How to Safely Shampoo a Dog Who Has a Skin Condition

Improper shampooing can cause bad skin reactions; groomer Jenn Shaw has pro tips.

Heather Marcoux  |  Oct 10th 2014


Dirty dogs need to get clean, but when your dog suffers from a skin condition, the last thing you want to do is soap him up with something that might banish the dirt but bring on the itchy dandruff.

When we adopted GhostBuster he suffered from a yeast problem, and our vet prescribed a special anti-fungal shampoo and instructed us to bathe him every other day. After our pup finished his course of this special soap, we weren’t quite sure how often we should be sudsing him up, so we turned to Jenn Shaw, owner of Tall Tails Grooming in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, for some shampoo advice.

“Try not to bathe your dog’s body more frequently than every three to four weeks so that the natural oils in the skin and coat can generate proper growth of hair and keep the skin from drying out,” explains Shaw.

I’ve been happy to reduce the frequency of GhostBuster’s bathings, as getting the medicated lather rinsed out wasn’t always easy, and I stressed over whether we were making GhostBuster’s skin problems even worse.

“Improper shampooing can cause allergic reactions when a harsh shampoo is used or not rinsed out completely,” explains Shaw. She suggests a gentle, tearless dog shampoo for at home use, as these formulas are best for preventing allergic reactions or eye infections.

“If your pet has dry skin, a conditioner can help prevent dander and shedding but will require more thorough rinsing,” explains Shaw. “Rinse until you think you’re done, and then rinse again.”

While proper rinsing prevents skin reactions, all that water can become problematic for a pup’s ears.

“Keep water out of the ears by being careful about where you’re washing, or putting a piece of cotton ball in the ear opening until after the bath to prevent ear infections,” says Shaw, who adds that thorough drying is also very important in preventing skin infections (and hypothermia in winter months).

While skin conditions are a huge concern when it comes to shampooing your dog, Shaw says owners really need to consider the dog’s whole body before beginning the bathing process. She suggests people become acquainted with a dog’s anatomy, structure and health conditions before attempting to bathe the pet.

“They have a different range of motion than people and stretching or twisting a leg too far in the wrong direction while your pet is struggling can cause strains or tendon tears and even dislocated joints in some breeds.”

Brushing your dog’s hair is an important part of a grooming routine, with some dogs requiring a brushing before they even get wet. Unfortunately, overzealous (if well-meaning) brushings can cause health issues. “Some brushes, when used repeatedly with too much pressure over the same areas on your dog, can cause ‘brush burn’ or scrapes on the skin,” explains Shaw. “These areas can become bruised and infected and will require a vet’s attention.”

The last thing I want to do right now is make my itchy dog’s skin conditions worse, so I’m going very gentle with the brushing and am leaving the shampooing to the professional.

Shaw suggests if owners notice any skin conditions that develop after a professional groom, a phone call is in order. “Your groomer will appreciate a call so they can record your pet’s skin sensitivity and will then ensure that a different shampoo or brush is used for the next groom so that the same problem doesn’t arise again.”

How do you shampoo your dog? Any special tricks to your lather-rinse-repeat routine? Let us know in the comments.

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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +