How to Bathe Dogs with Medicated Shampoo

By Catherine Barnette, DVM

Care & Wellness, Treatment, Pet Services

Why do I need to bathe my dog in medicated shampoo?

There are a number of reasons that your veterinarian might prescribe a medicated shampoo for your dog.

  • Bacterial skin infection. Mild skin infections may be treated solely with an antibacterial shampoo, while more severe infections often require a combination of antibacterial shampoo and oral antibiotics.
  • Yeast infection of the skin. These infections are often treated with antifungal shampoo.
  • Skin allergies. Even in the absence of infection, medicated shampoo can be helpful in the treatment of allergies. These shampoos often have ingredients that alleviate skin inflammation and itching, while also helping to reduce potential allergens on the skin and coat.

While over-the-counter shampoos are sometimes advertised as being general-purpose ‘medicated shampoos’, prescription shampoos are medicated shampoos that are prescribed to treat a specific skin condition. There are a wide variety of medicated shampoos available to veterinarians; your veterinarian will select the shampoo that is most appropriate for your dog’s skin condition.

Where should I bathe my dog?

dog_bathAlthough many dog owners bathe their pet in the bathtub, that is not the only option. Small dogs can be bathed in a sink – in the bathroom, the kitchen, or a utility room. Large dogs can be bathed outdoors during the warm weather, as long as you have an area that will drain well. (You don’t want you and your dog to end up standing in a mud puddle!) Select an area that is comfortably warm, with access to warm water. Make sure there is a place where you can set clean, dry towels within arm’s reach, because this will make your job easier when removing your dog from the bath.

If possible, bathe your dog using a spray-nozzle or hose attachment. This will make rinsing him easier and make the entire bathing process less stressful. If you do not have a hose attachment available, you can use a large cup or bowl to collect water from the faucet and pour that water over your dog.

"If possible, bathe your dog using a spray-nozzle or hose attachment."

Some communities have commercial pet wash facilities available, where you can rent the use of a bathing station for a set period of time. The tubs at these facilities are designed for bathing pets comfortably and conveniently and many facilities provide towels and other helpful items, making them an ideal option. This may be a good option if you have access to one of these facilities.

How do I actually bathe my dog?

Medicated shampoo should be applied to a clean wet coat, so start out by thoroughly rinsing your dog with lukewarm water.

If your dog is visibly dirty, bathe him with an over-the-counter shampoo to remove dirt and debris. Unlike cleansing shampoos, medicated shampoos do not typically contain soaps or detergents and therefore may not thoroughly clean dirty dogs. (Ask your veterinarian if you have any concerns regarding the use of an over-the-counter shampoo with your dog’s skin condition.)

After your dog is clean and wet, begin to work the medicated shampoo into the coat. Start with the areas that are most severely affected. In many cases, these areas are the paws, the armpits, the groin, and maybe the area around the rectum. After fully rubbing the shampoo in to these areas, you can begin massaging the shampoo into the coat across the rest of his body.

Once the shampoo has been thoroughly worked into your dog’s coat, set a timer for 10 minutes (or the specific contact time that your veterinarian has prescribed). It is important to set a timer – do not try to guess on timing, because your tendency will be to shortchange your dog!

When the timer goes off, it is time to rinse. Make sure that you completely rinse all of the shampoo from all areas of your dog’s body. This process will take several minutes; it is important not to leave excessive shampoo on the skin.

"Make sure that you completely rinse all of the shampoo from all areas of your dog’s body."

If your veterinarian prescribed a leave-in conditioner, it can be applied at this time.

Once you have finished bathing your dog, it is important to completely dry him using towels. Keep your dog in a warm area until he is completely dry.

How often should I bathe my dog?

The frequency of medicated baths depends on the specific skin condition that the baths are addressing.

In many cases, medicated baths are recommended on a weekly basis. Your veterinarian may recommend bathing more or less frequently, depending on the details of your dog’s particular skin condition.

What should I expect after a medicated bath?

Typically, skin conditions should begin improving within the first few weeks of using a medicated bath. Your veterinarian can give you a better idea of what to expect with your dog’s particular skin condition.

"Typically, skin conditions should begin improving within the first few weeks of using a medicated bath."

You may notice that your dog’s skin is a bit red immediately after a bath. This typically does not indicate a reaction to the shampoo. Instead, it reflects an increase in skin circulation that often occurs after bathing. If your dog’s skin appears to be consistently worsening with bathing, however, please contact your veterinarian. While uncommon, allergic reactions to medicated shampoo can occur.

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