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Rub a Dub Dub…Your Pet’s in the Tub!

Pet owners often ask how often they should bathe their pets. Unfortunately, many people still believe the old wives tale that says you shouldn't bathe your pet more than once or twice a month. According to some, more frequent bathing might harm your pet's skin or coat.

However, this old wives tale is nothing more than an urban legend, and is not based upon any medical fact. This article will give you the information you need to know in order to determine how often your pet should be based, and how to choose the best shampoo for your pet.

Bathing your pet can be a positive experience for several reasons. First, if pets have been trained to enjoy bathing, the experience will be pleasant for them, similar to going for a walk or playing chase in the yard. Second, any positive interaction between a pet owner and a pet strengthens the human-animal bond. Third, bathing removes dirt and odors from your pet’s skin and coat. Fourth, frequent bathing is necessary to heal damaged, inflamed, or infected skin and hair. Finally, while not well known, bathing can have important health benefits for you and your family.

While I recommend bathing your pet at a minimum whenever the pet gets dirty or smelly, on average at least weekly, more frequent bathing may help keep your pet and family members healthy.

For example, those pets with skin diseases should be bathed more often, even daily if necessary. Pets with allergies typically itch less when bathed frequently. In my practice, I instruct my clients to bathe their pets before administering medications such as a corticosteroid like prednisone or an antihistamine. For many of these pets, the bath can relieve itching enough to where the next dose of medication can be skipped. The less frequently pets use medications like corticosteroids, the fewer the side effects pets will experience from those drugs. For pets with bacterial infections, fungal or yeast infections, ringworm, and mange, frequent bathing will help kill the infectious organisms and parasites. In my practice, pets with bacterial and yeast skin infections rarely require antibiotic or anti-fungal drugs if the owners can bathe the pets frequently. For pets with infections, contact time between the pet skin and hair and shampoo is very important. The longer the shampoo stays on the pet, the greater the killing action of the ingredients in the shampoo. While it may not be practical for most owners to leave the shampoo on the pet’s skin for 30 minutes or longer as we do when pets are bathed in our hospital, I recommend at least 10 minutes (and preferably 15 to 20 minutes) when treating skin infections with shampoo therapy.

Holistic veterinarians have discovered that when our patients are bathed frequently, they usually do not require conventional medications in the treatment of their skin diseases. When they do require conventional medications, they usually require much less medication due to their frequent bathing schedule using properly selected organic shampoos.

How frequently should your pet be bathed? For pets with skin diseases, I recommend every one to two days to get the problem under control, and several times per week until the skin has healed. In my practice, I typically recommend a daily baths for one to two weeks, then bathing every 48 hours until I re-examine the pet in two to three weeks. After I re-examine the pet, I will usually prescribe a maintenance protocol requires bathing one to three times per week depending upon the pet's original problem.

While your pet's health can be positively affected through the use of frequent bathing, don't forget about the important health benefits to you and your family members when you bathe your pets frequently. Pets that are bathed frequently are cleaner and less likely to cause you and other members of your family to suffer unnecessarily from allergies and other respiratory problems.

Think of it this way. Your pet’s hair acts like a rug, trapping dirt, bacteria, fungi, and allergens. Allergens are foreign proteins such as dander, house dust mites, saliva from the pet licking itself (this is especially a problem in cats which frequently groom themselves, as many people are allergic to the allergens in cat saliva,) bug droppings (especially roach droppings,) molds, and tree and grass pollens. These allergens stay on your pet's skin and hair until they are washed away. The longer they stay on your pet’s skin and hair, the more likely they are to cause your pet to itch. And if you or any family members suffer from allergies, your pet’s skin and hair serve as an important source of your discomfort until these allergens are washed away. Therefore, I recommend bathing your pet frequently if your pet or any of your family members suffers from allergies.


Choosing a shampoo

Frequent bathing of your pet will usually not dry out the pet’s skin or coat if the proper shampoo is chosen. While some shampoos, typically those made of harsh chemicals, can dry out your pet’s skin or coat if used too frequently, organic shampoos containing natural oils are safe to use whenever needed. In general, organic shampoos are safe to use frequently; many are specially formulated to encourage frequent bathing of your pet.


Natural vs. Organic

When it comes to choosing a shampoo, you have three general choices. The first choice is the typical chemical-based shampoo. These shampoos usually contain chemicals as their major ingredients. These chemicals can include but are not limited to ingredients such as sodium lauryl (laureth) sulfate (SLS,) cocamidopropyl betaine (cocabetaine,) diethanolalamine (DEA,) FD&C artificial colors, artificial fragrances or preservatives, petroleum, animal by-products, detergents, alcohols, and propylene glycol. While none of these ingredients is imminently fatal when used as directed, they can cause problems such as increased hair loss, skin irritation, cracking, and inflammation. My general approach to these kinds of chemicals is this: even if your pets are not harmed by their use, if there are better, more natural, safer choices, I prefer to use shampoos that contain those other ingredients.

The second choice is the “natural” shampoo. As a rule, these shampoos use few if any of the above mentioned chemicals, instead relying upon more natural ingredients such as essences of fragrant oils, purified water, and ” natural” cleansers. While these shampoos tend to rely on non-chemical ingredients, as is true with other natural products (such as pet foods,) I have seen a number of “natural” products that still include some chemicals such as sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and disodium C 14-16 olefin sulfonate. Unfortunately, the term “natural” does not really have a legal definition. While most people think of natural as totally devoid of chemicals and byproducts, there is no legal guideline that mandates this. Therefore, it is imperative that you read the label of any shampoo to know exactly what's in it. Also, be aware of nebulous terms like “natural oils” and “natural cleansers,” unless the product specifically states what these terms mean.

The final choice is the true “organic” shampoo. The term “organic” is a legal designation by the USDA. Products that are labeled as organic must meet strict guidelines. As a rule, ingredients in an organic product must be raised or farmed without using chemical fertilizers and insecticides, and the products must not contain artificial chemical ingredients. Most companies which sell organic products use no artificial colors and fragrances, and use organic preservatives in their products. Most also do not test their products on animals, although shampoo manufacturers obviously use the products on pets to make sure they are safe and effective. Companies which sell organic products also tend to favor re-usable rather than disposable items. Finally, some organic shampoos come in plastic contains that contain PET, rather than the potentially more harmful BPA.

As a rule, "organic" is about a choice for a better and healthier lifestyle.

While every veterinarian has his own favorite brand of shampoos, I recommend trying to find an organic shampoo that can be used frequently. In general, organic shampoos are safer for the environment, cost-effective, and are formulated to be gentle for your pet. They can be used regularly with confidence, to keep your pet and all your family members healthy.

Check out my full-line of Dr. Shawn's organic pet shampoos that I've created.




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