There’s nothing better than snuggling up with your pup on the couch for an evening of quality time. But as your dog nuzzles in closer, you realize something smells a little funny. As you sniff around, you realize—ugh—it’s your dog!
No one likes a stinky pup, but it’s nothing a bath can’t fix. While some pet parents may be guilty of waiting until their dog really needs a bath to give them one (*raises hand*), regular bathing is actually an essential part of caring for your dog, according to Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT, co-founder and chief veterinary officer of Wild Earth in Northern California.
So what constitutes “regular bathing”? How often should you bathe your dog? The answer is—it depends. It could range from a couple times a week to once every few months, based on your pup’s activity level, coat type and skin condition. In general, most dogs would fare well with a bath every month or so, but again, it depends on the dog.
Why Regular Baths Are Important for Your Dog’s Health
Let’s start with the basics. If your dog looks or smells like they need a bath, it’s probably time to give them a bath. Just like with a person, hygiene is important for your dog, says Dr. Katie Billmaier, DVM, a shelter veterinarian at Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch in Jupiter, Florida.
Not only do regular baths get rid of dirt that’s collected in a dog’s coat and make them smell great, but they also keep their skin healthy, too.
“Bathing your dog is more about maintaining a strong defensive shield around their dog than merely enhancing beauty,” says Dr. Ward. “After all, the skin is your pup’s largest organ and needs to be kept clean and healthy in order to provide a protective barrier to the environment.”
So if baths are that important for your dog’s health, how often should you be doing it?
According to Experts, How Often You Bathe a Dog Depends on These 3 Things
While Dr. Andrea Caspary, DVM, of Tampa Bay Animal Hospitals at North Bay in Florida, says there’s no true science that says how often to bathe a dog, you can make an educated guess based on three things: their lifestyle, coat and skin conditions.
As humans, we know that if we work up a sweat at the gym or get dirty doing yardwork, we should take a shower. Well, the same rule applies to our pups. Active dogs are going to require more frequent bathing than the coach potatoes.
“Activity level should be the prime factor in determining how often you bathe your dog,” says Miguel Garcia, Chief Groomer at Central Bark Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Garcia suggests bathing very active dogs at least once every two weeks.
However, if your dog loves swimming in the ocean, rolling around in mud or any other activity where they clearly get dirty, you should give them a bath after each activity, says Dr. Billmaier, even if you just recently bathed them.
On the other hand, if your dog is the binge-watching Netflix type rather than the outdoorsy adventurer, you may only need to bathe them a handful of times a year.
“For more sedentary dogs with short coats like a French Bulldog, they may need one bath every two to three months as long as they are staying clean,” Dr. Caspary says.
But regardless of your pup’s activity level, your dog’s coat type matters, too.
When it comes to length, according to Dr. Billamaier, dogs with medium to long coats should get frequent bathing, usually every four to six weeks, and dogs with short coats can be bathed every one to three months.
Keep in mind that “the type of coat your dog has is a major factor in the frequency in which you should bathe them, but the rule of thumb doesn’t go strictly by length of fur or hair,” says Dr. Billmaier.
According to Daryl Conner, Master Pet Stylist and owner/operator of FairWinds Grooming Studio in Appleton, Maine, “Coat length is less important than texture.”
Some dogs have coats that naturally repel dirt, while others seem to hold on to it, she says.
“Dogs like Poodles and Bichons have soft coats that dirt tends to cling to,” Conner says. “Drop coated breeds like Yorkshire Terriers, Shih Tzus and Lhasa Apsos also tend to collect oil and debris and need frequent bathing to ensure their coats look and smell fresh. “
Dr. Billmaier suggests bathing hairless dogs and breeds with oily coats, like Labrador Retrievers and Basset Hounds, quite frequently—about once a week. This helps “to protect their skin from absorbing bacteria, pollutants and toxins that are naturally eliminated when a furrier or hairier dog sheds,” Dr. Billmaier says. “Hairless dogs are prone to pore blockages and dermatological issues such as spots and blackheads if their bathing routine is not consistent and often.”
Thick and double-coated breeds, like Huskies, can be bathed every one to three months. These dogs are prone to shedding, and “When a dog sheds, [the coat] naturally rids itself of dead skin cells and bacteria that could be harmful, so it is not necessary to bathe the dog frequently in addition to the natural shedding process,” Dr. Billmaier says.
If you’re not sure what kind of coat your dog has, ask your veterinarian during your next visit.
The third factor that’s important in determining how often you should bathe your dog is your pet’s skin. Some dogs have skin conditions or a temporary skin infection that requires frequent application of a special shampoo prescribed by a vet.
“A dog that has a mild skin infection and has been prescribed a medicated shampoo may need to be bathed twice a week for two to three weeks depending on the resolution of the infection,” Dr. Caspary says.
The frequency at which you should bathe your dog with a medicated shampoo will depend on your dog’s skin condition, the product you use and your veterinarian’s recommendation. If you think your pup needs a special shampoo, check out this article on the best shampoos for common dog skin conditions and talk to your veterinarian.
Can You Bathe a Dog Too Much?
OK, so what if your dog is really into bath time and you absolutely love the idea of having a squeaky-clean, yummy-smelling pup 24/7? Is it possible to bathe your dog too much?
The answer is yes. Similar to how hairdressers advise against shampooing your hair every day, veterinarians and dog groomers say too many baths can do more harm than good.
“If you bathe a certain coat too often, it can affect the overall coat quality and strip their natural oils, which can cause irritation,” Dr. Caspary says.
If you notice that your dog’s skin is dry or irritated, and you bathe your dog often, opt for less baths in the future. It’s best to follow the advice above related to your dog’s lifestyle, coat and skin condition, and then, Conner adds, use quality shampoo made for dogs as well as a light conditioner to replace natural oils that the shampoo may remove.
And never use a shampoo made for humans on your pup! “If you bathe your dog with human shampoo, you risk drying their skin out, affecting its protective abilities and potentially causing dermatological issues,” Dr. Ward says.
Brush Your Dog’s Coat in Between Baths to Keep Your Pup Healthy
No matter how often you bathe your dog, they all benefit from regular brushing, says Garcia.
“All dogs benefit from regular brushing to remove loose hairs and dead skin cells,” says Garcia. Brushing also keeps coats free of dirt, debris and external parasites as well as distributes natural skin oils across all the hair follicles.
Dr. Billmaier agrees, saying that brushing your dog multiple times per week can help keep their coat fresher and shinier and reduce matting (Read our guide to brushing dogs here).
“Invest in a quality dog brush to match your dog’s coat characteristics and use it once or twice a day and after outdoor activities,” adds Dr. Ward. “Long-haired breeds require more attention while short or rough-coated dogs generally only need light brushing.”