Friday, July 08, 2016

Wash Your Dog for Healthy Canine Skin

I have had terriers for 45 years and, with one or two small and very short-lived exceptions, I have never had a dog with itchy skin. 

Why is that? 

I chalk it up to two simple factors:

  1. I prefer mutts, cross-breeds, and unregistered dogs. 
    One of the main reasons we have a lot of skin problems in dogs, and especially terriers, is that most show dogs are heavily inbred and, as a consequence, they have weak immune systems and more allergies.
  2. I wash my dogs every week. 
    I have always washed my dogs once a week, and you should too.  You have heard that washing your dog is "bad" for the dog?  Nonsense.  A dog wants to be clean and it deserves to be clean. You wash yourself at least once a week, right?  Do the same for the dog.  If you are worried about keeping your dog's coat shiny for shows, please grow up and get a life.  A dog does not want a ribbon -- its want to be free of itch.

So why do dogs get itchy skin? 

There's a lot of veterinary mumbo jumbo on that score, but let's cut to the chase and lump up the three factors:

  1. Weak immune system and auto-immune disorders. 
    Dogs can get allergic to pollen and even to their own dandruff, which is one reason you want to wash your dog -- to reduce pollen and dander as well as dirt. Yes, some dogs have food allergies, but this is much less common than most people think, and the most common diet-based allergy in dogs is not to corn or wheat, but to beef.  If your dog has seasonal hotspots, it is almost certainly not due to a food allergy, but to a reaction to pollen, dander, and fleas.

  2. Allergies to fleas, mites, ticks, and mosquitoes. 
    Flea bite dermititis is common, and it only takes one or two fleas for a dog with a weak immune system to go a little nuts.  One reason to wash your dog with flea shampoo once a week in spring, summer and fall, is to make sure your dog harbors few or no fleas, mites, or ticks. 

  3. Dogs have too much hair these days
    Air circulation over the coat and the skin helps cut down on fungus infections. When thick hair is combined with poor hygiene (too little bathing and too little combing), the ground is set for canine skin trouble.  Again, washing your dog and combing out the under-thatch at least once a week will solve a lot of problems.

Do you need a special shampoo to wash your dog? 


The folks who claim otherwise are marketing nonsense or repeating old wives tales.  If a shampoo is gentle enough to be used on a human head once a day, it's fine for a dog once a week!

In cold-weather months, when fleas and ticks are not much of an issue, use the cheapest shampoo you can find at the grocery store.  I get Suave at about $1 a bottle, and it works fine.  Expensive non-medicated dog shampoos are all hype and marketing.  Save your money.

In summer, I use an off-the-shelf pyrethrin-based flea and tick shampoo ($4.00 a bottle on the Internet and $7 at the store), and I make sure to lather well around the ears and neck, and around the dog's vent area. 

Pyrethrin is a very safe, old, and natural insecticide made from Chrysanthemum flowers, and pyrethrin-based shampoos are famously effective at killing fleas and ticks. In doses too small to kill fleas and ticks, pyrethrin repels them, and the the active ingredient is biodegradable as well.  The US Department of Agriculture says pyrethrins are "probably the safest of all insecticides" and has approved their use around foodstuffs and at food plants. 

Killing fleas, airing and brushing the coat, and getting rid of the dirt, dander and pollen on your dog, are all key to keeping your dog's skin healthy and happy.

Do you already have a dog with itchy skin, aka a "hot spot"?

If it's a seasonal hot spot, as is so often the case, then it almost certainly has nothing to do with a food allergy, and is more likely to be due to pollen, dander and (especially) fleas. 

Wash your dog, treat for fleas, and knock down the initial itchiness with a dose of benadryl (2 mg or less per pound), and things should sort themselves out fairly quickly.

After the fleas are gone from the dog, and eliminated from its bedding as well, I generally recommend washing dogs that have skin problems with a human dandruff shampoo like Selsun Blue

If the seasonal hot spot problem continues (probably due to pollen) the dog should also get dosed with benadryl (up to to 2 mg per pound of dog, every 12 hours) to reduce itching.  Remember:  people take benadryl for their allergies all the time, and dogs can take it too if it is administered in the proper dose (not for cats!).  For terriers, the 25 mg. benadryl caplets sold at Walgreen's as a "sleep aid" for humans are just about perfect.

Of course not all "hot spots" can be eliminated with a good shampooing alone.  There is a chance your dog might have a fungal skin infection, aka, "ring worm."

The cheap over-the-counter remedy here is to treat the red or balding areas with a topic fungal ointment like Tenactin or its generic equivalent. Rub it into the root of the hair and the skin. This ointment is the same ointment used to treat athlete's foot and jock itch, and is sold at any pharmacy or grocery store for about $7 a tube.

Another step that may be necessary, especially if the dog has already rubbed the skin raw, is to dose the dog with an antibiotic like cephalexin (sold without prescription as "Fishflex") until the skin heals up.  A 7-day course of antibiotics will help the dog "attack the attacker" from the inside, as well as the outside.

If you suspect mange, wash the dog and bedding with a pythrethin-shampoo, and dose the dog at the mange site with a dilute (.05 percent) solution of Ivermectin as well. 


geonni banner said...

Gotta disagree on some of this. Once a week? Yikes! Maybe terriers are different - especially those that get really grimy in underground battles with large rodents.
I am lucky enough to have a "teflon-coated" (and very little undercoat - unlike the Golden retrievers in tuxeddos that the AKC is peddling) Border Collie. She will be 5 in June and has had 4 or 5 baths in all that time, twice in a bathtub inside, and the rest with a hose in the yard. She is always sweet-smelling and shiny. The only time she ever smells is if she rolls in something foul. Usually toweling it and then waiting a couple hours for it to dry thoroughly then brushing it will remove all traces of smell. (Except for one memorable time she found a nice big puddle of raw sewage near our water-treatment plant. That required a shampoo-rinse-repeat treatment. I just use whatever shampoo I'm using if shampoo is needed.

PBurns said...

If it's working for you and the dog, then carry on! No problem there!

I email and questions pretty regularly from people who have dogs with skin problems. I ask two questions every time: "Are you washing the dog?": Answer: No. My response: "Wash your dog!" Washing your dog is especially helpful in cases where the dog is allergic to pollen and dander (a primary cause of seasonal hot spots). If your dog does not have a pollen and dander problem, it may not benefit from regular washing as much. But see below, because... fleas!

My second quesiton is: "What are you doing about fleas?" The answer (invariably) is: "I use Frontline." Right. Frontline does not prevent flea eggs and larvae from developing and it's slow, taking 24-48 hours to kill off fleas. The result is that a dog can get reinfected with fleas and itch like crazy -- why they made "Frontline Plus" which only helps a bit more than Frontline. An old-fashion pyerethrin dip or shampoo will kill fleas, ticks, eggs and larvae immediatly, and cause them to stay off for a week or more. Frontline and Frontline Plus work for a lot of people, but if you have a dog with "hot spots," my advice is to dump the Frontline and start weekly pyrethrin shampoos. It certainly cannot hurt, and I find it fixes a lot of problems.

Finally, dogs with really serious skin problems may need benadryl all pollen season. Not all dogs are that sensitive, and most cannot get by with just a weekly bath, but each dog is its own genetic wonderland.

Richard Gilbert said...

Thanks for this incredibly useful post. I have always had the vague feeling that over-washing was bad. But my dog needs bathing at least every couple of months, clearly. My compromise may be once a month, my reality every couple of months--better than I've been doing.

Jescargill said...

I encountered my first hot spot recently, in a young pup shedding through his first winter's coat. I assumed that since he is very short coated, I didn't need to constantly remove the blowing undercoat like I do for my aussie/heeler girl.

WRONG. I feel terrible about it, too.

You know what assuming does . . . so, I'll pass this along - a dog with ANY double coat should be groomed extensively, no matter the length.

Poor guy looks like an old carpet - I shaved the areas and treated them with betadine.

I use Adams spray with Precor in it because we have so many pyrethin resistant fleas in the area brought in by rabbits and donated to the rabbits by outdoor-kept cats. It's tempting to use a pill-form anti flea medicine, but I'm really oogy about doing that because you're poisoning your dog.

I like the tips on bathing. Plus, who likes stinky pups?

tuffy said...

vet here-
just wanted to add a couple things:
1) the reason your dog with no skin infections doesn't smell if you don't bathe them often (and that's ok if no issues) is that dogs don't have sweat glands in their skin like humans do.
unlike humans, they also have a haircoat that tends to let dirt and such 'slide away'--this is especially prominent in some breeds more than others.
2) fleas live in the environment, not on your dog. they only go on your dog to eat, poop, and possibly lay an egg or two--so it's really helpful to treat the environment and bedding as well as your dog if you want to eliminate a flea problem completely. also, fleas don't live well under 50 degrees F, so that's helpful for the outdoor environment if you live in cooler climes.

BhootNath said...

Thanks for this excellent post Mr. burns.

Is this Benadryl, the same used as a cough syrup?


PBurns said...

Stick with the pill form of benadryl and split as needed according to canine weight-- it's over the counter and cheap. Cough syrup is mostly alcohol and expectorant.