Howard pets: How do I give my dog a "dry bath?"

Q: A friend recommended giving our dog “dry baths” in winter. What is a “dry bath,” and will it be effective at keeping him clean?

A: That’s a great cold-weather question. Over-bathing with shampoo and water can cause problems when the humidity drops and humans are slathering on the hand lotion. Since dogs don’t produce the same amount of oils in their skin as people do, frequent bathing can strip those natural oils essential to healthy canine coats and skin. If dry skin becomes very itchy, constant scratching or biting can open a wound, which may be difficult to heal if your dog keeps fussing at it.

Dry shampoos are powders you apply to your pet’s coat to absorb dirt and grease. They’re easy to use: Just rub the powder into your dog’s fur, wait according to product instructions, then brush it out. You can buy a commercial product, or try a homemade recipe using baking soda or cornstarch. While not as thorough as a wet shampoo bath, dry bath powder is a good cold-weather alternative.

Another useful option is rinseless or waterless shampoo. These are liquid products you spray onto your dog’s coat. When he’s wet, rub your hands through his fur to make a slight lather. Then pat your dog dry with a towel, followed by combing and brushing.

Unless your dog rolls around in dirt and mud, bathing no more than once a month should suffice. If you do give your dog a full bath, avoid using most human shampoos and conditioners, since dogs and humans have a different skin PH (acid-base) balance. Using the wrong shampoo can irritate your pet’s skin and cause severe dandruff. You can try using a mild dish soap like Ivory or Dawn, or Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. When it comes to grooming options, you can always ask your veterinarian to suggest products that will be both effective and easy on your dog’s skin.

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