Pet Health: Why Bathing and Brushing Are Important

Regular grooming is good for your pet's coat, skin, and bond with you.

From the WebMD Archives

Brushing your dog might seem like a big chore, especially when life gets hectic.

"Very often, people make brushing and combing a major event. They think you need to do it for an hour," says Stephen L. Zawistowski, PhD, an animal behaviorist and science adviser to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

But grooming your dog doesn't need to be a big deal. "In many ways, you're better off doing it more often but for a short period, maybe 5 or 10 minutes each day," Zawistowski says. "Make it a habit."

Brief, frequent brushing sessions, combined with an occasional bath, keep your dog clean and comfortable. Routine brushing enhances your dog's appearance by distributing natural oils throughout the entire coat. "It makes dogs look nice and healthy and glossy," Zawistowski says. It also prevents hair from knotting or clumping and whisks away dirt, burs, and other outdoor debris.

Plus, there's a big emotional payoff. "The brushing actually helps you develop a good bond with your dog," Zawistowski says.

How extensively do you need to brush and comb? It depends on your dog's coat. Long-haired breeds, like golden retrievers and Newfoundlands, will need longer, more intense brushing almost daily, Zawistowski says. Short-haired dogs, like Dalmatians or beagles, aren't as hard to brush, but regular sessions will still cut down on shedding. Use a steel-tooth comb to remove tangles and then a stiff bristle brush to get rid of loose hair, he says.

Your Dog's Bath Schedule

If your dog stays fairly clean with regular brushing, you might get away with fewer baths, Zawistowski says. But in general, dogs need to be bathed about every 3 months, according to the ASPCA.

If your dog gets dirtier, for example, by romping outdoors, consider lathering up more often. Always use a puppy or dog shampoo, not a people shampoo, Zawistowski says. Shampoos made for peoplearen't toxic, but they may contain fragrances and other ingredients that irritate pets' skin.

Though frequent brushing may do wonders for your dog, the same is not true of baths. Don't overdo it. "Most people bathe their dog more often than they need to," he says, sometimes weekly or every other week. Too many baths will strip the coat of natural oils that protect the skin, and your dog's coat will lose some of its shine and luster. However, there are dogs that will need more frequent, medicated baths, but only if your vet recommends it.


Cat Grooming

Cats and cat owners alike detest hairballs, and for good reason. It's great that felines love to lick themselves clean, but they can swallow a lot of hair that collects in the stomach.

To cut down on hairballs:

Brush your cat regularly. Your cat won't take in as much hair, especially if you wipe her with a clean cloth after brushing to pick up any loose hairs. If your cat has long hair, try to brush every day. Limit brushing sessions to 10 to 15 minutes. Longer sessions might upset your cat.

Skip the baths. Cats don't really need baths as long as they're able to groom themselves, he says. But if your cat's coat feels oily, greasy, or sticky, a bath is in order. First, give a thorough brushing to remove loose hair and mats. Then bathe your cat in lukewarm water with mild cat shampoo and dry her with a towel.

Check ears weekly. If your cat's ears are dirty, clean them with a piece of cotton or gauze. Or ask your veterinarian about an ear-cleaning solution.

WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on May 07, 2013



Stephen L. Zawistowski, PhD, scientific advisor, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Kahn, C. Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, Merck, 2007.

© 2012 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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