Think twice before turning on the taps

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 January, 2012, 12:00am


Are there times when you think your pet has an extra dose of eau de animal? If that's the case, think twice before rushing your smelly furball to the bathtub or booking an appointment at the groomers. Veterinarian Hugh Stanley, at Dr Hugh's Veterinary Hospital, untangles some misconceptions and offers helpful advice on when to bathe your pet.

For furry felines that may smell as if they have been hanging around the litter box a little too long, reaching for cat shampoo may not be the best solution.

'I have reservations about washing cats. For one, they are meticulously clean and they usually detest water,' Stanley says. 'They can get very stressed. Some cats tolerate it very well, but the majority don't.'

Stanley has witnessed cats scratch and bite a groomer during a wash session. And, on rare occasions, snub-nosed cats such as Persians can develop breathing problems from stress and die as a result, the veterinarian says. Many groomers will not accept cats unless they are known to be 'very relaxed'.

If the cat has something stuck to its fur, Stanley says it's fine to groom them with a wet brush and remove the dead hair.

Baths with soap and water for smaller pets such as hamsters and chinchillas are a no-no, Stanley advises. Hamsters have essential oils in their fur that can be washed out with shampoo. Then, if the little critter catches a cold, it can be fatal. Unless it's a toxic substance on its fur, hamsters will clean themselves.

While chinchillas shouldn't be washed with water, bathing with dust is a natural behaviour in the wild. Washing with dust keeps a chinchilla's fur clean, healthy and soft. However, regular sand or powder won't do the trick, while store-bought chinchilla dust for bathing absorbs dirt and oil from the fur.

Bathing a dog depends on a variety of factors. 'The nature of the coat and lifestyle of the dog affects how often you bathe a dog,' Stanley says. 'Just as humans have different skin types, dogs are the same; some have oily coats and others might have dry skin.'

If your dog begins to smell, or there is dirt on its coat, then it's time to turn on the taps. But, Stanley says, 'what constitutes a strong smell is subjective. Dogs smell like dogs, and it's futile to get rid of the dog smell altogether.'

Washing every few days will make the situation worse. The more the skin is stimulated, the more your dog is going to produce oil that may be causing the smell, he explains. 'You can make the coat very dry or the skin very dry or oily. Cutting down on how often you wash will help.' Wash your dog every two weeks at the most. There are differences in skin sensitivity even within breeds. Most West Highland Terriers, known as Westies, have extremely sensitive skin, Stanley says. 'If you use perfumed [dog] shampoo you are asking for trouble. Always use gentle or hypoallergenic shampoo.'

If you notice scratching or redness in your dog's skin after grooming, your four-legged friend may be allergic to the shampoo. Hypoallergenic shampoo, Stanley says, has no extra cosmetic ingredients and tends to be soothing and unscented. Stanley points out some hypoallergenic shampoos, with ingredients such as oatmeal and aloe vera, are the cause of the allergic reaction.

Medicated shampoos are formulated as anti-bacterial, anti-fungal or anti-dandruff. So, it's best to check with a veterinarian before using a medicated shampoo.

When the seasons change, don't be surprised to find dandruff on your dog. The dog's skin is sensitive to weather changes, so a dog that never gets dandruff can suddenly start to show white-flaky signs. As most dogs live inside an apartment with artificial lighting and heating, Stanley says, outside temperatures can confuse the skin. 'When the season changes, the hot and cold temperatures can change the natural environment of the skin, causing things like dandruff and yeast infections.'

Dandruff can be caused by a slew of reasons, from scratching and diet to an allergic reaction, parasites or hormonal changes. 'It's not a disease or specific condition, it's a symptom of an underlying condition,' Stanley says.

While some dogs can't tolerate a cherry-scented perfumed dog shampoo, the average dog should be fine. Stanley adds that he does not think all perfumed shampoos should be banned, 'but you need to make sure your dog can tolerate it. You need to just try it and see.'

If you are thinking about washing your dog's ears, don't. 'Dogs have been around for over 100 million years without anyone putting water down their ears,' Stanley says. 'But some dogs, like Westies and Cocker Spaniels, are notorious for waxy ears and skin problems. Their ears can be cleaned twice a month.'

The veterinarian questions the effectiveness of a number of dry powder shampoos on the market that enable you to wash your dog without water. 'I can't image washing my hair with a dry shampoo,' Stanley says. 'It's probably more perfume than anything else.'