The Gentle Art of the Bath

The bath is important for pets that spend lots of time outside. Learn good time- and money-saving bathing principles with our bath guide.

As the year rolls away from winter, it tends to pick up some dirt along the way!  Spring cleaning often includes a plunge in soapsuds for your furry companion.  Bathing can free your pet’s hair of dirt, pests, and loose fur.  Unfortunately, some soaps can strip the valuable oils from your pet’s fur and leave its skin too dry. Good bathing principles can save you a lot of time and money as you and your pets get more active out-of-doors. 

To properly bathe a pet, think of the task in sections: before bathing, during bathing, and after bathing.  Then break these down into manageable steps.  You are more likely to remember all of your materials, get the job done faster, and cause less stress to your pet when you have a plan.

Tips for Bath Preparation

Consider your pet

How does your pet feel about bathing?  If they are okay with it – yay!  If not, you might want to do some desensitization work around their fears/dislike.  Things you can try:

  • Feed treats to pet while pet is in the bathtub.
  • Feed pet their meals in the bathtub and around grooming tools.
  • Try turning the bathwater on in a way that doesn’t touch your pet and offer a high-value treat.
  • If your pet has a time-limit of tolerance for bathing, don’t feel you have to do everything at once.  You can stretch bathing out over several sessions if that works better for your pet.

Select the right Grooming Tools

Every pet is different.  A Maine Coon cat is going to require a different approach and different tools than a Dalmatian dog.  Get professional advice when you go shopping for grooming tools.  A short-haired dog may only require a hound glove (glove fitted to the hand with short, stiff bristles that pull out shed hair) while a long-haired cat benefits from a slicker brush (brush with bent wire bristles that pull out thick/long shed hair).

Frequency of bathing depends on the pet as well.  With a very mild pet soap or shampoo, many dogs and cats can be bathed regularly if required. However, pets like rabbits should not be bathed very often, intensely, or at all if it can be avoided. Consult your veterinarian and your groomer for recommended frequency and what kinds of soaps and hair treatments are recommended.

Gather your Materials

No matter what pet you are bathing, they will benefit from these materials:

  • Towels
  • Washcloth for face and head washing
  • Appropriate pet soap/shampoo and conditioner
  • Suitable grooming tools
  • Non-slip mat for the bottom of the tub or sink
  • Plenty of towels around the tub or sink to soak up water the pet might shake off
  • Hose or pitcher for soaking the pet’s fur
  • Low and high-value treats in a container you can put within easy reach

Depending on the pet, you might find having a harness or collar to keep them from lunging out of the tub might be useful.  You may also want to patronize one of the ‘U-Wash’ facilities that are growing in popularity, which have leash attachments, pet-specific products, and grooming tools.

Lay It Out

Put all your tools out close at hand!  There’s nothing worse in the middle of a bath than finding out that you’ve laid your materials a little too far away to reach.  Put a small table next to the tub or sink to hold your things so they don’t spend the time balancing precariously on the side of the tub or propped on the sink.  It’s good to have an order, from first thing you’re using to the last.  As you finish using something, having a carryall that you can dump it into is a great way to keep things organized for the next time.

Brush Before Or After?

Brushing beforehand can help detangle before the bath happens, so it’s not a bad idea.  Shedding coats can be helped along with a bath and a dryer can blow a bunch of that troublesome coat right out without you having to touch it with a brush.  Too, if you’re dealing with a lot of tangles, you might want to wash and condition some of the dirt and tangles out before trying to get through it with a comb.

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Tips for Bath Time

Having a System

Figure out what you have to tackle and focus on one thing at a time.  Front-to-back is a popular way of ensuring you don’t miss anything.  Or, you might want to take on the most challenging part of the bath if, say, your pet has difficult tangles.

Remember:

Face

  • Nose   
  • Mouth
  • Teeth
  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Folds or wrinkles

Neck

Chest

Back

Legs

  • Armpits
  • Inner thighs
  • Fur on the backs of legs

Feet

  • Toes

Belly

Genitalia

Tail

Anal area

Getting into the Tub

  • The less stress the better: don’t clue your pet in beforehand
  • Run the water before your pet goes anywhere near the tub. 
  • Check the temperature.  It should be room temperature or thereabouts.  What is warm for a human being is too warm for most pets.
  • If you’re using a hose and nozzle, check the water pressure and the setting.
  • Put your non-skid mat or platform down before your pet gets into the tub. 
  • Immediately secure your pet if you have that option.  Offer treats, see if it will take them (some won’t if this is very stressful for them)

Lather Them Up

Many pet shampoos are on the concentrated side, so you can sometimes stretch them out with up to half-and-half water, depending on the shampoo.  (For shampoos sold as concentrates and those supplied as medication for a skin condition, do follow the instructions on the bottle).  Get a good lather up, but not so much that there’s more soap than fur.  Don’t forget all the inner bits and spots, even ones that you don’t normally want to touch. 

Rinse Them Off

Make sure you get all the soap off the skin.  Soap left on the skin, even mild soap, can irritate it and keep things moist that are better dry.  If you have a hose, you can merely angle up until you hit the armpits and genitalia region.  If you are using a pitcher or scoop, you might have to bring handfuls of water up to rinse off the belly and inner legs.  Some people even use modified spray bottles or water guns to ensure that they are getting all the soap rinsed.

Drying

Your pet shaking can get rid of a lot of water, but you’re going to want a few towels to soak up the rest of the majority.  You might be lucky and have a pet with fur that is completely dried with the use of a few helpful towels. 

If your pet can handle the noise and the blowing sensation, it’s worth it to use a dryer.  If you have a human hair dryer, make sure the heat setting is on Low or Off and check the temperature constantly.  An industrial pet dryer usually is kept at a decent temperature, but it always pays to check to make sure that it stays that way.  If your pet is shedding, you can blow fur right out of the coat and save yourself some brushing.

Happy bathing!

Julie MacTire is a writer and educator devoted to the world of dogs. She also writes a blog (shibainus.ca) about her adventures with her Shiba Inu, Tierce, and is a supporter of many pet welfare organizations.

References & Resources

Grooming, Stress-Free

Scaredy Cut is the gentle clipper designed for grooming sensitive pets.
Learn More

Want More StressFree Tips?