Seven Tips for Giving Your Dog a Medicated Bath

Bathing can play a key role in managing your dog’s sensitive skin. Depending on your dog’s specific skin problem, your veterinarian may recommend using a medicated shampoo either alone or in conjunction with an oral medication or other therapy.

Knowing the appropriate steps for bathing your dog with a medicated shampoo can help you and your dog get the most benefit from each bath. Here are seven tips on using medicated shampoo to treat your sensitive-skinned dog that have been curated from MedVet’s dermatology service, Indian Prairie Animal Hospital in Aurora, Illinois, and Mesa Northeast Animal Hospital in Mesa, Arizona.

1. Give the skin and coat a good presoak

You’ll want to wet your dog’s entire coat and skin thoroughly. Ideally, let your dog soak in lukewarm water for about 5 minutes before applying any shampoo. Soaking the coat and skin helps to rehydrate the top layer of skin and loosen any scales or crusts.

Water temperature is an important part of your pet’s bath, medicated or not. Overly warm or hot water can irritate inflamed or infected skin, while lukewarm to cool water helps soothe skin.

2. Choose and use an appropriate shampoo

Not all shampoos are created equal. This applies to any shampoo you use on your dog, not just to medicated shampoos.

Canine skin is typically more sensitive than human skin as a result of differences in the thickness of the outermost layer (called the stratum corneum), skin pH and density of hair follicles. Consequently, it’s important to use a dog-specific (or pet-specific) shampoo and not a human formula.

If your dog’s skin is dirty, you can use a shampoo for routine bathing first to remove dirt and debris, including skin oils and cells, pollen, bacteria, yeast and mold spores. A thorough rinsing will be important prior to using the medicated shampoo. Clean skin enables better contact with the active ingredients in the medicated shampoo you’ll use next.

You’ll want to use a high-quality medicated shampoo that’s made specifically for dogs and recommended by your veterinarian for your dog’s particular skin condition. Many medicated shampoos are available, but not all of them may be appropriate for your dog’s current skin problem. The wrong shampoo may not be potent enough to relieve your pet’s symptoms or clinical signs, may be too harsh for irritated skin or may interfere with your pet’s other medications.

3. Follow label directions — and those provided by your veterinarian

Medicated dog shampoos could be just what the veterinarian ordered to relieve your dog’s itching or treat your dog’s skin infection. But they could also contain active ingredients that irritate human skin, stain clothing or remove dyes from fabrics. You may want to wear waterproof gloves as a precaution.

Be sure to read the label directions before bathing your dog with medicated shampoo. You’ll also want to follow your veterinarian’s directions.

4. Lay off lathering and scrubbing

Medicated pet shampoos typically behave differently from routine grooming shampoos. One difference is that medicated shampoos are intended for more frequent use than regular dog shampoos, so they usually don’t contain soap. No soap means no suds. But if you’re not aware of this difference between the two types, you could waste a lot of medicated shampoo trying to work up a good lather.

Gently massage — not scrub — the medicated shampoo into your pet’s skin and coat. Start first with those areas that are irritated, inflamed or sore, using extra care. Then you can bathe the rest of your dog — unless your veterinarian recommends something different. If you follow hair growth patterns, you can avoid unnecessary irritation to the skin and hair follicles.

5. Contact time is critical

Most medicated shampoos need contact time with the skin’s surface to allow the active ingredients to do what they need to do. Standard recommendations for skin contact time range from 5 to 15 minutes for full therapeutic effect. However, this will vary with the specific shampoo, so be sure to check the label of the shampoo you’re using. Consider setting an alarm or kitchen timer to avoid “guesstimating” contact time. To keep you and your dog from clock watching, you can try combining contact time with play time in the bathtub or, if the weather is nice, a quick walk outside.

6. No quick rinses allowed

Use plenty of clean running water to wash away any residual shampoo, rinsing for at least 10 minutes. If left on the skin, traces of medicated shampoo may be irritating — which defeats part of the purpose for using a medicated product in the first place! A thorough rinsing also gives the skin a chance to rehydrate after shampooing.

7. Ditch the dryer

When it comes to dogs with itchy, irritated skin, many veterinary dermatologists recommend towel drying your dog in a warm environment. Warm or hot air from a blow dryer may irritate infected or inflamed skin by raising skin temperature.

The right medicated shampoo may help skin issues

Skin sensitivity or other conditions can require extra care and attention from you to keep your canine companion comfortable and looking his or her best. If you have any questions about what type of shampoo and/or conditioner to use when bathing your dog, be sure to talk with your veterinarian. She or he will be able to prescribe the best medicated shampoo for your dog’s skin issues and make other recommendations to benefit your dog.

RELATED POST: Options That Help an Itchy Dog Stop Scratching

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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