Dog Bathing & Hygiene - Why Good Dog Hygiene is So Important

How often should I brush my dog's teeth?

How often do you brush your own teeth? Most people brush their pet's teeth once a month. That really doesn't do much. They go to the groomer, and the groomer cleans them, giving them a quick brush. To have good healthcare, however, you need to brush your dog's teeth at least once a day. If you brush once a month they're still going to get 29 days out of the month where they get plaque and disease forming, so try to make that a daily occurrence.

Dr. Ned Trathan
Oakdale Veterinary Group

How do I brush my dog's teeth?

To get them interested in it initially, you want to find a toothpaste with a flavor they like. If you go shove some Total or Colgate toothpaste in their mouth that tastes of mint, they may spit it out. You can buy seafood flavored toothpaste now, beef, chicken, vanilla, bubblegum. Initially, take the toothpaste, put it on your finger, and if they like the taste of it, then you're onto a winner. If they have no interest, then go find another tube of toothpaste.

Once you're at that stage, you can then gently start to run it onto their teeth with your finger. You can use a soft toothbrush and just gently rub over the outer surfaces of the teeth, and fold the lips all the way back and get to these ones. If you're a pro you can open their mouth and brush inside, but mostly just focus on the outside of their mouth.

What is a sanitary haircut and why would my dog need it?

A sanitary haircut makes me think of Bubby, one of my in-laws’ dogs. He's a golden retriever and he's got this beautiful long cut. If he has diarrhea or if he gets an upset tummy, though, or even if he just gets in the pool, his hair gets matted. So a sanitary haircut is one in which we would shave the back of the legs and under the tail so that, as the dog defecates, they're not going to get covered in feces. You could do the same around his genitals, sometimes around the face if they have a lot of long hair so they can't see. You can trim the hair from the eyes and around the mouth.

How do I get my dog used to getting groomed?

Patience. Doing a little at a time. My dog, Mowgli, is a very nervous patient. He never really leaves our side. When we take him to the groomer, we tell them if he's upset we don't want to force it. We'll still pay the groomer if they can't fully achieve what they need to so that they still get paid. We just don't want to make it a stressful situation, so there are a lot of treats and short visits. If the groomer's ready with your pet, try not to leave them there for six hours. Your pet's going to be happier going home to see you, and the groomer may have a lot of other dogs that are noisy or stressed just like in a vet hospital, so try to minimize your pet's stress.

In severe cases, your vet may need to prescribe some medication to help with anxiety.

Why is it important to have my dog's nails trimmed?

We see several pets come in with damaged nails. If a dog catches a nail when they're running, the nail can rip really short, and then it's hanging off, and it's very, very painful. We get that every week—a dog will come in, and we'll have to remove the nail to make them comfortable. Older pets that aren't digging and running around will sometimes have nails that are so long that they just catch on stuff. In cats, they'll grow in a circle right into the pads and create really painful infections that people don't notice.

As a human, why do you trim your nails? It's hygienic and it's going to be awkward to function if you have very long nails.

Why is my dog scooting their butt on the ground?

Most likely your dog has an issue with their anal glands. There can be other causes. Such as if they've had an upset tummy, GI disease, or intestinal parasites, but for the vast majority of dogs when you see them dragging themself with their front feet and scooting their butt, it's because they have an impaction of the anal gland. Momo here is an unwilling volunteer again, but you can see by the side of the dog's anus is a small sack.

Anal glands are filled with a liquid that scent marks the feces, similar to a skunk when they lift their tail and spray that scent as a defense mechanism. Dogs have a scent that may have some form of signaling others through their feces. We can remove that gland when there's a problem and it doesn't create any issues, so it may be vestigial. It may not have a function these days. It certainly creates issues for dogs when the glands fill up if the liquid becomes thick. Like toothpaste, it can be hard to express, and they can rupture. We can see draining fistulas coming through the skin where it's all infected under the tissue and it's very painful.

As veterinarians, we don't necessarily automatically go and press on a dog’s anal glands. There are dogs, however, that have frequent infections and issues that we will schedule for a monthly visit to check on them. Your groomer will usually express them from the outside. If we look down here, they'll squeeze the gland through the skin. At the vet office, the vet will actually put a glove on and put a finger inside the rectum and squeeze right around the gland and get a bit more material out. This helps to check that they're not infected or full and to keep the material down, so we recommend different things on a case-by-case basis.

When should I take my dog to the professionals for grooming?

So Mr. Mowgli with his shiny coat goes once a month. We actually use two different groomers in town. The dogs prefer different people just like we go to different hairdressers or barbers for our haircuts— Mowgli has his favorite. If you have a dog with a long coat you might need to go every two or three weeks. If you have a ranch dog that lives outside and jumps in the river like I used to, I never took him to a groomer because he would go straight in the river as soon as he got home.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (209) 287-3222, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Bathing & Hygiene - FAQs

Dr. Ned Trathan
Oakdale Veterinary Group

What is a good hygiene regimen for a dog?

That really depends on the patient. Some dogs will need to have a bath twice a week, especially if they have skin problems. Other pets like Momo go to the groomer about once a month. And they'll brush out his coat and get rid of the loose hair, which will decrease how much shedding they're doing in the house. If you are washing them at home, every two to four weeks would be normal. But if you have any issues with scale, infections, or bacterial infections, you might need a different frequency.

How does keeping my dog clean contribute to good health?

If you've got a long-coated dog or one that goes outside a lot, you may find that they get burrs or other things stuck in their coat. We have dogs that come in occasionally that have one entire dreadlock of mats all the way through their coats. The dreadlock is tugging and very painful for them. They can get sores there and some pretty bad skin infections. Along with the skin, we also look at the ears. You might find an ear that is very red, such as with Mowgli here, so he's rather worried about being here today. His skin allergies create a lot of ear problems. So that kind of goes hand in hand with looking after both things.

What about dental hygiene, is brushing my dog's teeth important to overall good hygiene?

Yes. That's a great question. Brushing is one of the most important things you can do for your pet to keep them healthy. If you lift up the lips, you can see they've got these big canine teeth and they've got some pre-molars and then molars right in the back. If you don't brush, they're going to get a brown deposit. Mowgli’s got a small amount. He had a dental about two months ago. Without daily brushing, that's going to grow much more quickly and it will lead to Gingivitis and dental pain. Lack of teeth-brushing can lead to a lot of other health issues with the dog’s heart and their kidneys long-term. So daily brushing is a must for your pets.

How do I do that? How do I brush their teeth?

We're going to use this model, a more willing patient than Mowgli. You want to brush the outer surface of the tooth and you'll take a regular toothbrush with some dog toothpaste that they like the flavor of, and just in a circular motion with the end of the toothbrush, you're going to work your way along all of these outer teeth. We find very little disease on the inner surface. It's much harder to get your dog to open the mouth. So you don't really need to clean the inside unless you've already perfected brushing the outside. Very few people do this successfully. So you can focus on the outside of the canine tooth and these ones up here and down on the bottom, the little incisors that are missing on this model, we can maybe show you Mowgli’s. They use these for grooming and they'll chew on that further with these teeth. You can brush those a little bit as well if they let you.

How can I find the right bathing products for my dog?

There are so many different things out there, so it’s trial and error. How do you pick your own shampoo and conditioner for your head? I pick one that doesn't leave me with flaky dandruff or greasy hair. Something that smells nice. If you go to the pet store, you should find something there. If your dog is sick, then go to your veterinarian and they'll recommend a medicated shampoo.

Why is it important to clean my dog's bed, bowls, collar, leash, and toys regularly?

Quite frankly, it would be gross if you didn't. Consider how often you should be washing your own bedsheets, and for the same reason, wash your dog's bed. Dogs have a lot more hair and skin that they shed, so you want to make sure that you wash your dog's bed frequently—at least every month or two, and that you replace it. The same goes for food bowls, as you don't want to leave food that flies and other insects get on after getting into your house. You want to make sure you clean your balls daily. And leashes and collars...this one is probably six months old. I can't say that I've washed it, but we take it off when he goes swimming, and we take it off at nighttime. Of course, you wouldn't want to wear dry clothing that had been through the river without washing them.

What are some signs and symptoms of poor hygiene in my dog?

It's the same as with people—if your dog smells and your friends don't want to come and visit you anymore, maybe you should take your dog and have a health check. You’ll of course want to brush your dog’s teeth and them a good bath. No one likes a stinky friend in bed with them, and my dog sleeps right in the middle of the bed. If they're itching, that's a common sign of poor skin.

How often should I be giving my dog a bath?

Again, Mowgli here goes to the groomer once a month. Some dogs will need much more frequent baths, such as twice a week, and you'll want to bathe them more often if their skin gets bad.

How can my veterinarian help me with dog hygiene issues?

Treatment is on an individual case by case. So we have to look at each dog to ask—do they have an ear problem? Are they licking their toes? Is their belly all red? Do they have Gingivitis? So they come in, have a physical exam, and then the skin is an organ that we can see, so we can make recommendations. Occasionally the skin has a manifestation of internal problems, so we may need to do some blood work. In most cases, however, we'll tell you just based on what you see.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (209) 287-3222, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.