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Keeping your dog clean is good for his health, and it’s good for your nostrils. But unlike most humans, dogs don’t need frequent bathing, and in fact, giving your dog a bath more than once every six weeks or so can dry out his skin and strip away the healthy oils that keep his coat shiny and healthy. Dogs with double coats should be bathed every three or four months, while those with smooth, short fur can go even longer. Curly haired dogs should be bathed every six weeks to two months. If your dog is wired to roll in anything and everything disgusting, you can bathe him monthly, but be sure to use a very mild shampoo.
Brushing your dog daily or every other day will go a long way toward keeping him clean and smelling sweet. It’ll also help remove loose or matted fur, which can suffocate the skin, and it’ll help distribute natural oils throughout the fur to make him sparkle and shine.
But when it’s time to lather up Fido’s fur to remove weeks’ worth of rolling in questionable substances, choosing the right dog shampoo is essential. You shouldn’t just use any old human shampoo you have lying around, though, because dog skin has a higher pH level than human skin and therefore needs a shampoo with a pH balanced appropriate for dogs.
The “Best” Shampoo for Your Dog Depends on Your Dog
It would be so easy to tell you to go out and buy Acme Brand Dog Shampoo, but just as human hair and skin comes in dry, normal, and oily, so does dog skin and hair. The best shampoo for your dog depends on her coat and skin type and whether she has special needs, such as allergies or a skin condition.
One thing is certain, though: You want to find a dog shampoo that is free of dyes and fragrances. Your dog doesn’t care if the shampoo is ocean blue or pearly white, and we all know that the odors dogs find pleasant are hardly the ones that we’ll find printed on the shampoo bottle. Synthetic fragrances and dyes are harmful, period. They’re harmful to humans and they’re harmful to pets. If you want a shampoo that will leave your dog smelling like he just came in from a lavender patch or an orange grove, add a few drops of essential oil to the bottle or find a shampoo that’s scented with all-natural extracts.
How to Choose the Best Shampoo for Your Dog
Where else would you start your shampoo search but in the dog shampoo aisle at your local pet store? It’s important to choose a shampoo that’s specially formulated for dogs, and you can use this handy guide to pick the best one for your dog’s particular needs.
If your dog is still a puppy…
Choose a shampoo specially made for puppies, which will be milder than those made for adult dogs.
If your dog has normal skin and hair…
Choose a basic, organic shampoo. Those that contain oatmeal, calendula, chamomile, or tea tree oil are mild, safe, and effective.
If your dog has dry skin and hair…
Opt for a conditioning shampoo, which has conditioner built in. You can also choose a basic shampoo with an oatmeal or aloe base, which will soothe dry skin, and buy a separate conditioner. The conditioning shampoo or conditioner should contain emollients like wheat, oat, or silk proteins or safflower or wheat germ oil to help rebuild a dry, damaged coat and moisturize dry skin. You may only need to use a conditioning shampoo in the winter, when the indoor humidity level is particularly low, or you can spring for a conditioning finishing spray for the winter months. Choose a finishing spray that contains a humectant like glycerin to attract and retain moisture.
If your dog’s skin is dry and itchy…
Choose a conditioning shampoo that contains peppermint oil, eucalyptus, or aloe, which will help alleviate the itch and soothe irritated skin.
If your dog has greasy hair…
Skip the conditioner, and choose a shampoo that doesn’t have an oatmeal base, which is naturally moisturizing. Other moisturizing ingredients to avoid include Vitamin E, aloe, honey, and tea tree oil.
If your dog has sensitive skin or allergies…
Go with a hypoallergenic shampoo with ingredients like oat protein, aloe, and hydrocortisone, which are mild and soothing and won’t irritate the skin.
If your dog has mild skin irritation like a rash or minor wound…
Opt for a shampoo formulated for sensitive skin and which also contains an antiseptic ingredient like chlorhexidine, aloe, or goldenseal.
If your dog smells like he just rolled in something dead…
A shampoo with vegetable protein extracts will deodorize him without making him smell like a scratch ‘n’ sniff sticker. While there aren’t any shampoos formulated just for your stinky dog, you can add a few drops of tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, or lavender essential oil to the shampoo to help you quickly forget that he ever smelled like that.
If your dog has white fur…
Don’t use a whitening shampoo that contains bleach or blue dyes! Rife with nasty chemicals like bleach, boron, and peroxide that can irritate her skin and damage her eyes, these shampoos are super extra harsh. Look into special diets for white dogs to help prevent tear staining, and wipe down Whitey with a damp towel each day to help prevent dirt buildup and stains. Just avoid chemical whitening agents like the plague they are.
A Few Shampooing Tips
Even all-natural shampoos can irritate your dog’s eyes, so the number one rule of shampooing your pup is to avoid getting suds in his eyes. Shield his eyes with your hands and tilt his head up while you rinse. Use a handheld sprayer to control the spray more easily.
Protect her ears from water and shampoo as well, or you’ll risk an ear infection. If she has standup ears, cup your hand around them as you rinse to keep water from getting in.
Be sure to brush your dog to remove loose fur and mats, and comb out any tangles before you shampoo. When tangles get wet, they can shrink and pull on your dog’s skin, causing discomfort that he will try to alleviate by clawing at it. If his skin is very tangled, consider taking him to a professional groomer.
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