times easier,” says Bissantz.
- Add eye wash to your supply list. “A gentle stream of eye wash can be used on your dog’s eyes before and after the bath to ensure their eyes are flushed clean of any soap or debris,” says Dennis.
- Doing a quick rubdown with a towel and leaving the rest to air dry can lead to skin issues and matting that can get big and tight. For longer-haired dogs, squeeze the towel instead of rubbing the coat. “If your dog can tolerate the noise of a hair dryer, you can brush and dry in sections, which is much faster than air drying and brushing out the coat every 30 minutes,” says Bissantz.
Is it possible to bathe your dog too much?
Yes, though you’re probably wondering how often should you bathe your dog if it likes to get a little (er, a lot) dirty. We’re talking about those times when your pup does weird things like cover itself in mud or (the horror) roll over pungent dead critters. That requires more sudsy time in the tub, but don’t go overboard.
Remember, over-bathing robs your doggo of the time it needs to regenerate its skin’s acid mantle, and this can have negative consequences. “Bathing too much can lead to sensitive skin [and] excessive drying or excessive moisture, both of which can lead to bacterial or fungal infections or hot spots,” says Bissantz.
And if you’re scrub-a-dub-dubbing your pup too much and not drying it properly, you can actually make shedding worse and cause severe matting. That, in turn, puts your pup at risk for bacterial and fungal infections, Bissantz says.
In short, it pays to know the sweet spot when it comes to sudsing up your pup. If still unsure, ask a pro who knows your dog: the vet.
About the experts
- Molly Bissantz is the founder and owner of Grooming by Molly, a dog and cat grooming service in Boise, Idaho. She’s been a professional groomer for more than six years and took her first grooming class when she was in middle school. While her dogs—Buddy, a border collie mix, and Cyrus, a Chihuahua mix—are easy to groom, she is known for her ability to work with difficult dogs.
- Kurt Dennis is the pet services and pet safety manager of Pet Supplies Plus in Tampa, Florida. In the past 34 years, he has had various roles in the pet-grooming industry, including that of pet stylist, salon leader and regional salon training manager. When he’s not helping other pets look and feel their best, he’s doting on his two teacup Chihuahuas, Gizmo and Nathan, and his rescued domestic short-haired cat, Luna.
- Merck Veterinary Manual: “Detergents, Soaps, and Shampoos”