Q: Could you please settle something once and for all? How often do pets need to be bathed? My dogs hate it so I almost never do it and I’ve never actually bathed my cat. My boyfriend thinks this is gross. Am I as bad an owner as he says?
A: It’s really not that hard to do but somehow we aren’t always keen to bathe our pets, given that they might prefer to skip the experience. But most actually quite like it if they’re introduced to it as a fun and rewarding activity.
Plus, it’s easy: Lather, rinse and repeat as needed on a regular basis. Nothing much to it. But you’ve hit upon a common question: How much is as needed?
The truth is that the need for bathing is highly variable. In fact, some pets rarely need bathing, if at all. Some pets can even live lives that are nearly shampoo free.
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After all, dirt baths are highly effective for dogs. Using fine sand and clean soil to stimulate hair follicles and lift out debris can be extremely cleansing for dogs who are granted this opportunity. And when it comes to cats, it’s clear that their sandpapery tongue is truly one of nature’s grandest miracles.
Given these natural cleansing techniques, soap-and-water baths aren’t strictly necessary for all dogs and cats. But considering that they live inside our homes and may not have coats that are easily amenable to these natural approaches (poodles, for example), some amount of washing may be in order.
But, again, this is highly variable. My shepherd, for example, rarely needs baths (once every six months?). Meanwhile, my pug will get stinky if he’s not bathed at least every couple of weeks.
Then there’s the issue of brushing: Increasing the frequency of brushing can decrease the need for bathing tremendously by loosening and lifting out any dirt and debris. Which is why a well-brushed Labrador retriever who swims in the pool occasionally can manage to almost never need a traditional bath.
But that doesn’t mean that frequent bathing is necessarily bad. Indeed, some pets require almost daily bathing to help manage their skin conditions. And even for those who don’t have healthcare concerns, bathing weekly (or even more often) isn’t always discouraged — not as long as the right shampoo is selected. Soap-free shampoos are great for this, but ask your veterinarian for a suggestion.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.