How to Bathe Your Pets Without Making a Mess of Your Bathroom

I never understood the magic of a detachable shower head until I had to wash my dog.

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Bathing a pet is almost always an unpleasant experience for both parties. The animals we often keep around tend to have an aversion to being forced into porcelain prisons and subsequently drenched with water, so washing them can prompt a spirited freakout that inevitably results in pet hair everywhere and a super frustrated animal owner.

There are some handy precautions you can take to help ensure that bathing your animal goes well — and therefore, you and your bathroom remain clean — though. For specific advice on that, I spoke with Pat Clancy, owner of Sparky’s pet salon.

But first, a quick word about bathing cats: In most cases, house cats never need to be washed, since they do a good job of grooming themselves with their tongues. However, there are some situations, like when your cat decides their litter box is a playground, or if they fall into a heaping pot of chili — I dunno, man, cats are weird — when you absolutely need to wash them. The good news is, since cats are much smaller than most dogs, bathing them tends to result in less mess. However, it can still be a real pain, so I suggest you watch the instructional video below and maybe buy yourself some rubber gloves to protect your hands from their sharp, rage-filled claws.

Now onto dogs, which need a regular washing and definitely have the capacity to explode the inside of your bathroom in the process. For our first piece of advice, Clancy says, “Bring your dog to the groomer.” This is a joke, kinda. But in all seriousness, if your dog is super opposed to being washed, taking them to the professionals is probably safer and easier for everyone involved. “It’s always harder to wash your own dog than to have someone else wash your dog,” Clancy explains. “It’s like kids — they act differently to their teachers than they do to their parents.”

But if you can manage to wash your dog at home, here’s everything you need to know to keep both you and them clean and happy.

Keep Them Secured
“The first thing is to make sure you somehow secure your pet,” Clancy explains. “You can use a leash, and tie it to the bathtub spout. You don’t have to tie them up or anything — we use something around their necks, like a leash, and then hook that to a thing we have screwed on the wall.” But since baths and showers rarely come equipped with random hooks screwed into the wall, Clancy says you can secure the leash to the shower head or soap tray — but make sure it’s nothing too flimsy, especially if you have a big dog, since they might just pull it right out of the wall. “You have to keep them from being able to move all over the place,” Clancy emphasizes.

To that end, you might also want to put a mat — or even an old towel — down on the bottom of the bathtub or shower to prevent your dog from slipping all over the place. “A lot of times people neglect to put something on the bottom of the bathtub floor or the sink to ensure that the dog gets their footing, so slipping is actually pretty common,” Emily Levine, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, explained to The Dodo. “With animals, they like to have a sense of control and know that they’re not going to be falling and slipping; so traumatic events really come from the perspective of the animal.” Remember, less stress equals less of a mess.

Depending on how many old towels you have sitting around, you might also benefit from covering the whole bathroom floor with them. Not only will this give your pet a good gripping when they get out of the bathtub or shower, it will also make the cleanup a whole lot easier.

Invest in a Detachable Shower Head
Detachable shower heads make pet washing so much easier. “A regular shower head isn’t so good, because the water is coming from so far up that everybody will get soaking wet,” Clancy says. Plus, washing a dog’s belly can be really tough when you can’t bring the shower head down to their level. “It’s a lot more noisy and bothersome to the dog, too.”

Use the Right Shampoo
Once you have the water running at a pleasantly warm temperature, and you’ve wetted your now-secured dog, it’s time to shampoo. “It’s certainly important to make sure you’re using a good shampoo — dog shampoo, all-natural shampoo,” Clancy says. “Scrub really good, like you’re massaging the dog. Make sure you clean everywhere: Under the feet, around the snout, by the eyes. If there’s a lot of gunky buildup around the eyes, don’t just rip that off. You need to slowly peel that off, or get it wet.”

Speaking of eyes, be extra cautious when you wash around them. “Be super-duper careful of the eyes,” Clancy reiterates. “If you get shampoo in the eyes, it can cause an ulcerated cornea for the dog.” Yikes!

Likewise, be sure to rinse away the shampoo more than you think you should. “When you’re rinsing, and you think you’ve got all the shampoo rinsed, rinse for another five minutes,” Clancy suggests. “That’s the biggest mistake people make — they don’t rinse off all the shampoo they have.” When shampoo lingers on the skin beyond a shower, it can cause irritation and dryness, neither of which your furry boi will appreciate.

Brush That Fur
Once your dog is thoroughly rinsed, dry them off with an old towel or two. Clancy also says blow drying  can give a great result — and it can reduce that wet dog smell — but you should always keep it on the lowest setting to avoid burning your dog. 

More important than that, though, is brushing your dog with a slicker brush after bathing them. “You need to brush the dog,” Clancy emphasizes. “Even if it’s just like a pug or beagle with short hair, that brushing really helps a lot. It helps stimulate the skin, and that produces more oil for the dog so they don’t have as much dry skin.” For the sake of keeping your bathroom (and house in general) clean, brushing also helps remove any shedded hair that might otherwise fall off your dog as they run about.

At this point, Clancy says you also have the option to clean inside their ears. “We use a solution that’s like half alcohol and half peroxide,” he explains — you can also by some pre-made solutions online and at most pet stores. “Put that on a cotton ball, and really wipe out the inside of the ear. You don’t have to dump a bunch in the ear, but you need to kind of wipe the gunk out.”

You can also clip or grind the dog’s nails, however, Clancy recommends saving that for the groomers. “Most people aren’t equipped to do nails themselves,” he says. So unless you know what you’re doing, just invest in some expert grooming.

At that point, you’re basically done. Now you can simply use your fancy detachable shower head to wash any hair out of the inside of your bathtub or shower, and throw any dirty towels in the laundry.

All that’s left to do now is watch as your fresh and clean dog runs directly into the yard and rolls in a big pile of dirt. Great…