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When to Start Bathing a Puppy

Q. When can I start giving my puppies baths?

A. Although the mother dog performs lots of canine hygiene chores by licking her puppies clean, sometimes they get awfully dirty from poop, newsprint if they are being paper-trained, dog food, or just plain dirt. Most times, all you need to do is sponge them off with a warm moist washcloth or a disposable wipe, but sometimes only a bath will do.

Even if they are just a few weeks old, if you do it carefully, you can safely bathe them. In fact, if your puppies are a breed that will require professional grooming, it’s a good idea to get them used to the bathing process early on. It’s also important to instruct new owners on the proper way to bathe a puppy before they go to a new home. 

Bathing a young puppy is not much different than bathing a human baby. First and foremost, you need to keep them warm when they are bathed: a warm room, warm water that is comfortable on your own skin, nice fluffy towels, and warm air – not hot – from a blow dryer if they are full-coated and need blow drying. Of course, you should never allow them to go outdoors if they are damp. Not only could they catch a chill, they just might roll in whatever is handy, including grass, gravel, and mud, undoing all of your work in the process.

Fluffy-coated puppies need to be brushed thoroughly before they are bathed. Water adds volume to mats and tangles, tightening them up during the bathing process. Most puppies can be bathed right in the kitchen sink. Place them on a rubber mat to prevent slipping and using the dish-spray hose or a hand-held shampoo attachment used for travel, wet them down from the back end with a gentle spray so they won’t panic. 

In most cases, a puppy tearless shampoo works best, but if your baby is really stinky, you may have to use a deodorizing shampoo. If the skin is dry or flaky, a soothing oatmeal shampoo would be a good choice, leaving the lather on for ten minutes before rinsing. If the puppy has fleas, for safety’s sake use a natural flea shampoo rather than harsh chemicals to get rid of those unwelcome visitors. Do not use shampoos made for humans; they have a different pH level and often contain harsher detergents than quality pet products.

No matter which shampoo you use, be sure to keep the lather out of the puppy’s eyes. I like to wash and rinse the face with a washcloth so spraying that area won’t be necessary. Always rinse very thoroughly as any shampoo left in the coat will cause dryness and itching. If you start bathing puppies when they are young, bath time will be a normal experience in their lives, not a traumatic experience.

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