Smelly and dirty pets can be repulsive to the humans who share the same living space with them. Dogs are notorious for rolling on dead creatures or stinky unmentionable substances, and cats also become filthy from exploring dirty parts of the house or the great outdoors. To restore close contact with their beloved pets, owners may need to intervene by bathing them. Bathing your own pet requires patience, advanced preparation and having the appropriate tools, supplies and products on hand.
Before bathing can be attempted, pets should be accustomed to being handled and brushed on a regular basis. Some folks might take "short cuts" and resort to using pleasantly-scented coat sprays that temporarily mask unpleasant pet odors but must be applied with care. Weekly or more frequent brushing may help to remove dirt and might prevent the need for frequent bathing of some animals. Brushing helps to remove loose hair, tangles and mats. Mat removal for medium to long-coated dogs and cats is necessary before bathing because wet mats will tighten, become much denser and more difficult to remove.
Bathing frequency depends upon climate, the pet's coat and skin condition, and the pet's lifestyle. Dogs that spend time outdoors, hunt or swim will need to be bathed more frequently to remove dirt and other outdoor debris as well as pollutants and harmful bacteria from water exposure. Show dogs and cats are bathed prior to their competition events to look their best. Therapy dogs are required to be bathed just before visiting nursing homes, and hospitals because they may be coming into contact with people who have compromised immune systems.
Human shampoos (including baby) and flea shampoos may be too harsh for some pets and might trigger allergic reactions or damage the pet's skin, eyes and coat. Shampoos and coat rinses manufactured for pets are recommended and include tearless formulas as well as shampoos for different coat textures or colors. Some pets may have skin disorders requiring therapeutic products that can be purchased from veterinarians.
Bathing best takes place in a confined and heated area such as a bathroom or basement to prevent the pet from becoming chilled or escaping. A bathtub with a shower massage attachment or long hose may be suitable for medium to large dogs. A kitchen or basement sink with a hose or spray attachment works well for bathing cats or small dogs. Hoses permit thorough rinsing of those hard-to-reach parts of a pet's body: armpits, belly, and between the hind legs. Outdoor bathing may take place on warm days for those owners willing to get wet with their pets.
•Set the thermostat or room heater to a warmer temperature to prevent chilling.
•Assemble and place all supplies and equipment within reach of the tub or sink: treats, cotton balls, eye ointment, shampoo, conditioner/crème rinse, wash cloths ((for face), clean towels, slicker brush, metal comb, non-slippery grooming surface or table, and unplugged hair dryer.
•Allow your pet to relieve himself before bathing.
•Place the pet on the grooming surface and remove all mats by applying a coat detangling product and use the metal comb starting from the edge of mat and gently loosening and separating the hairs (can be a tedious task).
•Adjust water temperature to a lukewarm setting.
•Gently place pet into the tub
•Give treats, speak calmly and play quiet music throughout the bathing process.
•Apply eye ointment to protect the pet's eyes from shampoo irritation.
•Gently insert cotton balls into the pet's ears to prevent water from entering the ear canals.
•Slowly and thoroughly wet the pet's body (a cat's face that can be wiped with a damp wash cloth with diluted shampoo and then rinsed to remove shampoo traces).
•Apply and work the shampoo into a lather following the manufacturer's directions especially if dilution is required.
•Rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of shampoo.
•Apply crème rinse/conditioner (if needed) and leave on the pet's coat according to the product's directions and rinse thoroughly.
•Remove cotton balls from ears.
•Wrap the pet in a towel and gently massage dry. Repeat using additional towels for large or heavily-coated animals. Dogs will likely shake themselves and try to dry themselves against the body of the bather!
•Place the pet on the non-slippery grooming surface/table.
•Use the slicker brush and metal comb to smooth out the pet's coat and to remove tangles.
•Insert fresh cotton balls into the ears to muffle the sound of the hairdryer.
•Plug in and set the hairdryer to a room temperature (low) setting to prevent burning the pet's skin or damaging the coat.
•For a flatter smooth coat, point the hairdryer in the direction the coat grows. For a fluffier coat, aim the dryer against the coat's growth direction.
•Dry thoroughly and brush as needed. Remove the cotton balls from the pet's ears.
Itching may occur after a bath, but may be an allergic reaction to shampoo or other grooming products so additional rinsing may be needed.
After a bath, dogs usually feel invigorated, race around the house or yard, shake, sneeze and eagerly roll into something disgusting again! Cats may feel insulted by your efforts and resort to finishing the job by licking themselves!
If pet bathing is too difficult to perform be aware that professional groomers can do the job.
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Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.