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What's the best shampoo for my dog's needs?

Our dogs are such individuals and each has their own needs - emotional, physical and nutritional. But what about grooming? Skin and coat care are often the missing pieces of the puzzle when it comes to canine wellbeing.

There are so many dog shampoos on the market today to choose from. There seems to be one for every issue, whether it's deodorising smelly fur, creating volume, adding extra shine, whitening and brightening... the list goes on. But are these products what our dogs really need for maintaining healthy hair and skin?

One size never fits all. Dogs' skin and coat vary so much from breed to breed, and change with hormones as they go through life. Even two dogs of the same breed can have different skin types, so it can be a minefield working out the best way to maintain them!

Speaking to your local dog groomer should help. Your dog may be smooth-coated so you could ask about meeting his skin care needs. Or you may have a hairy pooch who needs regular professional grooming, in which case your groomer could show you brushing techniques and the best drying method for your dog's skin and coat type.

To bathe or not to bathe?

There are many reasons for bathing a dog. Perhaps they have been rolling in sand and will become very uncomfortable if left to mat, or maybe they have been rolling in fox poo and we are less enthusiastic about the fragrance than they are! They might get itchy or greasy or dry skin, or maybe it's part of maintaining their coat.

Some people are very anti-bathing their dog as "it wipes out the natural oils from the coat". The natural oils are the lipid layer of skin: this is the immune system's first line of defence. It's very delicate and water alone can wash it off so even going in the sea or rolling in mud can damage it. However, with healthy skin, the natural oil will return in a matter of hours and be fully restored within 48 hours.

Your choice of shampoo matters

What we wash our dogs with is the most important part. Does the shampoo support our dog's skin type? How do we know what skin type our dog has? Are natural products as effective? Will it help rebalance his skin?

Again, speaking to your local dog groomer will help you understand your dog's skin type. One common combination that is regularly confused is dry skin and greasy hair. People see greasy hair and say "my dog has greasy skin so I need to use something to degrease him". However, by using a strong degreasing shampoo, you further dry out the skin and, ironically, the dry skin is the cause of the greasy hair, therefore degreasing him is in turn making him more greasy.

Strong chemicals can have dramatic results but also have a dramatic effect on the skin. If they dry the skin out too much or suffocate the skin, the lipid layer will struggle to return. If the skin is damaged, bacteria can make their way in and before long you have some type of dermatitis causing itching and irritation.

Products that rely on harsh chemicals have a damaging effect on the environment. While they produce spectacular cleaning results, when they get washed down the drain, they don't stop cleaning. They often have a hugely damaging effect on aquatic life, and some chemicals can even change the hormone levels in aquatic organisms, which can cause a variety of health problems, including damaging their ability to reproduce.

A more natural approach to bathing your dog

Natural products are more sustainable to produce, far more gentle on your dog's skin and your own, and when you wash off your dog, the grey water going down the drain won't harm the environment.

The power of plants - oils, berries, leaves and flowers - can be incredibly effective, and with the right blend of ingredients you can gently clean the skin while helping the lipid layer repair itself. The beneficial properties of these raw materials can naturally soothe itching, nourish dry skin, and regulate grease production - all working in harmony with your dogs skin.

Understanding your dog's skin and coat needs

So first let's work out what we need to do to meet our dog's bath time needs. That means understanding his skin type, knowing how often to bathe him, and how to manage his coat.

Skin type

This is important, as all shampoos fundamentally clean but you want to use one that actively works with his skin type. If he has dry itchy skin, you need something conditioning and soothing. If he has greasy skin then the conditioning would be too strong and make the greasiness worse. Normal skin just needs gentle cleansing and conditioning. Anything containing strong perfumes or colour brightening chemicals will have a stronger effect on the skin and in some cases could be detrimental to your dog's health.

Bathing frequency

Bath your dog when he is dirty, has rolled in something smelly, needs support for his skin or needs to be groomed for coat maintenance.

Coat management

Smooth-coated dogs are fairly easy. Bath them when they are moulting heavily; the warm water will soften the follicles and help the hair shed. Consider the hair and skin type combination - for example, if they need some assistance to soothe dry skin or to rebalance greasy skin.

Long drop coated dogs such as Shih Tzus and Afghan hounds require a little more work. When these dogs are in full coat for showing, the hair can be easily damaged through dry brushing. If you're intending to brush the whole dog, do so during the bathing process, condition the hair then brush - this spreads the conditioner evenly, the hair is more elastic while wet and less likely to break, and gives the conditioner longer to soak in and nourish the hair.

Wool coats like those of Cockapoos or Bichon Frises need extra maintenance - the thick curly coat will mat incredibly easily, especially as the hair gets longer. They should also be brushed while wet. Conditioner does make the coat heavy and drop which is perfect for the Shihtzu but not so much for the wool breeds who will go floppy instead of fluffy! However, it is the best way to maintain a healthy coat if you would like to keep them long. With this hair type, you need to be brushing while drying for best results that will keep him tangle-free for longer (speak to your groomer for advice on how to do this if you're unsure).

Double coats, like the German Shepherd, can be difficult to bathe. You need lots of water to get through to the skin to wash properly, its quite a task and not a quick job. Washing this coat type gives you the a great opportunity to check their skin for health reasons - it's so difficult to part the hair to see the skin when dry as there is so much of it, but when wet, it's much easier to look at the skin and see if they need any extra support, e.g. do they have dandruff, is the skin inflamed? Washing this coat type when the dog is moulting will help him feel so much better by helping him shed all that dead hair.

Wired coated breeds, like your Border Terrier, are also fairly easy to maintain. The coarse hair doesn't allow dirt to cling easily and they often dry quickly. However, wire haired terriers tend to be greasy as this comes with the coat type. If your get your terrier hand stripped, wash him before going to the groomer's but don't condition. While the hair will be softer and more tricky for the groomer to grip, the skin will be clean and there will be less chance of infections in micro wounds caused by hand stripping.

So when considering whats the best shampoo for your dog, think about their needs, the coat type, the skin type - and consider the environment, too.


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