How often should you wash your dog? Almost never, say vets.

Sure, it might be convention for us humans to shower daily (and for that we are grateful). But how often should you wash your dog? Do they need regular bathing? Or can we delay the guilt that comes with lathering up a trembling pup?

To find out, Mamamia spoke to Dr Robert Hilton, a Melbourne-based veterinarian who practices in the field of veterinary dermatology.

“People tend to wash their dogs far too frequently,” he said. “They are often washing their dogs trying to treat allergies or they’re just washing their dog quite unnecessarily thinking it’s a benefit to them.”

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So, how often should you wash your dog?

According to Dr Hilton, only if it needs it.

“You should wash your dog if it smells or it’s dirty, or if it has specific skin disease,” he said. “Some dogs need never be washed.”

Dr Beth McDonald, a specialist vet dermatologist from University of Sydney Veterinary School, noted that a number of factors will determine how often a dog ought to be bathed.

“There is no hard and fast rule about how often you should wash your dogs,” she said via email. “There are so many variables: length and type of coat; where the dog lives (inside or outside); does it swim; is it clipped; how big is the dog; does the dog like being bathed?”

What happens if you wash your dog too often?

Dr Hilton explained that washing strips away a protective barrier known as hydro-lipid film.

“These are a complex set of secretions; a mixture of skin cells that are dead and ready to be sloughed off, combined with watery apocrine secretions and oily sebaceous secretions. So this is a complex part of the epidermal barrier responsible for normal skin health and function and resistance to infection,” he said.

“When that layer is stripped away is could end up with drying of the skin, which can cause itch, and it could also cause loss of local defences, resulting in skin infections and irritation.”

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What if your dog has a skin condition?

Skin conditions are incredible common in dogs; in fact, Dr Hilton said it’s the “the number one disease treated by veterinarians”. Many owners will attempt to treat the concern on their own by frequently bathing their dog, but Dr Hilton explains this can actually make the problem worse.

“Washing is not an appropriate treatment for every skin disease,” he said.

“Washing, especially with an antiseptic shampoo, removes infected secretions, it removes bacteria, removes yeast and removes debris off the skin – this is all good. But the other side of the coin it also disrupts that protective lipid barrier.”

Your vet will advise the appropriate treatment for your dog’s condition, which may include medicated baths followed by a specially medicated conditioner.

What shampoo is best for your dog?

Dr Hilton advises dog owners to stick to a mild, low-detergent product that’s been recommended by their vet.

He notes that there are three things to avoid when choosing a shampoo to use on your dog.

  1. Human shampoo: “Dog skin is very much different than a human skin. It’s far more sensitive. So you shouldn’t be using any human shampoos.” Also important to avoid are those containing coal tar or benzo peroxide, which are typically human products.
  2. “Cheap shampoos, of any description, that aren’t backed by some form of clinical research, because they can be far too harsh.”
  3. Medicated shampoos, “unless the dog has a medical skin condition for which that shampoo is being prescribed”.

Dr Beth McDonald added, “If you are using shampoos for dermatological diseases, then you wash them as instructed by the veterinarian. In general, I recommend diluting any shampoo before application. Do not apply concentrated shampoo directly to the dog’s skin and coat.

“Certain shampoo, such as tea-tree-oil-based ones, can create significant topical reactions and should be avoided; and we aim to avoid detergents.”

What can you do in between to keep your dog’s coat healthy?

The key to skin and coat health, Dr Hilton said, is a balanced diet consisting of quality ingredients.

“You get what you pay for with dog food,” he said. “But it’s also worth noting that home-cooked diets can be deficient, especially in fatty acids. You should stick to a good quality balanced dog food from a reputable manufacturer.”

What about brushing?

“Brushing is a good thing,” Dr Hilton said. “It removes dead skin and hair, and it creates a pleasurable bond between human and animal that is enjoyed by all.”