The Vet Is In: The Beauty and Challenge of Bath Day

Dr. Marvin Ordway
By Dr. Marvin Ordway December 15, 2013 13:00

Marv Ordway and HomerBathing your pets not only keeps them clean and sweet-smelling, but reduces hair and dander that can trigger allergic reactions in people.

While most dogs and 99.9 percent of cats are not happy on bath day, treats and kind words can convince many to tolerate it. Dogs and cats can be bathed as often as once a month with a pet shampoo. Human shampoos are very acidic and will remove natural protective oils, causing dry itchy skin.

Besides keeping your house, clothes and car cleaner, bathing removes pollen and dirt from the skin so your pet is less prone to itch. If your pet has dry skin, use a shampoo with aloe or oatmeal, followed by a moisturizing conditioner.

Get your pet used to bathing while it is young. Always use kind words, treats and tepid water – not too hot or cold. Never be harsh or rough or spray your pet in the face.

Before bath time, clip or brush out all matted hair and tangles, and place shampoo and towels nearby.  During the bath, avoid getting water in pets’ ears. Dogs and cats alike hate this, and it can contribute to ear infections. Putting cotton balls in the ears and a finger over the canals helps keep water out.

After the bath, apply ear rinse to dry the ear canal and prevent yeast and bacteria growth. You can buy rinses or make your own from equal parts of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol; just squeeze a small amount into the ear. If your pet has sensitive ears, skip the rubbing alcohol and use a mixture of one part white vinegar to 10 parts water. Use ear rinse weekly to help prevent ear infections.

Cats constantly use their tongue and teeth to keep hair and skin clean, and so need baths less often. But even these fastidious groomers need help sometimes to look and feel their best. They may get into something or be too young, too old or too ill to stay clean.

First, for your own protection, trim the cat’s nails. Then trim matted hair and comb out tangles. Next, firmly hold the nape of your cat’s neck, or attach a harness and short leash to the faucet. I prefer to wet the cat with warm water from a pitcher, avoiding the head and ears, which can usually be cleaned with a damp towel.

If you use a faucet sprayer, keep pressure low. Lather in pet shampoo, then rinse and rinse again – shampoo residue can irritate skin and cause scratching.

Towel dry and comb the cat’s hair while damp to avoid tangles. If your cat has very fine long hair, use a conditioner to help prevent matting. Cuddle and keep your friend warm while drying. If someone in the cat’s human family is allergic, bathing or just rinsing weekly will remove substances that provoke these reactions.

If your dog or cat gets too close to the action end of a skunk and gets sprayed, find a bathtub quickly. Wet your pet down, then apply a mixture of one quart hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda and one teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap; this is typically enough to treat a 40-pound dog. (Tomato juice, by contrast, doesn’t work very well and is very messy.)

Avoid getting this mixture into the eyes, ears or mouth. After a few minutes rinse well, then bathe again with a pet shampoo.

Most birds enjoy bathing, which removes dander, dust and loose feathers, and prevents skin and feathers from drying out. The easiest way: Mist them gently with warm water. Never use soap and never spray the bird’s face.

It may sound like a lot of work for pet guardians – and carries some peril, in the case of water-wary cats – but keeping them clean and sweet-smelling can be a satisfying and even fun part of pet ownership.

Tropical fish owners, of course, have the easiest job of all. Fish thoroughly enjoy the water and never need to be bathed.

Marv Ordway owns Twain Harte Veterinary Hospital.

 Copyright © 2013 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Dr. Marvin Ordway
By Dr. Marvin Ordway December 15, 2013 13:00
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