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How to Give a Dog a Medicated Bath (Step-by-Step and FAQ)

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Medicated baths can be extremely effective for dogs with skin conditions, but only when done right.

Medicated baths can be extremely effective for dogs with skin conditions, but only when done right.

Medicated Baths for Seborrhea, Pyoderma, Yeast, and Other Skin Diseases

With the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, many veterinarians now recommend that dogs be treated topically instead of taking pills. If your dog is crusty, greasy, dry, or even has infected skin, they may benefit from a medicated bath.

What Is a Medicated Bath?

A medicated bath is a special kind of bath you give your dog to treat a skin problem. Some kinds of shampoo are prescribed by your vet. Other times, you can look at your dog and figure out which shampoo they need on your own (more on that below).

How to Give Your Dog a Medicated Bath

For your dog to get the best effects from a medicated bath, it's important to follow the right steps.

1. Get Your Materials Ready

Put a no-slip mat down in the bathtub (or do this outside if you have a big dog and it is warm), run the warm or lukewarm water into the bathtub, rubber gloves, ophthalmic ointment, a tube of surgical or ky gel, medicated shampoo, timer, an extra bucket of warm water, towels.

2. Bring Your Dog to the Bathroom and Close the Door

This prevents a lot of escapes. Groomers will use short leashes to tie the dog into the bathtub, but if you attach them to a shower bar at home and they get excited, they might end up ripping it out of the wall.

Just closing the door is enough to keep many dogs calm.

3. Apply Ophthalmic Ointment to Your Dog's Eyes

Applying ophthalmic ointment to your dog's eyes prevents shampoo from getting into them. The ointment has to go on top of the eye, so you may need to ask a vet technician or groomer how to apply it the first time.

You will need to pull down the lower lid and squeeze out about one-quarter inch of the artificial tears to keep the shampoo from irritating your dog.

4. Put on Your Gloves Before Shampooing Your Dog

Some people develop rashes from the medicated shampoo, but this is very easily prevented.

5. Cover Deep Scratches

Apply surgical ointment or KY gel to deep scratches. If your dog has an allergy or infection and has been scratching a lot, the shampoo might irritate him and delay healing even further. Put a little ointment on any deep scratches and wipe it off after the bath is finished.

6. Wet Your Dog Thoroughly

Be sure to wet down the whole body so that the water is in contact with all of the skin. If your bath has a hand-held shower attachment, this is much easier, but some dogs do not like the attachment and will need to be wet down with a cup or bowl.

7. Massage the Skin Before Using Shampoo

If your dog is not too sensitive and inflamed, you can use your fingertips to loosen up any flaky skin. The shampoo will work a lot better if it comes into contact with the surface below.

8. Apply Regular Shampoo (If Needed) Before the Medicated Shampoo

You will not need to do this every time, but if your dog has been rolling in the dirt or mud since his last medicated bath, it might be necessary. Any shampoo will do to remove the dirt, or you can just apply plain water, but it does take longer.

9. Apply the Medicated Shampoo

You have to use enough shampoo to reach all of the affected skin. It may seem like a lot since some of the medicated shampoos do not lather up like regular shampoos.

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10. Massage the Skin and Work the Shampoo in Thoroughly

You can just use your fingers for the massage, but be sure to reach underneath the legs, the belly, and at the bottom of the neck.

11. Set a Timer to Ensure the Shampoo Sits Long Enough

The shampoo needs to be in contact with the dog's skin for at least 10 to 15 minutes for them to respond. There are things you can do while the time passes, like brushing.

12. Brush (If Possible) While the Shampoo Soaks In

Not all dogs will want to stand there and allow this, but if possible, you can use the brush to massage the skin as the shampoo is in contact with your dog.

13. Drain the Tub

You will be getting rid of the shampoo, dirt, and bacteria-infected water.

14. Rinse

I like to rinse my dogs with clean water so I do not use the water from the tub. This is the time to use the water from the bucket you brought in, but if it is not enough to remove all of the shampoo from your dog, fill it up again.

15. Gently Towel Dry

You do not want to rub your dog so hard that it irritates the skin, just enough to remove the excess water. Groomers will use blow dryers to help the coat look soft, but it is not a good idea with a medicated bath since the heat might irritate the skin.

16. Apply Medicated Mousse or Conditioner

Coconut oil and coconut oil-based products work well for dogs with dry skin. Dogs with greasy skin may not need a moisturizer. (More on this below.)

What Shampoos Work Best for Dogs With Skin Problems?

You can buy medicated shampoos at large pet stores and on the internet that work as well as those that you can purchase from your vet.

  1. Skin Infection (Pyoderma): Skin infections used to be treated with oral antibiotics, but now that there are more resistant strains around, topical therapy is recommended. The medicated shampoo most likely to help all bacterial skin infections is chlorhexidine. Dogs need to be bathed twice a week for about a month, but according to some research, this therapy is as effective as oral antibiotics. (1)
  2. Greasy Skin (Seborrhea oleosa): A lot of things can cause a dog to have greasy skin (genetics, nutrition, parasites, etc.), and for that reason, there are many shampoos that claim to be effective for this complex of diseases. One of the shampoos that appears to be working, however, even in chronic cases that have not responded to other therapies, is a French product called Douxo. (2) Dogs do need to be bathed every 2 or 3 days for about 3 weeks. If this is a chronic condition, you might need to give baths for longer, up to 12 weeks, but if not responding, it is better for the dog to be examined by your vet and checked for other possible causes.
  3. Dry Skin (Seborrhea sicca): If your dog has dry skin, a bath will help, but there are other things going on. Many things can help, like using a moisturizer and changing the diet, but if your dog does not respond to these therapies, they might have low thyroid hormones and need supplements. Dogs might only need one bath if it is followed with a moisturizer.
  4. Yeast (Malassezia dermatitis): There are several ideas on how to treat this skin problem, mainly because nothing always works. Conventional veterinarians will prescribe a medicated shampoo with an antifungal medication like 2% miconazole and 2% chlorhexidine, whereas holistic veterinarians are more likely to use a shampoo to treat the excessive waxy buildup and use a natural product like apple cider vinegar to kill the yeast. Both shampoos need to be used a few times per week for 2 to 4 weeks.

How Long Does It Take for Medicated Shampoo to Work?

The number of times you need to treat your dog will vary, anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks. If you have used the medicated shampoo for several weeks but are not seeing any response (or if the dog is getting worse), you need to consult with a veterinarian.

How Often Should I Give My Dog a Medicated Bath?

The frequency of bathing will vary a lot depending on what is going on. If a dog has very oily skin, they will need a bath about every 3 days. For a dog with dry skin, it may only be once a month.

What Is the Best Moisturizer After a Medicated Bath?

After the medicated bath is finished, your dog will sometimes be too dry. Sometimes this is a good thing, like for a dog that is prone to develop greasy skin (seborrhea oleosa). If your dog already had dry skin before the bath, though, a moisturizer can help:

  • Coconut Oil: Pure coconut oil is probably the best conditioner for dogs with skin disease. Coconut oil has high levels of vitamins and antioxidants, so besides moisturizing the skin superficially, it also improves the skin by improving the skin's environment for the beneficial bacteria. (3) You can apply plenty of it, enough to moisten your dog's skin, but it is a good idea to do it outside since the dog will rub it off on the carpet. If your dog licks off the excess, it is not going to hurt your dog, but some will have loose stools afterward.
  • Douxo Mousse: After a medicated bath, this mousse is applied to keep the skin healthy and reduce inflammation. (4) It contains phytosphingosine, a type of fat (ceramide) that is also used to treat people with eczema. It should be applied after every bath to any of the areas that do not look normal.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: The bacterial population (microbiome) of an allergic dog's skin has a different population than a healthy dog (5), so organic ACV might help. There is no proof that this works as a conditioner, and all vinegars are acidic and sting inflamed skin. If your dog is very red and irritated after the bath, only use the coconut oil.
  • There are also coconut oil mixtures that contain other moisturizing products like papaya and oatmeal. Some of them might be superior to coconut oil alone, but so far there is no proof.

What Home Remedies Can I Use to Bathe My Dog?

If your dog is itchy but has not developed a bacterial or yeast infection, it is fine to give them a medicated bath with colloidal oatmeal.

How to Make Colloidal Oatmeal Shampoo

Blend the following ingredients into a paste:

  • 1 cup of oatmeal (blend it as fine as possible in your blender or food processor while still dry)
  • 1 vitamin E capsule
  • 4 drops of eucalyptus essential oil (optional, do not use if the skin is scratched up). It has anti-inflammatory properties, so it might also help with the itching.
  • 1 cup of water

Follow the same steps as listed above, and leave the shampoo on your dog for at least 10 minutes. If the skin is just irritated from allergies, your dog will feel a lot better after a colloidal oatmeal bath.

NO homemade shampoo is going to work if your dog already has a bacterial infection (pyoderma) or has developed a yeast infection.

What If My Dog Is Not Getting Better After the Medicated Baths?

There are a lot of underlying skin diseases that can cause thickened skin, seborrhea, and even a secondary yeast infection. If your dog does not respond to the medicated baths, you need to take them to your regular vet or a veterinary dermatologist to check the thyroid gland, have the skin scraped and biopsied, and have the blood and endocrine system evaluated.

Sources

  1. Borio S, Colombo S, La Rosa G, et al. Effectiveness of a combined (4% chlorhexidine digluconate shampoo and solution) protocol in MRS and non-MRS canine superficial pyoderma: a randomized, blinded, antibiotic-controlled study. Vet Dermatol 2015;26:339-345. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/vde.12233
  2. Gatellet, M, Ahman, S., Bruet, V., Cadot, P.M, Mueller, R.S., Noli, C., Nuttall, T., Ollivier, E., Blondel, T., and Savelli, N. Performance of a combined application of ophytrium-containing shampoo and mousse in dogs with sensitive skin: A European field trial. (2020), Abstracts. Vet. Dermatol., p 32. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/vde.12907
  3. Shilling M, Matt L, Rubin E, Visitacion MP, Haller NA, Grey SF, Woolverton CJ. Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile. J Med Food. 2013 Dec;16(12):1079-85. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24328700/
  4. Pin D, Bekrich M, Fantini O, Noel G, Vidémont E. An emulsion restores the skin barrier by decreasing the skin pH and inflammation in a canine experimental model. J Comp Pathol. 2014 Aug-Oct;151(2-3):244-54. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24975893/
  5. Rodrigues Hoffmann A, Patterson AP, Diesel A, Lawhon SD, Ly HJ, Elkins Stephenson C, Mansell J, Steiner JM, Dowd SE, Olivry T, Suchodolski JS. The skin microbiome in healthy and allergic dogs. PLoS One. 2014 Jan 8;9(1):e83197. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3885435/

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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