Have you ever watched your puppy roll on the ground, lick their coat or chew at their fur? These are their ways of keeping clean. Sometimes, though, they’ll need a little help from you to look and smell their best. But don’t worry, we’re here to help. Read on for DIY ways to keep your puppy’s fur, skin, nails, teeth, ears and paws healthy and clean.
Bathing Your Puppy
All puppy trainers, breeders and veterinarians recommend bathing your puppy at least once every three months, but some may require more frequent baths if he or she spends a lot of time outdoors or has skin problems. Here are some steps to help you get started:
- First, give your pet a good brushing to remove all dead hair and mats, and then put him or their in a tub or sink that's been filled with about three to four inches of lukewarm water.
- Then, use a spray hose, large plastic pitcher or an unbreakable cup to completely wet your pet.
- Take care to not spray or pour water directly in their ears, eyes or nose.
- Gently massage in shampoo, working from head to tail, and rinse and repeat as needed.
- Dry thoroughly by giving your pet a good rub with a large towel. Voila, clean pet!
Puppies with loose facial skin or wrinkles—such as Shar Peis and Pugs—will need special attention. To prevent dirt and bacteria from causing irritation and infection, clean the folds with damp cotton. Always thoroughly dry the areas between the folds.
Bathing a Puppy
Some pups think that bath time is a perfect time to act goofy! Young puppies especially will wiggle and bounce all over the place, and tend to nip at bath time. If this sounds like your pet, put a floating toy in the tub with them so they can focus on that rather than on mouthing you.
Choosing a Shampoo
Using a shampoo formulated for pets is best. Human shampoos aren't toxic to pets, but some may contain fragrances or other substances that can irritate your pet's skin. Select a product that's specifically formulated for your species of animal, as some ingredients may be harmful when applied to different types of pets. It's always smart to talk with your pet's veterinarian to make sure you're selecting a shampoo that will meet your pet's needs.
Protecting Your Puppy’s Eyes and Ears During Bath Time
Since shampoos and soaps can be major irritants, ask your vet for a sterile eye lubricant to use during bathing—this will help protect your pet's eyes from shampoo. You can also use a sprayer or a showerhead with a long hose, allowing you to control water flow during rinsing. Avoid shampooing your pet's head altogether by simply using a wet washcloth to gently remove any dirt or debris from their face.
Protect your pet's ears, too, by placing a large cotton ball in each ear until the bath is over.
Brushing Your Puppy
Regular grooming with a brush or comb will help keep your pet's hair in good condition by removing dirt, spreading natural oils throughout their coat, preventing tangles and keeping their skin clean and irritant-free. Plus, grooming time is a great time to check for fleas and flea dirt—those little black specks that indicate your pet is playing host to a flea family.
The way you brush your pet—and how often—will largely depend on their coat type.
Smooth, Short Coats
If your puppy has a smooth, short coat (like that of a Chihuahua, Boxer or Basset Hound), you only need to brush once a week. Use a rubber brush to loosen dead skin and dirt and follow with bristle brush to remove dead hair. Polish your low-maintenance pooch with a chamois cloth and she's ready to shine!
Short, Dense Fur
If your puppy has short, dense fur that's prone to matting, like that of a retriever, brushing once a week is fine. Use a slicker brush to remove tangles and catch dead hair with a bristle brush. Don't forget to comb their tail!
Long, Silky Coats
If your puppy has a long, luxurious coat, such as that of a Yorkshire terrier, she'll need daily attention. Every day you'll need to remove tangles with a slicker brush. Next, brush their coat with a bristle brush. If you have a long-haired puppy with a coat like a collie's or an Afghan hound's, follow the steps above, but also be sure to comb through the fur and trim the hair around the feet.
Long Hair That's Frequently Matted
For long-haired pooches, it's a good idea to set up a daily grooming routine to remove tangles and prevent mats. Gently tease out tangles with a slicker brush, and then brush your pet with a bristle brush. If matting is particularly dense, you may try clipping the hair, taking care not to come near the skin.
Although shedding old or damaged hair is a normal process for puppies, the amount and frequency of hair shed often depends upon their health, breed type and season. Many puppies develop thick coats in the winter that are then shed in the spring. Puppies who are always kept indoors, however, are prone to smaller fluctuations in coat thickness and tend to shed fairly evenly all year.
Steps to Minimize Shedding
While you cannot stop a healthy puppy from normal shedding, you can reduce the amount of hair in your home by brushing your puppy regularly. Ask your veterinarian or groomer to recommend a specific type of brush or comb that will work best for your puppy’s hair type.
Excessive Hair Loss
Shedding is a normal process for pets. Excessive shedding can also be circumvented with proper nutrition. Quality pet-food manufacturers work hard to include the right amount of nutrients so that supplements are not needed, but pets with allergies or sensitivities might need to experiment with different brands to discover which food works best for them.
However, excessive hair loss or bald patches may be due to one of the following:
- Parasites (fleas, lice or mites)
- Fungal or bacterial infections
- Inhalant- or food-related allergies
- Kidney, liver, thyroid or adrenal disease (including Cushing’s)
- Pregnancy or lactation
- Certain medications
- Self-induced trauma due to licking
- Immune disease
- Contact with irritating or caustic substance
If you notice any of the following conditions, consult with your veterinarian for treatment.
- Skin irritation, including redness, bumps, rashes or scabs
- Open sores of any kind
- Bald spots or thinning of coat
- Dull, dry hair that pulls out easily
- Constant foot licking or face rubbing
Your puppy’s skin is an indication of their overall health, so it’s important to keep it in prime shape. When a skin problem occurs, your puppy may respond with excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking. A wide range of causes—including external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these—may be to blame.
First check your pet's ears and teeth, as these are often the source of odor-causing bacteria in pets. Simply keeping your puppy clean by routinely bathing him may be all that is needed to stop the smell.
Perfumes for puppies are not likely to be of toxic concern to most pets when used according to label directions. However, puppies with dermal allergies can develop skin irritation and those with nasal allergies might be affected by the smell. If you wish to use pooch cologne, administer only as directed and consult a vet if the pet has any history of allergies.
- If grooming proves fruitless and your puppy smells consistently stinky, please consult with your veterinarian to check to see if there's an underlying cause or infection.
Other Skin Problems
- Scratching, licking or chewing at skin
- Redness or inflammation
- Hot spots (one particular area where itching is intense)
- Round, scaly patches on the face and paws
- Dry, flaky or otherwise irritated skin
- Hair loss, bald patches
- Drainage of blood or pus
- Swellings, lumps or skin discoloration
- Rubbing face against furniture or carpeting
Causes of Skin Problems
One of the following may be causing an abnormality with your puppy’s skin and should be investigated by a veterinarian.
- Fleas. Bites and droppings from these pesky insects can irritate your puppy’s skin, and some pets can have an allergic response to the saliva following a bite. Some puppies may also be sensitive to flea-treatment products; certain flea collars, for example, may cause redness and irritation around the neck.
- Ringworm. This highly contagious fungal infection can result in inflammation, scaly patches and hair loss. You’ll want to treat it immediately to avoid other pets and people in the household from becoming infected.
- Seasonal or food allergies. Your puppy’s scratching may be due to their sensitivity to allergens from common substances like pollen, weeds, dust, mites, trees, mold or grasses. Many puppies, like people, get dry, flaky skin in the winter. Many puppies develop allergies to common ingredients in puppy foods, such as beef, chicken, wheat, corn or soy. Even fillers and colorings can be seen as foreign by your puppy’s immune system and lead to itching and rashes.
- Skin infections. Puppies can develop irritating bacterial or yeast infections when the skin is damaged due to the presence of another skin disorder.
- Sarcoptic mange. This skin disease caused by infection from the Sarcoptes scabei mite results in extreme itching and skin inflammation similar to an allergic response.
- Grooming products. Certain shampoos and grooming products can irritate your puppy’s skin. Be sure to only use grooming products that are meant for use on puppies.
- Stress or boredom. A puppy may lick their skin (especially her legs) excessively for many reasons. Some lick when not given adequate opportunity for activity or mental stimulation.
- Metabolic or hormonal problems. Several common hormonal problems can cause change in skin color, coat consistency, thickness and distribution.
Knowing When to See the Vet
You should schedule an exam with your vet as soon as you notice any abnormality in your pet’s skin or hair, or if your pet begins to excessively scratch, lick and/or bite areas on their fur.
Your vet may perform diagnostic tests in order to find the cause of your puppy’s symptoms, including a skin biopsy, test for ringworm, microscopic examination of the hair and skin for presence of parasites or infection, and blood tests to assess your puppy’s overall health
Mange is a skin disease caused by several species of tiny mites, common external parasites found in companion canines. Some mange mites are normal residents of your puppy’s skin and hair follicles, while others are not. While most puppies live in harmony with their mites, never suffering any consequences, mites can cause mild to severe skin infections if they reproduce.
There are two types of mange: “Sarcoptic” mange and “demodectic” mange. Sarcoptic mange (Sarcoptes scabei) is also known as canine scabies, and is caused by mites that are oval-shaped, light-colored and microscopic. This type of manage is transferred easily between hosts.
All puppies raised normally by their mothers possess demodectic mange(Demodex canis) mites on their skin, which are transferred from mother to pup during the first few days of life. There are three types of demodectic mange that affect canines:
- Localized cases occur when mites proliferate in one or two small, confined areas. This results in isolated scaly bald patches—usually on the puppy's face—creating a polka-dot appearance. This is considered a common ailment of puppies and puppies less than 18 months old. Approximately 90% of cases resolve with no treatment of any kind.
- Generalized cases, in contrast, affect a larger area of the puppy’s skin. Secondary bacterial infections make this a very itchy, and often smelly, skin disease. This form of mange could also be a sign of a compromised immune system, hereditary problem, endocrine problem or other underlying health issue. Treatment depends on the age at which the puppy developed the disease.
- Demodectic pododermatitis, one of the most resistant forms of mange, is confined to the foot and accompanied by bacterial infections. Deep biopsies are often required to locate these mites and make a proper diagnosis.
General Symptoms of Mange in Puppy
- Demodectic mange tends to cause hair loss, bald spots, scabbing and sores, and accompanying bacterial infections can make for an itchy and uncomfortable disease.
- Sarcoptic mange tends to result in restlessness and frantic scratching, with symptoms that generally appear one week after exposure. It also can result in hair loss, reddened skin, body sores and scabs. The most commonly affected areas are a puppy’s ears, elbows, face and legs, but it can rapidly spread to the entire body.
- Demodex mites can be transferred from one puppy to another, but as long as the puppy is healthy, the mites simply add to the puppy's natural mite population and no skin disease results. Isolation of puppies with even the most severe cases is still felt to be unnecessary. Though in rare circumstances, puppy-to-puppy contagion is possible. It is very rare for mites to be transmitted to humans or to cats.
- When sarcoptic mange is detected, the puppy is typically isolated to prevent the condition from spreading to other pets and humans. When passed to humans, sarcoptic mange causes a rash of red bumps, similar to mosquito bites.
Take your puppy to a veterinarian, who will perform a physical exam, analyze skin scrapings and try to confirm the presence of mange mites with a microscope. It can be difficult to identify mange mites if they’re buried deep in a puppy’s skin, so your vet may rely on clinical signs or your pet’s history to make a final diagnosis.
Depending on the type of mange and the breed puppy, medication may be given orally or topically by injection, shampoo or dip. Some infected puppies may also require special treatment for secondary skin infections. Treatment should be accompanied by skin scrapes every two weeks.
Please note: many skin treatments can be toxic to puppies, so check with your vet before beginning any treatment program for mange.
If your puppy has been diagnosed with sarcoptic mange, you’ll need to thoroughly clean or replace their bedding and collar and treat all animals in contact. If you suspect a neighbor’s puppy may be infected, keep your pets away to keep the disease at bay. Be sure to bring your puppy to the vet periodically as recommended for skin scrapes to ensure the mites have been eradicated.
Hot spots are red, moist, hot and irritated lesions that are typically found on a puppy’s head, hip or chest area that can become quite painful for the puppy. Anything that irritates the skin and causes a puppy to scratch or lick himself can start a hot spot, including allergic reactions, insect, mite or flea bites, poor grooming, underlying ear or skin infections and constant licking and chewing prompted by stress or boredom.
Puppys who are not groomed regularly and have matted, dirty coats can be prone to developing hot spots, as can puppies who swim or who are exposed to rain. Additionally, puppies with hip dysplasia or anal sac disease can start licking the skin on their hind-end. Thick-coated, longhaired breeds are most commonly affected.
Hot spots often grow at an alarming rate within a short period of time because puppies tend to lick, chew and scratch the affected areas, further irritating the skin.
Treating Hot Spots
You should visit your vet for an exam as soon as you notice any abnormality in your pet’s skin, or if your pet begins to excessively scratch, lick and/or bite areas on their fur. Your vet will attempt to determine the cause of hot spots. Whether it is a flea allergy, an anal gland infection or stress, the underlying issue needs to be taken care of. Your veterinarian will prescribe the care and medications needed to make your puppy more comfortable and allow the hot spots to heal. This may include the use of an Elizabethan collar to keep your puppy from biting and licking existing lesions.
Treatment may also include the following:
- Shaving of the hair surrounding the lesion, which allows air and medication to reach the wound
- Cleansing the hot spot with a non-irritating solution
- Antibiotics and painkillers
- Medication to prevent and treat parasites
- Balanced diet to help maintain healthy skin and coat
- Dietary supplement containing essential fatty acids
- Corticosteroids or antihistamines to control itching
- Hypoallergenic diet for food allergies
Preventing Hot Spots
Make sure your puppy is groomed on a regular basis, and you may choose to keep your pet’s hair clipped short, especially during warmer months. Follow a strict flea control program as recommended by your veterinarian.
To keep boredom and stress at bay, make sure your puppy gets adequate exercise and playtime with their human family or canine friends.