Cats and dogs, being our lovable furballs, have their own kinds of hygiene needs. We often think of cats as being independent and clean, constantly grooming themselves as they are, but it's a kind of misconception that they don't need baths. In fact, giving them baths regularly can help keep allergens down! That's a story for another day, though; today, I want to talk about puppies.
Puppies, from the time they're born to the time they reach adulthood, are rambunctious balls of energy and insatiable curiosity that get into just about everything. Of course, that leaves them dirty and smelly as often as not, so there's always going to be something going on with that fur coat, right?
Well, the question is, how often do you need to bathe a puppy? Should you give them regular baths, or wash them only when they're dirty, or somewhere in between?
First of all, while animals live just fine in the wild without bathing, it's not always a good thing. Real talk here: there are a lot of people who idolize "the way nature does it" as some ideal to live up to, but that's not always what's best. You can see it in the life expectancies of just about everything, and how being loved and cared for will extend a fur baby's lifespans by 1.5x or more.
Wild, stray dogs often only live 5-7 years, while our home-kept and cared-for fur babies live 10-13 years.
When animals in the wild get dirty, they can't do a whole lot to get clean. They can get rained on, they can take a swim in a lake or a river, or they can use their tongues to give themselves a rinse, but none of that is exactly clean, nor does it have the cleaning power of soap and shampoo. Dirt, grime, bacteria, and other kinds of nastiness end up throughout their fur, trapped against their skin, and elsewhere.
What people forget is that evolution and nature aren't some shining ideals; they're a minimum level necessary to complete one goal, which is to reproduce and continue the species. Anything beyond that is often unnecessary.
So, while dogs can survive a little dirt, they may not be happy about it. Skin infections, irritations, rashes, dermatitis, and all sorts of other problems can crop up, and that's not to mention things like fleas, worms, mange, and other more serious issues.
So, to put it lightly, yes, dogs can use regular baths. You don't need to give them a bath every day, but you should bathe them regularly.
Why Bathing Your Puppy is Important
Bathing is important for dogs in general, but it's especially important for puppies.
Why, you ask? For a bunch of reasons including:
Removing dirt and other grossness helps protect their skin, avoiding skin problems, rashes, and other issues that can crop up when there's a bunch of dirt pressed up against it.
Puppies like to get into things they shouldn't, and not only does that mean gross things, it means things that can hurt them. Cuts and scrapes are common, but when there's dirty fur involved, those can easily get infected.
Some dogs develop skin sensitivities or even allergies as puppies, and having all kinds of dirt pressed up against the skin can irritate them.
All the dirt, grime, and skin oils can absolutely reek, and that's before any of the more gross things they can roll in. Keeping them clean makes spending time with them a lot more pleasurable.
There's also something on the other end of the spectrum: bathing is good bonding! You're playing with your puppy in some warm, comfortable water, you're getting them used to being washed and dried, and you're coddling and cuddling them during and after the process. It's part training, part bonding, and all benefit.
What Happens if You Bathe Your Puppy Too Often?
Bathing a dog too often can have some negative side effects, but truth be told, they're often over-blown.
Years ago, you were pretty limited in what you could use to bathe your fur baby. The shampoos and soaps available were generally pretty harsh on the skin, and they would leave a dog's fur dry and brittle. Pups would shed more, their skin could flake, and all the natural protective oils secreted by follicles would be stripped away.
Stripping away the protective barrier could lead to dry skin that is more prone to cracking and subsequent infections.
"You should bathe your puppy about no more than once a month unless necessary. Puppies and adult dogs have natural oils in their coat to prevent their fur from getting brittle or damaged and to keep it soft and silky. Bathing your dog too often can strip away those oils." - Purina.
The good news is, many of the shampoos available today are made without the harsh chemicals of shampoo’s past and contain gentle ingredients like oatmeal that can help soothe a puppy’s skin.
Remember, all pups are individuals, and there’s a spectrum of shampoos available on the market. When your pup does need a bath, look for natural ingredient based shampoos that get your pup clean and remove the stink, but leave their skin and coat moisturized.
How Soon Can You Bathe a New Puppy?
Bathing a puppy comes with a lot of specific concerns that I'll get to in a moment, but the first question is how soon you can bathe a new puppy. By this, I mean a brand-new puppy, not just a puppy new to you.
Newborn puppies are still figuring out things like how to walk, how to open their eyes, and how to communicate. More than their behaviors, though, puppies are still learning how to do things like regulate body temperature and handle water getting near their faces. So, the younger they are, the less likely it is you should bathe them.
Moreover, really young pups should remain with their mother, so she’ll take care of bathing them as needed. If you’re caring for an orphaned pup or litter or pups, spot cleaning is a safer option if they soil themselves.
"Puppies should not be bathed until around eight weeks old. Older dogs' body temperature self-regulates, but young puppies don't have that ability yet. A puppy less than eight weeks old might get overheated or too cold during the bathing process. Prior to them being old enough to bathe, try wiping them down with a warm, wet cloth when needed." – Purina.
So, until two months, you should avoid bathing your puppy. After that, bathe them as needed, which, as I'm about to discuss, can vary a lot.
How Often Should You Bathe a Puppy?
Now, let's get into general recommendations and how to determine how often you should bathe your dog.
First of all, you're going to see a lot of people saying once a month is an appropriate time for bathing a dog. That's broadlytrue, but some dogs may need bathing more often, while others will need it less often.
So, what factors should you consider when determining the frequency in which you wash your pup?
How old they are.
Puppies that are younger than a year or so old generally need bathing more often, both because of all of the sources of dirt they can get into and because of how much more sensitive to illness they are. Weekly bathing is most appropriate for young puppies between 8 weeks and a year.
The length of their coats.
Longer-haired dogs tend to need bathing more often than shorter-haired dogs as their coat tends to trap more grime, and it's more likely to get tangled and matted when it isn't properly being cared for.
Short-haired pups can usually get away with less bathing and just a little wipe down if they pick up some dirt.
The type of coat.
Hairless dogs aren't generally actually hairless; they have very thin, short coats, sort of like how we people have body hair, even when it's mostly invisible for many people. These pups tend to need more frequent bathing, which is actually for skin health, not coat health.
Doggies with double coats like the German Shepard or Labrador tend to do better with more brushing than more bathing.
Time of year.
Breeds with double coats, like huskies, may benefit from more or less bathing at different times of year to help deal with their winter coat either growing in or shedding away. As I just mentioned, these pups can generally benefit from a good regular brushing as opposed to a more frequent bath.
When it comes to warmer months, pups tend to spend more time outdoors and that means more run ins with fleas, ticks, mud puddles, and pollen. All of these things may warrant a more frequent bath. On the flip side, during winter pups tend to spend more time indoors and in general will need less frequent bathing. With that said, the lack of humidity in the winter can dry out your pup’s skin so a bath with a moisturizing shampoo can help soothe dry skin.
Allergies of people around you.
Many people think that pet fur is the cause of allergies, but it's actually not; it's a protein in their saliva and skin, which gets all throughout their coats as they groom themselves and is carried on shed fur. Bathing a dog regularly can cut down on the amount of that protein that makes it into your environment and can thus make anyone suffering from allergies have an easier time of things.
Allergies and sensitivities of the dog.
Dogs can have allergies, and they can be sensitive to things in the environment without being allergic to them. Usually, this results in itchy skin, and that often means they can benefit from a bath using medicated shampoos. Depending on the condition, your vet may recommend more or less frequent bathing.
Lapdogs don't get into as much trouble as active working dogs. Predominately indoor dogs don't get as dirty as mostly outdoor dogs. Dogs that love water often need bathing or at least a good rinse more often than dogs that don't.
There's also one more factor I didn't list above: how dirty they are!
If your precious little fur baby has been spending most of their time indoors, hanging around with you on the couch, getting into a bit of roughhousing with their siblings, or enacting adorable antics around the living room, then they're probably fine to just go about their lives and get a bath whenever you have penciled in on your calendar.
On the other hand, if you took your fur baby for a walk and they rolled in something unspeakable that – to them – smells fantastic, or they are a little sick, had some kind of unfortunately runny discharge from one end or the other, and it got all over them, or… well, you get the idea. If they're gross and smelly, they need a bath, whatever the schedule says about it.
"Jorge Bendersky, groomer and author, offers this advice: 'At the end of the day, we should wash our dogs when they are no longer huggable.'" – American Kennel Club.
If you’re not sure about where your pup falls in the spectrum of coat type and skin sensitivities, talk with your vet to get a recommendation on frequency.
How to Make Puppy Bath Time Better
Bath time for a puppy can be a challenge. If they aren't trained to sit still and let you wash them, they may find parts of the process unpleasant, they may squirm, shake, or generally just want to wander off, and it can be difficult to keep their attention.
Training them will take time, but until they're trained, you can do a few things to make it easier.
Use treats to reward them for good behavior. Consider using a lick mat with some peanut butter stuck to the shower wall to distract them during bathing.
Place a towel in the bottom of the tub to give them a sense of stability within the water.
Be very careful with water around their face and especially their ears, which are hard to dry.
Once you get your precious fur baby trained and willing to sit for a bath, it'll all be a lot easier. Until then, do what you can to keep your adorable puppy clean and happy, and revel in the joys of their growth and new experiences. They grow up so fast!
Alternatives to Bathing Your Puppy
If your puppy has managed to get muddy paws, but isn’t covered in dirt, consider passing on the bath and seeking an alternative cleaning method.
Depending on how dirty they are you can simply use a warm damp wash cloth to wipe down the area.
You can also purchase pet wipes to do small wipe downs. I’ll caution you though, there are a lot on the market that are full of dangerous chemicals, so do your research. You can learn more about choosing safe pet wipes in this post.
Dry shampoos are also a good option when your pup is a little smelly, but you need to buy some time before you can get to bathing them. I’ll caution you here, dry shampoos should not be used on pups younger than 8 weeks. Check the instructions on the container and look for options with natural ingredients and not laden with chemicals.
Do you have any memorable puppy bath time stories? If so, I'd absolutely love to hear them! Was your young fur baby accepting of bath time, or did they try their best to get out of it? Be sure to leave all your stories in the comments section down below!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more