Labs have a thick, water repellent coat that tends to be on the oily side. This coat is designed to keep the Labrador warm and dry even in fridged water conditions. Too frequent bathing can strip the oil from the coat, robbing it of its water-repellent qualities and drying out the skin.
So, how often should you bathe your lab?
Labradors should be bathed no more than once per month to avoid stripping their coats of natural oils and drying out their skin. If a Labrador spends most of its time inside, then the time between baths may be much longer.
Since we advise bathing as infrequently as possible, there are certain things you should do beforehand to get the most out of each bath. Additionally, there are a couple things you want to avoid doing as well. I’ll discuss these in detail in this article, and give some tips that will make bathing a piece of cake!
Things to do before bathing
You won’t need to bathe your Lab very often so it is important that you make the most of each bath time by thinking about what to do before you bathe.
The Labrador’s coarse coat is not prone to matting, but it is still important to brush your Labrador’s coat in order to remove loose hair, dirt, and debris prior to bathing. Wouldn’t you rather your dog’s fur end up neatly collected in the garbage bin, rather than clogging up the hair trap in your shower?
A self-cleaning slicker brush is a great option for safely removing all of your Labrador’s loose hair as well as for distributing the oil throughout your dog’s coat. The self-cleaning feature is especially nice for the Labrador’s short rough fur, which can be difficult to remove from traditional slicker brushes.
Get your dog tired
Most Labradors love the water. After all, swimming is what this breed is made for. While it may not be challenging to get your dog into the bath, you may have a hard time getting them to stand still instead of having a blast playing in the water. If you want a more relaxing bathing experience, it’s a great idea to thoroughly wear your dog out by taking them for a long run or playing an extended game of fetch before you give them a bath.
Clean your Labradors ears
Labradors can be prone to dirty ears and ear infections, thanks to their oily skin and the flopped nature of the ears. It is very important to regularly clean your Labrador’s ears. This can often be a messy process, as your dog may have a tendency of shaking their head and sending ear cleaner and gunk all over. It’s a good idea to take care of ear cleaning before you give your dog a bath so that you can clean off the debris from the ear cleaning as well.
Things to avoid before giving your dog a bath
It’s important to plan out your dog’s bathing routine so that you can avoid bathing them at inopportune times. Here are a couple things you want to avoid doing in the days leading up to giving them a bath:
Topical flea treatments
If you give your dog topical flea treatment, usually by rubbing the medication between the shoulder blades, you should wait at least 24 hours before bathing. Since Labs are large dogs with thick coats, it is advisable to wait at least 48 hours after applying a topical flea treatment before you bathe your dog.
Topical anti-itch treatments
Unfortunately, many Labradors are prone to itchy skin. If you use a topical anti-itch cream for your dog, it is best to wait until it is nearly time to reapply before bathing so that you don’t waste the topical treatment or cause an interaction between the treatment and the shampoo that you are using
When should you give a Labrador puppy their first bath?
As cuddly and cute as they are, Labrador puppies often find themselves getting in sticky situations. That’s right. Sticky, stinky, dirty, wet – you name it. So, naturally we will want to freshen them up and keep them as cute as possible!
But when is it too early to bathe a Lab puppy?
Labrador puppies should not be bathed with soap until they are at least 3 months old. Until then, warm water and a rag should be used exclusively. At 3 months, you should use sensitive soap that has been diluted during the first couple of baths to avoid skin irritation.
This isn’t unique to Labradors, either. The AKC recommends that all puppies follow this gradual approach. Additional guidance is that you should consult your vet to determine if any special soaps should be used.
Shampoos for puppies and older Labs
For most of their lives, your Labrador will do well with any high-quality shampoo. Since you don’t want to strip the oils from their skin any more than necessary, it is best to choose a shampoo designed for sensitive skin.
Gentle shampoo is even more important for puppies and older Labs. For your puppy, choose a shampoo made especially for puppies, ideally a shampoo that is formulated with oatmeal. Look for a shampoo that advertises being hypoallergenic and soothing for your dog’s skin. It’s a good idea to choose a puppy shampoo that has calming herbs such as lavender, since it can be stressful as your puppy becomes accustomed to bathing. This shampoo formulated with collodial oatmeal and lavender is a good choice for tear-free puppy baths.
Your older Labrador will benefit from an especially sensitive shampoo that moisturizes the skin. Look for a shampoo that is pH balanced so that it doesn’t bother sensitive skin. Ingredients like aloe vera help to balance the levels of oil in the skin while cleaning. Avoid anything that contains alcohol or harsh chemicals. This shampoo formulated for sensitive skin which is free of soap and contains ingredients like aloe vera and almond oil to condition your older dog’s coat is an excellent choice for the aging Lab.
What to use if you don’t have shampoo
If you find yourself without shampoo when your dog has gotten into something particularly filthy don’t panic. Blue Dawn dish soap is a safe and effective way to clean your dog and kill adult fleas. Blue Dawn is quite gentle, but it does contain strong cleansers and should never be used regularly. However, if you find yourself in a pinch, this is a great option. For those who go on camping trips with their Labs, you’ll appreciate the ability to clean your camping dishes and your dog with the same soap.
Cleaning a Lab’s ears
It is important for most breeds to maintain clean ears, but for the Labrador, ear cleaning is especially essential. Dogs with floppy ears, such as the Labrador, are more prone to ear infections and other ear disease than breeds with upright ears or ears that fold over at the tip. The floppy ears paired with a Lab’s oily skin means that Labradors are especially prone to ear infections.
Don’t over clean!
It is important to regularly clean your dog’s ears to prevent ear infections, but it is also important not to over clean, as this can lead to irritation and infections as well. Therefore, you should only clean your Labrador’s ears when they need it.
A healthy, clean ear is pink and has no odor. When you notice black or brown dirt or debris building up around the ear or if the ear has a stinky or yeasty smell to it, it is time to clean.
Choose an ear cleaner that is approved by veterinarians, is gentle, and cleans with minimum scrubbing and trauma to your dog’s ears. If your dog is very prone to ear infections as many Labradors are, an ear cleaner containing hydrocortisone that is designed to combat bacterial, yeast, and viral infections may be a good option.
Fill your dog’s ear canal with the cleaner by holding your dog’s ear canal open. Spread the cleaner around the ear canal, using your fingers to massage the base of the ear. You should be able to hear the cleaner squishing around the ear. Most dogs have an impulse to shake their heads during this process, so it is a good idea to hold your dog’s head firmly while you massage the ear.
Next, pour the cleaner out of your dog’s ear canal or allow them to shake their head to get it out. Use cotton balls or gauze to firmly wipe the interior of your dog’s ear, taking care to get into any crevices. You may need to soak a cotton ball in some more ear cleaner in order to remove any stuck on debris.
How to wash a dog’s face
Labradors have shorter, softer hair on their face, which means that their faces often seem more oily than the rest of their coat. If you find that your Labrador has an oily face before you’re ready to give them a bath, you can use gentle wet wipes made especially for dogs to remove the excess oil and get your Lab’s face smelling nice again.
When bathing your Lab, take special care when washing the face to make sure that water doesn’t get into the ear canals, which can make ear infections more likely. In order to avoid this, pinch the ear canal closed while wetting the face.
The best way to dry off your Lab
You can dry off your Labrador by rubbing them down with a towel. It’s wise to use one towel to soak up most of the moisture and another to vigorously rub the coat and remove the rest of the water. Because Labradors have a water-resistant coat, they tend to shed water after a bath quite easily.
Minimizing the wet dog smell
Have you noticed that after giving your Labrador a bath they actually smell worse with a strong wet dog smell? The smell will go away as your dog dries, but it may take a couple of hours and leave your house smelling like dog for some time. If you really want to avoid the wet dog smell, try blow-drying your dog after a bath in order to eliminate the last bit of moisture in their coat.
Things to watch out for in the days after
If this is the first time that you have bathed your dog or if you are switching to a different shampoo, it is especially important to monitor them closely after their bath to make sure they don’t have an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the shampoo that you used.
Look for dry, itchy skin, redness, or signs of lethargy or refusal to eat. Dogs often shed more right after a bath, so it’s a good idea to brush your dog again after bathing and continue to brush more frequently for the next day or two until all of the shed hair has gone.
Lastly, monitor their ears. Their floppy ears make them more prone to ear infections, so catching any signs of irritation at the onset may save a trip to the vet if you can clean out the ears and keep them dry!