Does My Dog Need Skincare?Reading Time: 5 minutes
Do Dogs Really Need Skincare?, Cleansing products for canine paws and fur are part of a growing market., Luxury skincare for dogs is a thing. Here’s what to know about dog shampoo and paw care.
My dog’s psychic abilities are rarely more impressive than when he’s about to get a bath. As soon as the thought to give him one occurs to me, he’s already hiding under a table or in his crate, making me feel like some sort of evil water villain. His clairvoyant powers can likely be attributed to dogs’ impressive ability to read physical cues, but also to the fact that bathtime is pretty much always prompted by him having rolled around in something more disgusting than you could ever possibly imagine. The lady is going to torment me again, you can imagine him thinking. On the plus side, I got to roll around in a generously decomposed mouse earlier.
Suffice it to say he does not have a personal skincare routine that he delights in. Still, there’s a growing market around giving canines moisturized paws and a cleansed glow. Pet owners worldwide spent $4.13 billion on skin- and coat-care products in 2022, a number that is expected to grow by nearly 10 percent in the next decade. You can now find a dog shampoo to fit every skin issue, and every coat texture.
The brand Pride+Groom separates their products by whether your dog has hair (longer and finer) or fur (shorter and denser). There are aromatherapy brands, and products focused on shininess, and specific coat color. Want your dog to smell like your favorite OUAI, Aesop, or Kiehl’s products? Look no further than OUAI, Aesop, and Kiehl’s, each of which offer products formulated specifically for dogs. If yours has sensitive skin, but not so sensitive they need a prescription shampoo, you might seek out Floof, a relative newcomer to the dog skincare scene specializing in gentle ingredients.
Michael Kim, CEO and founder of Floof, told me he started the brand in part because his French bulldog, Leo, had skin issues. After taking him to the veterinarian, Kim was surprised at the dearth of shampoos on the market that were gentle enough for Leo. He did a bit of research and found two pieces of information that inspired him to get in the game himself: that dogs’ skin is thinner and more sensitive than humans’, and that the FDA doesn’t regulate nonmedicated dog shampoo. He worried that brands could be including harsh chemicals without being transparent about it, or using overly vague language to cover their sins. An example he gave is that some shampoos will say they’re coconut-based ‘when they’re actually using SLS [sodium lauryl sulfate] or coco betaine,’ he said, ‘which are harmful chemicals for dogs.’ His brand, created with veterinary dermatologists, aims to use the gentlest chemicals it can, and avoids artificial fragrances. The result is a shampoo and conditioner ($26 each, or $46 as a bundle), renewing wipes ($30), and a soothing cream ($22) that are all likely more expensive than the products you use on yourself.
Some dog owners will see those prices (and, perhaps, the idea of dog skincare at all) and think, ‘Yeah, right.’ Others, like myself, will see them and think, ‘Yes, of course, no problem, if it’s better for my dog I’ll pay anything, I’ll pay double if you need me to, just tell me where to input my credit card number right now, and please hurry!!’ But it seems worth asking: Do dogs need fancy coat and skincare, really? Have we been doing wrong by them this whole time? I trust Michael Kim, but one must acknowledge that, as the founder and CEO of Floof, it is in his best interest to say good stuff about Floof. More objective sources might be necessary.
‘Let’s put it this way,’ Stephen White, a professor with the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, told me. ‘For almost any shampoo, somewhere on this planet there’s a dog who’s going to have an adverse reaction to it.’ He said skin issues that arise with different types of dog shampoos do so more often because of a breed’s particular genetic makeup than because an owner chose a subpar brand.
When choosing a shampoo for a healthy dog without known skin issues, he said, the most important thing is to make sure it’s specifically made for dogs; their skin is, indeed, thinner than ours, and has a different pH, making human shampoos (and skincare products otherwise, like cleansing wipes) too harsh. How you apply the shampoo is also important—rubbing back and forth, like you would with your own hair, can damage the dog’s hair bed; instead, start at the top of the head and move backwards, and be sure to rinse thoroughly. Then you need to monitor your dog’s reaction to the product, and swap it out with something else if necessary.
Carly Fox, senior veterinarian at Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City, told me that itching, redness, saliva staining, hair loss, odor, and bumps (which can indicate an underlying skin infection) can all be signs that the products you’re using on your dog are doing more harm than good, or that your dog has an underlying condition. If you notice any of these signs, your vet should be consulted. ‘In general, if shampoos are made for dogs, there should not be any major problem if using them on a normal, healthy dog’s coat,’ she said. ‘However, any shampoo can cause irritation and sensitivity on any animal—just like in people. This sensitivity can be more pronounced in dogs with underlying skin allergies.’
But what about those soothing creams marketed to be used on dogs’ paws and noses—are they necessary? (Floof‘s comes in the same style of packaging as a chic human hand cream, and I might be tempted to use it myself if it weren’t for the ‘FOR DOGS ONLY’ warning.) ‘I don’t think they’re going to have an adverse effect,’ White said. ‘But I think those actually have a very niche market, in dogs whose footpads are actually cracking.’ While there are a number of products like this on the market, the most well known is probably Musher’s Secret, which was originally created for sled dogs, who can develop problems with their foot pads. White says if you notice your dog’s foot pads or nose cracking, you should take them to your vet rather than try to remedy the problem yourself; it may be a sign of something more serious. Keeping your dog properly hydrated is also necessary in preventing a dry nose and dry skin. (It may not surprise you to learn that dog-specific bottled water is a thing, too. Unless your vet says otherwise, I’d say tap is fine.)
The bottom line seems to be that, as with many things in dog guardianship, there is no one-size-fits-all rule. Some dogs will need a more particular skincare regimen than others; this might mean a prescription shampoo, or a fragrance-free over-the-counter conditioner, or a fish oil supplement. Some dogs just won’t be happy without Aesop’s signature scent. (JK.) Most healthy pups should be able to use the dog shampoo you pick up at CVS. It isn’t ridiculous to want to give your dog what’s best for their needs. Whether that results in a bougie skincare routine or not, the most important thing is that they’re comfortable and healthy.
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