Gold Souls, Gray Faces: 7 Tips For Giving Your Senior Dog A Bath

Close up portrait serious black dog being bathed

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Gold Souls, Gray Faces is a series for senior dog lovers that provides tips and advice for care of older pups. Bath time is important for dogs of any age, but it can be trickier for senior dogs that deal with arthritis, skin conditions, blindness, and more. Usually, dogs should only be bathed as needed, and while seniors are no exception to that rule, medical issues that cause frequent potty accidents, such as incontinence, may make baths necessary more often than when they were younger. Dogs also just get dirty from their day-to-day activities, so sooner or later, they’re all probably going to need baths. When bathing your senior dog, you should make every effort to get them as comfortable as possible, work with their medical needs, and reduce anxiety. Here are seven tips for giving your senior dog a bath.

1. Work With Your Senior’s Schedule

Senior dogs can be more set in their ways, and when it comes to conditions like dementia, a routine can be beneficial and reduce stress. A bath is not an everyday event, and if it disrupts your senior’s schedule, they can feel more anxious. Interrupting meal time, potty time, or nap time can also throw your dog off and make them uncomfortable. Try to pick a time of day when your senior is most likely to be active, but not specifically engaged in other activities like eating or going potty. This will help make sure you are causing as little disruption to their routine as possible.

2. No Surprises–Take It Slow

He smiles because he knows it will be at least another week before his next bath

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Putting an unprepared senior dog in a bath, especially if they are visually impaired, can cause serious anxiety and make bath time far more difficult and unpleasant than it needs to be for both you and your dog. While you are preparing the bath, have your senior in the bathroom with you. If they have difficulty seeing, they will at least be able to hear the running water and know what to expect. When the bath is ready, lower them gently into the water. Talk to your dog and comfort them as you do so. The bath should only be filled part way so your senior can get used to it. You can add water as needed once they are settled in.

3. Praise, Soothe, Reward

If you’ve been bathing your dog their whole life, you probably understand how important it is to keep talking to them in a soothing, comforting voice. A bath is not really a natural thing for most dogs, but as their guardian and protector, your reassurance can help reduce their anxiety. Give your senior rewards that work for them, and keep their mind occupied. If they like treats, give them one every so often. If they have a toy that they like, let them hold it in the tub.

4. Check The Temperature

Portrait of a wet Jack Russell Terrier in bathtub having a bath

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Older dogs are more affected by extreme temperatures. Make sure you are using lukewarm water in the tub. If the water is too hot, it can cause dogs to overheat and pant, which will make them more anxious. If the water is too cold, it can cause their joints and muscles to contract, which is especially bad for dogs with arthritis. Lukewarm water will help your dog’s muscles to relax without causing them to overheat.

5. Use The Right Products

Just as there is shampoo for puppies and adult dogs, there is also shampoo designed for senior dogs. Seniors are often more prone to skin conditions and allergies, so it is especially important that you stick to products that specifically address those conditions. Shampoos are also formulated for different kinds of coats. You should ask your veterinarian which type of shampoo will be best for your individual senior dog, as there are many factors to consider. If your dog needs other products, like conditioner or de-tangler, your vet can advise you on that, as well.

6. Massage Sore Spots

Wet Beagle taking a bath at home bathtub covered with orange towel.

(Picture Credit: Getty Images)

For senior dogs that suffer from arthritis, massages can help improve blood flow to the joints and ease soreness in tense muscles. A bath is a great time for a massage because the warm water will help muscles relax. As you wash your dog, pay special attention to any problem areas that are sore. Spend some extra time gently rubbing those muscles.

7. Towel Off And Dry Right Away

Going from warm to cold can be especially uncomfortable for senior dogs, and it can make them tense up and worsen arthritis symptoms. This is why it is important to make sure your bathroom is nice and warm; that way when your old dog gets out of the tub, the transition will be less of a shock to the system. Once your senior is out of the tub, start drying them with a warm towel right away. Drying them off quickly will help reduce the chill they might get. If you use a hair dryer, make sure it is on a low setting to avoid burning or overheating your dog’s skin. Of course, follow the drying process with plenty of rewards and praise for your old dog.

How often do you bathe your senior dog? Do you have any tips for bathing an older pup? Let us know in the comments below!

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