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How Often Do You Give Your Pet a Bath?

The original question was “how long do you give your pet a bath?” and the answer is: until I get all the soap out of their fur.

A slightly controversial question is, “how often do you give your pet a bath?” The quick and easy answer, of course, is, “as often as he or she needs one!”

How Often Should You Wash Your Cat

But what constitutes “need” in this case? First of all, it’s almost never necessary to wash a cat. Cats are usually pretty good at washing themselves. Of course, if you have a long-haired cat, you will need to brush it pretty regularly to prevent the fur from matting. You may also find yourself doing quick wipe downs of a particularly dirty area, or an area a really fat cat can’t reach. I’m sure you can think of such areas on your own.

However, if your cat really gets filthy dirty, you are going to need to give him or her a bath. Our cat, Ivar, has had exactly two baths in his life, and he is almost seven years old.

One was when he got out of the house (he’s an indoor cat) and hid under the car until we came and rescued him. The car had a pretty serious oil leak, and by the time we found the cat, he had a pretty good coating of dirty motor oil on his fur from lying in the oil slick and having more drip down on him. A bath with grease-cutting dish soap was definitely in his immediate future! He also had a bath a couple of days ago.

Our German Shepherd likes to chew on Ivar, and he’d developed some dog drool mats in his short, thick fur. We’re still brushing him out, and he’s still mad!

How Often Should You Wash Your Dog

Unless your dog is a professional show dog, you do not need to give him or her a bath more than twice a year — again, unless he or she gets really dirty. We have made exceptions to this schedule when Katie, our shepherd mix, used to find deer poop — or worse, beaver poop — to roll in during our walks in a forested park (we also drove home with all the windows down, but that is another story for another time!) 


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Here are some helpful hints to make pet bathing much less traumatic for everyone involved:

Bathe Puppies Early and Often

Puppies are much less likely to grow into bath-phobic adults if you bathe them, even if it’s just dunking them in warm water for a few minutes when they’re six to eight weeks old. Otherwise, bathtime is an emotionally traumatic rodeo!

Our dog Karl was not bathed until he was close to a year old. He was well-socialized in other ways, but apparently never given a bath! It wouldn’t be so bad if he were a 2-pound Maltese, but he’s a 100-pound German Shepherd fighting like hell to get out of the tub!

Use Warm Water

If it feels good and soothing to you, it will feel okay for your pet. You don’t want the water to be too hot or too cold.

Avoid Strawberry-scented Shampoo

Actually, a cat or dog’s skin ph is different from ours, and human soap or shampoo can irritate their skin. Whenever possible, use pet shampoo. That being said, if it’s an emergency, if your little furry darling has just rolled in something really disgusting, use whatever’s in the house! But avoid strawberry-scented human products. There’s something about the combined smell of wet pet and fake strawberry that’s really gross…

Post-skunk Washing

Some dogs have the hair more like our hair, rather than fur. Apparently, white dogs with hair (West Highland White Terrier for one) have a bit of a problem if you try the old wives’ remedy for removing skunk scent from a dog with tomato juice — it stains (dyes) the hair! My friend Thaddeus did this once, and the poor dog was dyed orange until the hair grew out!

Make Sure You Get the Soap Thoroughly Rinsed Out

Again, you’re flirting with serious skin irritation if you don’t.

And above all, expect to get wet, too, and expect to have your beloved furball mad at you for quite a while. Nothing says “I’m sorry” like catnip or a rawhide bone!

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