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When Can You Give a Puppy A Bath? What Are the Risks?

newly bathe puppy drying up with towel

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

Vet, MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you’ve ever had to look after newborn puppies, you’ll know how dirty they can get. Thankfully, mother dogs are generally great at keeping their pups clean and will groom them by licking them while they nurse. However, once the puppies start climbing into and experimenting with sloshy solid food, keeping them clean becomes an impossible task for mommy dogs, and you may need to step in and help her out. From around 8 weeks of age, you’ll be able to bathe the puppies yourself.

Keep reading if you’ve got a few dirty puppies that need some cleaning. We’re going to discuss why puppies should only be bathed from 8 weeks, how to clean them before that age, how often you should bathe puppies, and how to bathe them.

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Why You Shouldn’t Give Your Puppy a Bath Before 8 Weeks

Unless your dog has had a litter of puppies or you’ve rescued a puppy, you should be able to bathe your new puppy right away. Puppies available for adoption are usually around 8 weeks old—when they’re completely weaned off of their mothers and eating solid food.

However, if you’ve rescued a young puppy or are raising them from birth, you can give them their first bath at around 8 weeks of age. Before this age, a simple bath can hold risks that aren’t worth taking.

For the first few weeks, a puppy cannot maintain its own temperature and needs the warmth of their mothers and littermates to stay warm. Before 8 weeks, their puppy coat is still developing, and they have trouble regulating their body temperature. It’s only from around 4 to 6 months that they start to lose their puppy coat and develop their adult coat, which is thicker and stiffer and better at keeping them warm or cool.

Puppies bathed too early may struggle to warm up afterward and are at a higher risk of becoming sick. Water inhalation and high-stress levels are other risks that come with bathing your puppy before their little bodies are strong enough to deal with such an event.

When your puppy is at a suitable age for a bath, give them one. The earlier you start bathing them, the faster they’ll get used to the activity. Dogs that aren’t bathed as puppies tend to be more scared of bath time when they really need it.

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Newborn basenji puppies
Image Credit: Rosa Jay, Shutterstock

How To Clean Your Puppy Before 8 Weeks?

There are circumstances when a bath is absolutely necessary—rolling in poop or mud, just to name a few. However, even those situations don’t warrant a water bath for very young puppies. Instead, use a warm washcloth or puppy wet wipes to wipe down the dirty areas on your pup. You may have to go over those areas a few times before they’re cuddle-safe once more.

How Often Can I Bathe My Pup?

How often you should bathe your pup depends on their breed. You should only bathe a puppy about once every 2 to 3 months. Dogs groom themselves but also require care and additional help from their owners. Dogs with long coats require frequent baths, while dogs with shorter coats require less. However, they need to be groomed and maintained regardless of their coat length.

How often you bathe your dog can also depend on their lifestyle and health. If your dog prefers to live inside with the occasional run outside, they’re going to require fewer baths than dogs that go on hunting trips or who live on muddy farms. A bath is always necessary if your dog’s coat requires it. Your dog may also require baths more often if they have a skin problem, and your veterinarian has prescribed a medicated shampoo for them to use, along with how often they need to use it.

It’s important to be aware of the risks that come with over-bathing your dogs. As fun as it can be to bond with your dog during bath time, they don’t need it and shouldn’t have it daily as people do. If you wash your puppy excessively, you may cause harm to their skin and coat by stripping them of their natural oils. A lack of natural oils will lead to dry, sensitive, and itchy skin, along with a dull coat.

newborn puppy
Image Credit: JackieLou DL, Pixabay

What Not to Do

Dog products aren’t a scam. They’ve been specifically formulated for your puppy or dog’s skin, which is different from humans. When washing or grooming your puppy or dog, there are several areas you shouldn’t take any risks in. Here are a few things not to do:

  • Never use human products, such as shampoos and conditioners on puppies and dogs.
  • Don’t cut their nails unless you’ve been shown how to do so.
  • Don’t shave their hair unless you’ve been shown how to do so.
  • Never put human deodorant or perfume on your dog as it could result in respiratory problems.
  • Don’t wash your puppy/dog outside on a cold day as it’ll drop their body temperature.
  • Don’t let your puppy ingest the shampoo or conditioner, as it could make them sick. Avoid it going into their eyes too.
  • Never leave your puppy unsupervised in the bath.

If you want your puppy’s nails cut, their coat trimmed, and their anal sacs expressed, take them to a groomer who is trained to perform these tasks.

How To Bathe a Puppy? (12 Steps)

There are several steps that go into bathing a puppy, and if you want the smoothest process possible, it’s best to prepare before your pup starts struggling their way out of the bath.

Step 1: Start by getting everything you need into the area where you’ll be bathing the pup. If it’s in the bathtub, then place everything on a table next to it. You’ll need puppy shampoo, cotton balls, a washcloth, and towels.

Step 2: Pour warm water into the bathtub, filling it to about knee height.

Step 3: Get your puppy and brush through their coat, removing all knots and debris.

Step 4: Place the cotton balls into your puppy’s ears to prevent water from getting trapped in them, which could lead to an ear infection.

Step 5: Place your puppy into the water. Stroke them and talk calmly to them as this will reassure them and lower their anxiety.

Step 6: Use a jug to scoop and gently pour the warm water over your puppy until they’re completely wet. You can also use a hand-held sprayer if your tub has one. Just be sure to keep the pressure on low as the noise and force could scare your pup.

Step 7: Grab the shampoo, pour it into your hands, and lather it together, massaging it into your puppy’s coat. Do this over their whole body, except their face.

Step 8: Rinse your puppy over and over until you’re sure that there isn’t any shampoo still left in their coat—and then rinse them one last time. Rather over-rinse than under-rinse as product left in their coat could cause their skin to react, feel slimy, and look dirty.

Step 9: Remove dirt off their face by using a warm washcloth.

Step 10: Remove the cotton buds from their ears and take them out of the bathtub.

Step 11: Allow your puppy to shake off the water and then wrap them in their towel, drying them as much as you can. Turn it into a fun activity, playing with your puppy as you dry them.

Step 12: If your puppy isn’t scared of the blow-dryer, use it on them on a low setting. Your puppy needs to be completely dry before you let them go outside on a cool day.

three puppies having a bath
Image Credit: jenniferhoule, Pixabay

If your puppy’s first bath didn’t go as planned and was a bit of a nightmare, be reassured that it gets easier the more you do it, as your puppy will become familiarized with it. Give your puppy treats and praise when they behave well and distract restless pups with a floating toy in the bath while you wash them.

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Final Thoughts

Bathing your puppy is a great way to bond with them while removing dirt, mud, or poop. However, puppies should only be bathed once they’re around 8 weeks old as their bodies struggle to regulate their temperature before this age. To clean a puppy before 8 weeks of age, use a warm washcloth or puppy wipes. If they’re not heavily dirtied, leave it to their mother to groom them.


Featured Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

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