Q: This summer, I’ve noticed my dog’s skin seems drier and flakier than usual. Is it okay to bathe her with shampoo meant for humans? If not, do you recommend a particular shampoo that addresses this issue? And, how often can I safely give my dog a bath?
A: Many pet shampoos tend to be oatmeal-based and perfume free, making them less likely to be rough on an anmial’s skin and less antigenic in nature. If you do wash a dog or cat using shampoo meant for humans, an excellent rule of thumb is to choose one designed for children. These shampoos and conditioners tend to be milder than those intended for adults.
A primary consideration when choosing an appropriate pet shampoo is whether or not a specific health issue (fleas, atopy, bacteria, yeast, etc.) is being addressed, and whether or not the shampoo plays a role in the its treatment, as may be the case with your dog’s dry skin. Shampoo can be anti-ectoparasitic, antibacterial, antifungal, may serve to strengthen the skin, or any combination of these things. When a health issue is being addressed, I always recommend consulting with your veterinarian in order to choose a product that is appropriate to the issue.
Regarding frequency, unless an animal has a specific dermatologic health issue for which it’s currently being treated, bathing your animal no more than once a month is best. An animal’s skin (the integument) is its largest organ, and the skin’s primary function is to protect. Washing an animal can reduce and even remove very important proteins (phytostignines) that comprise part of the dermal matrix. If these matrices are removed, so too is an element of the skin’s protective function, potentially making an animal more susceptible to environmental allergens, a condition known as atopy.