How Often Should You Bathe Your Pet?

Healthy cats and dogs are not itchy, smelly, flaky or constantly trying to scratch or bite at their fur. If your pet is displaying any of these tell-tale signals, it’s a major sign that something is out of balance in their system.

When all systems in your pet’s body are humming along in balance, their skin, eyes, ears, and digestive system are protected by their immune substances (IgA). In other words, your dog and cat feel good.

In a healthy animal (dog, cat, or human) normal inhabitants of the skin coexist in harmony, each doing their jobs and living their lives in a symbiotic relationship.

If an animal’s immune system is under more stress than it can manage, this symbiotic relationship can fall out of balance and skin problems — hot spots, rashes, yeast overgrowth and bacterial infections — can result.

Conventional medical intervention includes antihistamines, antibiotics, and steroids. All of these medications modify and suppress the immune system, and although sometimes required, your goal should be to help your pet’s immune system work properly, not to suppress it.

With species-appropriate nutrition, appropriate bathing and proper exercise, many animals regain their health and thrive without drugs.

Allergic” Skin Problems

Skin infections and hotspots are usually caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria that normally inhabit the skin. While generally harmless, if your pet’s skin is irritated and itchy, it’s a sign that something has gone wrong.– such as there may not be enough of the immunoglobin IgA protecting the skin.

Though it may sound surprising, one common underlying cause of an IgA deficiency on the skin is over-utilization of IgA in the gut. This happens when things are not well balanced in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract, so the IgA is needed more there, and there’s not enough left over to protect the skin.

Antibiotics and other medications that decrease gastrointestinal permeability can all contribute to an imbalance in your pet’s gut, so if your animal has taken any such drugs I recommend you provide a source of beneficial bacteria, to “re-seed” the intestinal tract and bolster GI defenses.

Is Yeast Overgrowth Harming Your Pet?

Yeast also naturally inhabit your pet’s skin, but when the proper balance is disturbed they can multiply rapidly and cause skin and ear problems. You’ll know your dog or cat has yeast if he starts smelling like a corn chip (some think cheese popcorn).Yeast causes intense itching and can grow in localized areas — causing a creamy white accumulation between toes — in the ears, or can affect the whole body.

An overgrowth of yeast is a signal that your pet’s immune system is not functioning well, as well as an indication your pet needs a good probiotic.

Often, there is a dietary connection as well, so if you suspect yeast overgrowth it’s a good time to try and eliminate extra carbohydrates (corn, wheat, rice, soy) from your pet’s diet. You see, yeast need sugar (carbs) as an energy source and reducing your pet’s intake of unnecessary carbohydrates reduces the yeast’s “fuel.”

Symptoms of Skin Allergies in Your Pet

Skin allergies cause a variety of symptoms in animals, such as:

  • Fur may feel “sticky”
  • Lots of flakes on the skin despite the fact your pet feels greasy
  • Red spots with little white heads, which often have black areas around them
  • Red, inflamed skin covering large areas of the body
  • Your pet may act like his or her skin is crawling

Your dog might also lick her legs or chew her pads, and there may be inflamed spots between toes, in armpits and inner legs. “Hot Spots,” or localized moist skin infections, can seem to appear in an instant and can spread at an alarming rate. These oozing sores are extremely painful and can easily become infected.

If your pet’s immune system is highly reactive, environmental substances (ragweed, grass, pollen, mold) animals pick up just by walking outside can even provide enough irritating substances to cause a reaction.

Remember, animals don’t shower daily to remove these allergens and they don’t wear protective clothing and shoes to keep allergens at bay. The resulting allergic reaction is actually one reason why elderly animals and those in poor health often exude an unpleasant fragrance.

Common sense 101: Keep Skin Clean

If you have a rash, scab, infection, or injury to your skin, you don’t have much question about what to do — you keep it clean! The same is true for dogs and cats. Your animals will feel better, smell better, and heal faster if their skin is kept clean. However, in the case of cats, they may not be happier — bathing is not usually on their list of favorite activities!

Pets with Allergies Need Baths!

Why don’t you wash your animals more often? Because you have been told not to, or because it’s one more thing to add to your busy life. You may also have read that you will disturb the balance of your pet’s skin if you wash them too much, and their skin will get dried out.

The truth is, healthy animals may not need frequent bathing, and over-bathing with harsh shampoos cancause dry skin.

However, animals with skin problems often need baths several times a week in a medicated shampoo to reduce the bacterial load on their skin, reduce irritation and inflammation and provide a low cost, effective form of relief.

But each animal is different.

Bathe your pets when they need it, as in when they are stinky, dirty, greasy or irritated. I find many dogs in the height of the “allergy” season find significant relief by rinsing off their itchy parts daily or every other day. Doctors call this form of treatment “irrigation therapy” … I call it “rinsing off the allergens.”

Between baths, rinsing problem areas that are not infected can be extremely soothing as well. Cats especially appreciate this therapy! Localized inflamed areas may be washed without washing the whole animal, and this may help to stretch the interval between baths.

For example, if your dog has irritated and inflamed feet, you can devise a simple system to immerse one foot at a time in a bowl of cool water (see my Foot Soak article for more details). You can also soak itchy, irritated paws in a few inches of cool water in your bathtub or kitchen sink, depending on the size of your dog or cat.

Tips on Choosing Shampoos

From the wide variety of commercial pet shampoos available, choose as you do for yourself, trying to avoid toxic ingredients.

Also avoid shampoos that include oatmeal. Oatmeal has a great reputation as a soothing ingredient, but in animals that have a problem with grain (which is 80 percent plus of allergic dogs!) they are likely to have problems with oatmeal shampoos. Grain-based shampoos may also provide a carbohydrate food source for unwanted yeast and bacteria. The only pets that truly benefit from oatmeal shampoos are those that have poison oak or poison ivy reactions.

“Healthy” shampoos that include essential oils should be used with caution on cats, but they are usually fine for dogs. There are a variety of animal herbal shampoos on the market that are non-drying and safe to use on a very regular basis (several times a week).

And remember, do NOT use human shampoos on pets … our pH is different. Always test shampoo first on a very small area if you are concerned about your pet reacting.

Options for Rinses

There are several great options for soothing post-bath rinses that can reduce skin irritation and extend time between baths. All homemade rinses should not be used above the head and neck (do not get shampoo or rinses in ears or eyes).

If your dog is stinky (yeasty), consider a vinegar or lemon rinse:

Disinfecting Vinegar Rinse

  • Add 1 cup vinegar to 1 gallon water.
  • Pour over dog (from the neck down).
  • Rub into skin and towel dry.
  • Do not rinse off.

Deodorizing Lemon Rinse*

  • Cut one lemon in thin slices and boil in one quart water for 10 minutes.
  • Cover and let stand for 3 hours until cool.
  • After shampooing, pour solution over your dog (from the neck down) and massage into skin.
  • Avoid eyes. Towel dry. Do not rinse off.

*Applying lemon rinse to dark-coated dogs can lighten their hair color if they spend lots of time in the sun. This is not a health hazard, but important to note.

If your dog or cat is prone to hotspots, skin infections or pimples, try this rinse:

Povadone Iodine Rinse*

  • Add 1 cup povadone iodine (also called “Betadine” or 1% iodine solution from local pharmacies) to 1 gallon rinse water.
  • Pour over pet from the neck down, towel dry and do not rinse off.

*This solution is iced tea color and will turn white dogs and cats off white. This is not a health hazard, but important to note.

If your dog or cat is restless or irritated from generalized itchiness, try this rinse:

Herbal Tea Rinse

  • Add 5 green, chamomile or Tulsi tea bags to 2 quarts very hot water, steep until water is cool (I recommend 3 hours to allow for the maximum amount of polyphenols to exit the teabag and enter the water).
  • Remove tea bags and pour over pet from the neck down.
  • Massage into skin and do not rinse.
  • You can also refrigerate used tea bags for a soothing topical poultice for hotspots or rashes.

Critical Points for Successful and Pleasant Bath Time

  • Wash thoroughly! Use comfortably warm water, not too hot. On very hot days, many dogs enjoy cool water, which can also reduce inflammation and irritation. Many dogs look forward to a cool hose bath in the front yard on hot, humid days.

    Some pet owners have asked me if it’s okay to bathe their dog using a garden hose, since some hoses may contain lead. I believe as long as your water source is healthy, bathing your pet with a hose in the summer is a fine option. Wet your dog completely and consider pre-diluting your shampoo 50:50 with water to help spread it more easily over your dog.

    Dogs with water-repellent coats (Labradors, poodles, retrievers, and Portuguese Water Dogs) are sometimes hard to get really wet, so diluted shampoo makes the job easier.

  • Be gentle! Keep soap out of eyes and ears. Irritated skin is delicate and easily injured. Animals will be worried that you are going to cause them pain — do your best to keep bath time fun and stress-free. Hot spots in particular are exquisitely painful, so consider gently blotting sensitive areas with a shampoo-moistened sponge. Remember to wash paws and toes well.
  • Rinse, and rinse, and rinse! Soap left on skin is very irritating. If you choose to use one of my homemade soothing rinses, do it while in the tub.
  • Drying and trimming. Wring out as much water as you can before towel drying. Some coats air-dry very nicely, others require work. Human hair dryers are not appropriate unless used with a “NO HEAT” setting! Allow some distance between the dryer and the animal. Trim back your pet’s fur around any sores or scabby areas to allow air to get to the skin and to help these areas dry faster.

    Stay away from “hot spots” with the dryer. Of course professional grooming is sometimes needed. Take your herbal shampoo and rinse to the groomer and ask them to please use them on your pet. Ask the groomer to not use any fragrances or sprays on your allergic pet.

    Some animals benefit from a close cut during the summer. This makes keeping an eye on skin much easier, but remember hair is a great insulator from the sun directly contacting the skin. Although shaving dogs down will allow you to see what’s going on underneath all that hair, it also causes changes in their ability to thermo-regulate and allows allergens closer contact to their sensitive skin.

    By taking the time to properly bathe your pet, engage him in regular exercise and feed him a high-quality, species-appropriate diet, it’s very likely that his skin problems will clear up naturally … and your pet will be itch-free in no time!





Getting Your Hyper Dog to Relax

Does your dog run when he could walk, or pace back and forth when he should be snoozing?

Does he lurch forward on his leash, yanking and tugging — threatening to dislocate your arm?

Does your pup bark at nothing, chase his tail, counter surf looking for food left behind, or just plain wear you out with his constant need for activity and attention?

If your dog is so wired he bounces off walls and can’t ever seem to sit still, believe it or not, chances are his behavior isn’t a sign of a clinical condition like hyperactivity.

It’s more likely your pup’s energy level is a result of his breed, his lifestyle, how you react to his excessive behavior – or a combination of factors.

High Activity Breeds

Every dog, regardless of breed or size, has a requirement for physical movement, exercise and playtime. But several breeds are characterized by a high to very high need for activity and stimulation.

If your high energy dog is one of the following breeds, or is a mixed breed with primary characteristics of one of these breeds, it’s important to know your pup is designed by nature to be much more active than other breeds.

Akita Irish Setter
Alaskan Malamute *Jack Russell Terrier
*American Foxhound Low Chen
Basset Hound Manchester Terrier
Beagle *Old English Sheepdog
Bearded Collie *Otterhound
Border Collie Pekinese
Boston Terrier *Poodle (toy, miniature, standard)
Borzoi Rhodesian Ridgeback
Canadian Welsh Corgi Saluki
Dachshund Scottish Terrier
Dandie Dinmont Terrier Sealyham Terrier
Deerhound Shetland Sheepdog
*English Foxhound Siberian Husky
*English Setter Silky Terrier
English Springer Spaniel Skye Terrier
Finnish Spitz Standard Schnauzer
*German Wirehaired Pointer Welsh Terrier
Golden Retriever West Highland Terrier
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Whippet
*Breeds characterized as “very active.” Remaining breeds are characterized as “active.”

Each dog within a breed is an individual, of course. Within each breed characteristic there is a spectrum of what is considered typical.

Within the Golden Retriever temperament spectrum, for example, you can expect dogs with a high need for activity and dogs that are often content to nap at your feet all evening.

Puppies and young dogs will have different energy levels than adults within the same breed, as well.

Breed characteristics are simply guidelines for what is usual or expected for a breed. If your dog’s activity level seems excessive, understanding his innate temperament can give you important clues about how to channel his energy in ways that will benefit both of you.

Could Your Dog’s Diet Be the Problem?

If you’re feeding your dog a commercial pet food, she might have an allergy to one or more ingredients in the mix. Many of the so-called “healthy pet foods” on the market contain inferior meat meals, cheap grains like corn, rice and soy, fillers, by-products, food coloring, pesticides, preservatives, and other contaminants.

If your pup has a food allergy or intolerance to ingredients in the diet you’re feeding her, it can contribute to restlessness and hyperactive behavior, as well as sub-optimal health.

I recommend a diet that mimics your pet’s biological nutritional requirements as closely as possible. Ideally, your dog should be eating a species appropriate, nutritionally balanced, raw food diet.

Your next best option is to go with a human grade, USDA approved canned food.

I don’t advise you feed your dog kibble (dry food), and especially not an exclusive diet of it. If you do feed kibble occasionally, stick with a blend made with human-grade ingredients and little to no grains. Whenever you serve kibble, make sure your pup has access to lots of fresh, clean drinking water.

Why Exercise is So Important

Every dog, from the smallest to the oldest, needs regular physical activity to be healthy, and this is especially true if your dog is a high energy model.

Dogs are workers by nature and many were bred for a specific purpose, like hunting, retrieving, herding or guarding. Canines in the wild have very busy lives tending to the business of survival, raising their young and socializing with other members of the pack.

Unfortunately, many companion dogs today have sedentary lives. They don’t get enough physical or mental stimulation, and they often spend many hours alone at home every day.

Dogs with very active temperaments, in particular, can develop behavior problems if they aren’t provided with appropriate outlets to work off their natural energy.

If your dog is under exercised or bored, he’s likely to exhibit some or all of the following behaviors and seem as though he has a clinical case of hyperactivity:

  • Barking or whining for attention
  • Excessive mouthing and play biting
  • Predatory and rough play
  • Destructive chewing, digging or scratching
  • Counter surfing, garbage raiding and other sneaky type behaviors
  • Rowdiness, crashing into furniture, jumping up on people

Suggestions for Exercising Your Dog

Insuring your high energy pooch gets an adequate amount of physical and mental stimulation is a priority.

Many parents of former hopelessly hyperactive dogs have found the key to a calm, well-behaved pup is plenty of exercise and playtime.

Contrary to what many dog owners believe, your dog – no matter how small – can’t get adequate exercise running around your home or backyard. Only dogs in the wild, fending for themselves, get all the physical activity they need on their own.

Your dog needs your help to get the most out of exercise and playtime. There are lots of activities you can enjoy with your pup, no matter your own level of physical fitness or limitations, including:

  • Take a walk or a hike with your dog.
  • Play fetch the ball. If you don’t have a strong throwing arm, you can use a gadget like a Chuckit! Ball Launcher to lengthen the distance your dog must run to fetch and return the ball.
  • Take a bike ride alongside your dog using a special dog bike leash.
  • Roller blade or jog with your pup.
  • Take your dog for a swim and play fetch in the water.
  • Play a game of tug-of-war.
  • Play hide-and-seek with treats or your dog’s favorite toys.
  • Get your dog involved in obedience, tracking, flyball, agility or other types of sports. If you can match an organized activity to your dog’s breed characteristics, all the better.

When your dog is indoors, and especially when she’s home alone, challenge her with food puzzle toys like the Clever K-9.

If your job or other obligations keep you away from home for long hours, consider taking your pup to a doggie daycare facility a couple days a week. You might also hire a dog walker to take your pooch for a daily stroll or a romp at the dog park.

Be Careful Not to Reinforce Unwanted Behavior

Many parents of highly active dogs unintentionally reward their pets for excessive behavior.

Some dogs — especially hyper what-about-me types – regard any attention, positive or negative, as better than no attention at all.

Attention-seeking behaviors can run the gamut from non-stop barking every time you take a phone call, to games of “keep away” involving your cell phone or watch. There have even been reported cases of dogs feigning lameness or illness in a bid for attention.

The way to put a stop to unwanted behavior in your dog is to ignore it. Depending on the behavior this can be a challenge, but if you remain consistent and determined, your dog will ultimately lose interest because his bid for attention is having the opposite effect.

The first few times you ignore him when he’s performing an attention-seeking activity, understand that your dog will most likely escalate the behavior temporarily.

But if you continue to ignore him, and only pay attention to him when he’s not engaged in unwanted behavior, eventually his attention-seeking antics will grind to a halt. His goal is to get your attention, which is the opposite of being ignored, so he’ll soon learn which behaviors are getting him the opposite of what he wants.

Meantime, be sure to lavish attention on him with petting, praise, food treats and shared activities when he’s behaving as you want him to. Remember — attention to good behavior begets good behavior, and ignoring unwanted behavior extinguishes it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you’re at the end of your rope with your energetic pooch and your efforts to properly socialize, train and exercise him don’t seem to be helping, it’s time to visit your veterinarian for a consultation and workup.

Certain drugs, especially bronchodilator medicines and thyroid hormone supplements, can contribute to symptoms of hyperactivity. Aging can also be a factor, as can diseases of the central nervous system.

And of course it’s possible your dog really is clinically hyperactive, in which case all your best efforts to modify his behavior may not have much effect without simultaneous drug therapy or treatment with natural remedies.

If your vet determines there’s no physiologic basis for your pup’s hyperactivity, the next step is to consult a dog trainer or other animal behaviorist.

What you don’t want to do is become overwhelmed or completely exhausted trying to modify your dog’s behavior on your own.

Commit to finding answers for your dog’s behavior, and seek the help you need from knowledgeable sources. This will strengthen the bond and long-term relationship between you and your best furry friend.



Crate Training Your Puppy

Prime Time for Housetraining

The age at which most puppies can begin to learn potty etiquette is about 8.5 weeks. Younger puppies don’t yet have the neurological development necessary to control elimination, much like human infants. They aren’t yet able to ‘hold it.’

By 8.5 weeks most puppies are capable of selecting a preferred surface – an outdoor grassy area, for example, or a puppy pad indoors – and eliminating in that spot. Your puppy’s brain is developed enough to begin to associate the smell and surface of his potty spot and the act of elimination.

Not only can most puppies at 8.5 weeks start to make these mental connections, but they are also better able to control when and where they relieve themselves.

House training your puppy is a two-fold process. First she must learn to go in the designated potty spot, and then she must learn to hold it until she is in that spot. In order to successfully housetrain any dog, the first rule is to never leave puppy unsupervised. And I mean not even for a minute.

For most of us this is an unachievable goal, which is why I highly recommend crate training.

Why I Like Crate Training

A dog crate (kennel or cage) has lots of uses for both you and your pet, with house training at the top of the list.

Dogs are den dwellers by nature, so a crate works with your puppy’s innate need to have a small, safe, preferably dark spot to call his own. And nature has arranged it such that a small, enclosed area will help your little guy learn conscious control of his urge to eliminate.

In the wild, mother wolves teach their litters to potty outside the den. If you provide your puppy with his own ‘den,’ you’re working in harmony with his natural desire not to soil it.

Other uses for a crate include keeping your pet safe from a long list of dangers and potential disasters – everything from electrical cords to the cat’s food bowl to the tail-pulling toddler visiting from next door.

Getting Your Puppy Comfortable with a Crate

The goal of crate training is to wind up with a puppy who loves being in there. Toward that end, you should never force your puppy into her crate or out of it.

Everything about the crate should be positive from your dog’s point of view.

Locate the crate in an area where the family spends time – not in an isolated spot, or outdoors, or in a high traffic location, or where the puppy will experience temperature extremes. I drape a blanket over the back half of my dogs’ crates to enhance the den-like feel.

Inside the crate there should be something comfy to lay on, water, treats, raw bones, chew toys, puzzle toys – you can even feed your puppy in the crate if you like.

While you’re in the initial stages of getting puppy used to being inside the crate, the door should remain open. Once she’s going in and out willingly, you can begin closing the door behind her for short periods. After she’s spent some time in the crate with the door closed (with you close by, perhaps in another room), you can leave her in there for a short time while you’re away from the house.

You can gradually extend the amount of time you leave her in the crate, providing she’s getting consistent, frequent trips outside to potty.

A young puppy needs to be taken to her potty spot about every hour, and always after eating, playing, and sleeping. The older your pet gets, the less often she’ll need to go. But no dog should be expected to last 8 or 10 hours without a potty break, and especially not a puppy.

If you need to leave your pup for longer than a four-hour stretch, I recommend you use a dog sitter or a doggy daycare facility rather than crating her for long periods of time.

You want your dog to view her crate as a safe place to rest and be calm, so when she’s in there and you’re home, resist the urge to energetically interact with her. Puppies need quiet time just like babies do. And your pup is capable of amusing herself as long as she has toys and treats in her crate.

When you let puppy out of her crate, give her a Sit command and plenty of calm praise when she follows the command. Make entry and exit from the crate a calm, neutral experience and unassociated with any of your dog’s behaviors.

Choosing a Crate and Keeping it Clean

Select a crate that is neither too small nor too big.

Your puppy should be able to stand up, turn around and lie down in his crate. The space should be big enough for him to move around comfortably, but not so big he can turn one end of it into a bathroom. A too-large enclosure can actually slow down the housebreaking process.

If your puppy has a lot of growing to do, keep in mind you’ll probably need to purchase a larger enclosure as he matures.

Make sure there is nothing inside the crate that could cause your pet harm, including anything around his neck that could get tangled or hung up on a part of the enclosure.

Clean the crate with hot water and a mild soap, or a vinegar/baking soda solution. Rinse and dry thoroughly.

Setting up Verbal Potty Cues and Reinforcing Desired Behavior

Once your puppy is good with his crate, you can begin housetraining in earnest.

When you take him outside to his potty spot (on a leash, of course), bring some treats.

Take him to the same spot each time and give him about five minutes to do his thing. If after five minutes he hasn’t eliminated, bring him back to his crate and close the door. Keep in mind that depending on the time of day, he’s likely got a full bladder and full intestines and you don’t want to give him the run of your house.

The goal of house training is to set your pup up to succeed rather than fail.

Wait 15 to 30 minutes and take him back out to his spot for another attempt. Be prepared to repeat this process a few times (crate to potty spot back to crate and back to potty spot), if necessary.

When your pup finally decides to piddle, immediately say something like ‘go potty’ in a low, reassuring tone. (I use ‘go potty’ as a urinate cue and ‘go poo’ for the other, but you can choose whatever phrases you like as long as you use them consistently.)

What you’re doing is marking and reinforcing the desired behavior with a verbal command so that he will associate the verbal cue with the act of eliminating.

Eventually, you’ll be able to take your dog to a spot – ideally any spot of your choosing whether at home or elsewhere – and give the verbal cue you’ve chosen and he’ll do his thing ‘on command.’

Within three seconds of your pup finishing his business, you must give him a treat and say ‘good job.’ Give him a couple more treats and continue to praise him before you go back inside.

Don’t wait until you’re back indoors to give your pet his treat. What will happen in his little puppy brain is he’ll associate the food reward with coming back indoors rather than with relieving himself outside. That’s why it’s very important to remember the treats when you take him outside, and then reward him within three seconds after he completes the desired behavior.