Shampoo Therapy for Your Itchy Dog

Written on December 16, 2010 by Staff Veterinarian

Why do I need to shampoo my dog?

  • Topical (applied to the skin) therapy is a crucial part of therapy for many skin diseases.
  • Topical therapy:
    • Removes bacteria, yeast, and allergens from the skin and haircoat
    • Helps reduce itching and scaling (dandruff)
    • Makes your pet look, smell, and feel better

If my shampoo is good enough for me, why isn’t it good for my pet?

  • Not all shampoo products are created equal
  • Human shampoo is pH balanced for human skin, which has a pH around 5.5 – your pet’s skin has a higher pH of 6-8.5
  • Human shampoos are much more irritating and drying to your pet’s skin

What are my choices of topical therapy?

  • Anti-bacterials: Target the bacterial overgrowth on your pet’s skin
  • Anti-fungals: Target fungal overgrowth, especially yeast, which can cause intense itching
  • Anti-seborrheics: Target dry scaling or greasiness
  • Anti-pruritics: Help reduce itching

Instructions for Shampoo Therapy

  • Plug pet’s ear canals with a couple of cotton balls to prevent water from entering the ear.
  • Use large amounts of lukewarm water to wet down the haircoat and skin thoroughly. It is important that the water is not too warm because increased water temperature can increase itching.
  • Use a generous dollop of the prescribed topical therapy to achieve a good lather all over your pet (some medicated shampoos may not lather as well as others). Avoid getting shampoo in the eyes.  You can use a washcloth to wash face or avoid face if that isn’t a problem area.
  • Pay particular attention and shampoo the skin folds around the mouth and tail, underneath the dog (armpits and groin areas), between the toes and pads, and both sides of the ear flaps.
  • Set a timer and allow a skin contact time of 10-15 minutes. Allow your pet’s paws to soak in the soapy water, especially if the skin problems involve the paws or the base of the claws.
  • Thoroughly rinse the lather off with large amounts of lukewarm water. Spend as much time rinsing as lathering!
  • If prescribed, follow medicated shampoo with a medicated rinse which may be left on for 10 minutes and rinsed off or massaged into coat and skin while wet and left dry as prescribed by your dermatologist.
  • Hand dry with a towel. Never use a hair dryer unless on a cool setting. Remember: increased temperature can increase itching.
  • Don’t forget to remove the cotton balls from both ear canals after bathing.
  • Repeat 2-3 times a week or as instructed by your dermatologist.


  • We recommend that you wear gloves when bathing your pet or applying any topical medications. People and pets can develop an irritation or an allergic reaction to a topical ingredient.
  • If you notice that your pet’s skin appears worse after bathing (itchier, redder or more irritated or develops new blisters or sores), please discontinue use of the product until you speak with a member of the dermatology team.
  • Sulfur-containing shampoos may stain jewelry. Benzoyl peroxide-containing products can bleach towels, fabrics, and carpets.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have further questions or concerns about your pet.

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