College of Veterinary Medicine

Pet Health Topics

Bathing Your Dog 


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.
geriatric dog

Every pet owner has an olfactory (smell) memory that triggers their gag reflex, “I’ve never smelled anything like it!  (S)He must have rolled in something dead!Odors that defy classification have an obvious solution; bathe the dog. Soap choice is where the confusion starts. In some situations it seems nothing but the harshest solvents will be adequate to clean your pet. It may also seem reasonable to use dish soap or a product designed for human hygiene, such as shampoo. “Harsh chemicals aren’t necessary,” assured Terese DeManuelle, a veterinary dermatologist from Portland, Oregon. “A mild hypoallergenic soap that’s formulated for veterinary use is all you need.” “Formulated for veterinary use” means a product that’s designed to work with a dog’s body. While dish soap or your favorite shampoo might strip away the dirt, and more importantly the odor, from your pet’s coat, it will also strip natural oils from their fur and may irritate their skin.


All grooming products (human and animal) are designed to maximize cleaning and minimize irritation. Human products work best on human skin and veterinary products are designed to work best on dog skin. The chemistry of a dog’s skin and fur are different than the chemistry of a human’s skin and hair. 

In addition to the odor- provoked “emergency bath” Dr. DeManuelle notes it’s safe to bathe your dog with veterinary shampoo once a week. However, if the veterinary shampoo you’re using contains any medication or insecticide, follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Prescription shampoos treat specific problems and may necessitate bathing more or less frequently than once a week. 

A final insight pertaining to bathing your pet is to comb their coat prior to bathing. Wet fur mats more than dry fur so a wet tangled coat is harder to brush out and will take longer to dry. This small detail can save you time and prevent an uncomfortable brushing for your pet. 

After a bath your dog will smell good, look good, and probably feel good. Make sure your dog is dry before you allow it back outside or it will feel good enough to dry itself. It will streak from the tub straight outside to find a new exotic aroma to frolic in and bring home to share.

This Pet Health Topic was written by Sarah Hoggan, Washington State University, Class of 2001.

 Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.


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Last Edited: Dec 16, 2014 3:57 PM   

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