July 27, 2016

Fido Is a Mess! Learn How Often Should You Bathe a Dog

Do you love your dog but struggle with unwanted pet odor? Pet smells don’t just come from accidents in the house. Dogs often have their own eau de parfum that they were blessed with from nature. There are reasons for this that we will get into in detail in this article, but regardless of the ‘why,’ you need a solution to the problem.

Because dogs are generally very friendly, your hairy companion may be spending a lot of time close to you and to your guests. Letting too much time go by between grooming can result in your whole home smelling a bit like your filthy but much loved friend.

How often should you bathe a dog? There are some guidelines to help you decide on the right bathing schedule for your canine companion. I’m giving you a trigger warning here, however. There will be a lot of funk in this article, complete with descriptions of smells you’d rather not sniff!

Why Do Dogs Smell?

Nobody wants guests to know a pet lives with you before they even get all the way through the door. Some of your friends and family may even suffer from allergies, which makes it even more important to keep your home and dog as hygienic as possible. If you’ve ever wondered why your dog smells, here is a little science to clear up the mystery.

Some of the smells you notice coming off your dog have to do with the way that they sweat. Dogs sweat from their paws primarily, but they also perspire slightly from their hair follicles and their cute, wet noses. This smells a bit like chemicals and is actually specific for each dog. In the canine world, this helps dogs identify each other. Our sense of smell is not strong enough to tell the difference.

Other dog smells waft out from the ears of your dog and from the oils in their skin. The ear scent in particular is often stronger in breeds like cocker spaniels and others with adorable floppy, fold over ears. This dog smell is a bit yeasty, but can be kept at bay with regular grooming and bathing.

When Smells Get Serious

Dangerous ear smells occur when infection or bacteria overgrowth sets in. Be aware of any changes in the smell of your dog, especially its ears. The usual smell will change to become pungent or take on a decaying or even cheesy smell. This is kind of gross, I know, but you asked!

Finally, we have to move deeper into unpleasant smell territory and touch on anal glands. Every dog has anal sacs that release during normal bowel movements. The odor is usually described as ‘musky,’ but it can also smell faintly of skunk. You might also notice a strange odor if your dog is started or very scared.

If the sacs become blocked and stop draining normally, they need to be expressed by a vet or experienced groomer. You may see your dog performing the famous butt rub on the carpet move, or notice a lot of licking at the area. Some vets will teach you to expel the glands yourself, but it’s up to you how intimate you really want to get with your pet.

That Special Wet Dog Odor

Anyone with a dog knows that when the animal is wet, their smell changes. It is difficult to describe but equally hard to miss. The reason for this sudden change in smell has to do with the microorganisms that naturally live on your dog. They have normal life processes just like larger animals, and that means they produce poop.

This excrement is normally overlooked by humans as it subtly and naturally dissipates into the air. When a dog gets wet, the volatile organic compounds in the micro-organism excrement are carried into the air in greater numbers during the evaporation process. That’s why you suddenly smell wet dog. Doesn’t that sound fun!?

Find The Right Bathing Schedule For Your Dog

If your dog has normal skin without any drying conditions, it’s easier to maintain a bath schedule. Your margin for error is much larger. For active dogs, bathing on a weekly schedule is recommended by some. That is the maximum extreme you ever want to go to. Other experts suggest one to three months is plenty.

One reason you don’t want to bathe your dog more than once a week is if you use a topical flea treatment. Topical treatments depend on your dog’s skin oil to properly distribute all over the animal. Parasite treatments taken orally have no impact on how often you can give Fluffy a bath. You don’t want to overdo it either way, however, because it can negatively affect their skin.

Dr. Sherry Weaver recommends using human shampoo or shampoo formulated for children to bathe your dog. She also reports that many people bathe their dog far more often than necessary. Dr. Weaver’s recommendation is to bathe your dog once a month, as she does with her own.

Think about your own hair and skin. If you use a strong soap or wash too frequently in dry weather, things get tight and uncomfortable. It’s the same for your dog.

Allergic Reactions in Dogs

This is a good time to also mention that some dogs have allergies to shampoo and other environmental or food items. Here are some ways to identify if your dog is having an allergic reaction:

  • Itchy, inflamed, moist, or scabby skin
  • Increased scratching or licking
  • Itchy, runny eyes
  • Itchy back or base of tail
  • Itchy ears and ear infections
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Snoring due to throat inflammation
  • Paw chewing or swollen paws

Call your vet right away if your dog experiences any of these symptoms and discontinue use of any product you’ve subjected the dog to. As long as you get proper medical attention, things should work out just fine.

Sedentary Dogs and Bathing

Less active dogs that spend most of their days indoors should stay clean with a bath every three months or so. This is largely up to you and your sense of smell. Some dogs will smell stronger than others, so we’ll talk about some breed specifics a little later.

Dogs with Sensitive Skin

Some dogs who aren’t allergic can still be sensitive to certain products. For dogs that have hot spots or dry patches, look for a gentle cleansing shampoo that is less likely to strip oils from your dog's skin and coat. You can test the shampoo on one area of your pet to be sure it is safe and not irritating to his skin.

A consensus of the information available indicates that bathing should be done anywhere between once a week to once every three months. Take care to observe your dog and how his skin and hair health is to make your own personalized decision. Anywhere in this suggested range should be perfectly safe. If you have concerns, ask your vet’s opinion.

Doggie Conditioner

If you’d like to condition your dog’s coat, you can find products to do the job. Dog conditioners range from basic to special formulas to help keep longer coats detangled. There are herbal based formulas and special conditioners for dogs with sensitive skin.

Many of the commercial dog bathing products on the market have specialized scents. Take a trip to the pet store to try and sniff. This way you will pick a formula that works for your dog and compliments your tastes as well.

Different Schedules for Different Breeds

Dogs with a lot of hair may benefit from more frequent bathing. This includes breeds like spaniels, sheep dogs, collies, and long haired dachshunds. Dirt and debris can become trapped in the hair which could cause your dog irritation and also promote bacteria growth. As we discussed earlier, bacteria equals smell.

If you take your dog to a groomer, asking the groomer’s opinion can also be helpful. This way, you can maintain a proper grooming technique for your dog even when it’s just the two of you.

Other Proper Grooming Methods

Keeping your dog clean goes beyond bathing. There is other routine maintenance you should perform on your dog, not only to keep them hygienic, but also to look for any skin problems or other irregularities on the dog’s body. An added bonus to this routine is that grooming your pet promotes bonding between you and man’s best friend.

Cleaning Your Dog’s Ears

Proper dog health includes their ears. Dogs often are curious and into everything in their environment. This provides opportunities for dirt and other small objects to get into the ear. Cleaning your dog’s ears regularly should be done regardless of the breed or shape of ear.

Dogs have ear canals that are relatively long. They range from 5-10 centimeters in length. This is plenty of space to catch nasty funk. Since they don’t have thumbs, they could really use a hand keeping things tidy in there.

Dogs might also get water in their ears while swimming, which can ultimately lead to infection. Checking and cleaning your dog’s ears after swimming is a great idea. You will be able to stay on top of any issues this way. It’s preventative doggie maintenance.

Ask your vet about the frequency with which you should clean out Spot’s ears. Most experts online recommend you at least check them out once a week.

Following the procedure of the video above, make sure your dog is relaxed and comfortable before you attempt to groom the ears. Obtain ear cleaner formulated for dogs. This is another great time to consult your vet about the best, safest options. They may have a few products right on hand to sell you.

Having some treats handy to use as extra praise for your pooch can help keep the ear cleaning routine running smoothly.

Brush Your Dog Regularly

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Get your dog used to the brushing routine. This can be a time you both enjoy. Include a lot of praise and cuddling while you brush. This way, you are reinforcing your relationship while ensuring that your dog is free of  hair. A side benefit of this is that your house should be a bit less hairy overall.

A bit of internet research can help you find different types of brushes for your dog. Short haired breeds can benefit from a good rub down with a rubber brush that resembles a curry comb used on horses. Long haired breeds may need a shedding brush that will help remove hair in the undercoat.

While you brush, check your dog over for dangerous things like ticks or cracks in their paws. These types of issues can sometimes go unchecked without regular maintenance. Of course, you should also perform a tick check anytime you take your dog for a walk in tall grass or wooded areas.

To Sum Things Up

You want to use some commons sense and the advice from experts to settle on a schedule for bathing and grooming your dog that keeps them clean and fits into your schedule. A nice brushing can easily become a routine after a long walk. This is a good way to signal to your dog that the evening is winding down. Busy working people can set Saturday mornings or Sunday evenings aside as special dog grooming and bonding time.

Keeping your dog bathed on a regular schedule of around once a month is a good compromise as long as their coat is healthy and their skin is in good condition.


Lauren is a young woman with a true passion for animals. She has kept many pets over the years and has intimate knowledge of their needs both emotionally and physically. She loves that her dogs keep her so active and satisfy her desire to spend lots of time in nature.

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