How to Bathe a Dog with Arthritis

Medium
30 - 60 Minutes
1 Month

Introduction

Bella is a 13-year-old shepherd-lab cross. Although she seems to be a fairly active farm dog, her owners have noticed she has slowed down substantially from her younger days. Bella gets up more slowly, spends a lot of time inside in the winter, and does not roam as far from the house as she once did. She is starting to suffer from arthritis. Her owner decides one day that she needs a bath, as she spends so much time in the house now, and she is starting to smell very much like the farm dog she is. So a bath is run, and Bella’s owner bends down to pick her up. Much to her owner's surprise, when she goes to lift Bella, Bella growls and snaps at her! Bella has never done anything like that before, it is quite a shock.  

A dog with arthritis like Bella can act unexpectedly due to pain, discomfort, and anxiety about being handled. Bathing a dog with arthritis will require some adjustments for the dog's mobility issues to make it comfortable for your dog and to avoid unexpected, even dangerous, behaviors.

Dog's Perspective

When a dog with arthritis is experiencing joint pain, manipulation and strain on those joints can be painful and frightening for your dog. The dog may feel insecure, especially when in a strange environment like a bathtub, or when being picked up or handled.  In addition, a slippery bathtub may make your arthritic dog feel that she is in danger of slipping, which she has learned is a lot more painful then it was before she had arthritis. Making adjustments to help your dog feel secure and minimize discomfort will be necessary, in order for your dog to be comfortable being bathed.

The Physical Assistance Method

Effective
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Towel
Step
1
Use non-slip mats
Prepare the bath area with rubber mats. You may need to use several rubber bath mats to line the bathtub or shower stall so that there is no danger of slipping and your arthritic dog has good footing and padding if he should slip.
Step
2
Use an accessible area
If possible, use a shower stall your dog can walk into and get in the stall with your dog to bathe him. This will prevent having to lift an arthritic dog. If you live in a warm climate and have warm water supply outside, washing your dog outside may be another option.
Step
3
Use ramp or steps
If using a bathtub is necessary, using a ramp or pet steps to allow your dog access to the bathtub may be preferable to lifting him. Special steps for bathtubs are available commercially that will allow an arthritic dog to access the tub on their own.
Step
4
Lift securely
When lifting your dog is necessary, gently place one arm around his chest and another around his behind. Make sure you are strong enough to lift the dog so he feels secure. Watch for signs of discomfort.
Step
5
Get help
Have an assistant help you lift or handle the dog if necessary to minimize strain on the dog's joints and to comfort the dog if he becomes stressed.
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The Minimize Stress Method

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Step
1
Minimize manipulation
Use a handheld shower so you can reach under your dog's legs and reach his underside and do not have to the manipulate legs and body to reach everywhere. Or, use a washcloth on the face and any hard to reach areas so you can minimize moving your dog to shampoo and wipe off soap.
Step
2
Use warm water
Make sure water is warm but not hot. Cold water will not feel good to your arthritic dog and they may not be able to move away from hot water that is unconformable.
Step
3
Be prepared
Have supplies like shampoos and conditioners on hand so that you can reach them easily and decrease the duration of the bath. Keeping bath time short is easier on an arthritic dog.
Step
4
Move slowly
Move joints and manipulate your dog slowly to ensure that the process is comfortable for your dog. Watch for signs of discomfort and stop moving or manipulating limbs if this occurs.
Step
5
Dry in a warm location
Gently pat your dog dry with a towel. Avoid rubbing, which can cause discomfort due to movement. Avoid blow dryers, which can overheat an area on an arthritic dog and, due to pain in joints, they may not respond. Put your dog in a warm area of the house. Small areas with heat vents, like bathrooms, tend to be warmer and less drafty for air drying.
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Caution & Considerations

  • Arthritic dogs may become aggressive or behave unexpectedly if in pain. Take precautions.
  • Observe arthritic dogs for signs of discomfort and adjust handling as necessary.
  • Minimize bath time to avoid overstressing. Use wipes between baths to minimize the number of baths or conduct multiple short baths a few days apart instead of one long one to get your dog clean.
  • Make sure non-slip mats are available to keep your dog's footing secure.
  • Make sure stairs or ramps to access tubs are set up correctly and are safe for your dog to use.
  • Pick a time of day to bathe your dog when your dog is feeling better, perhaps midday. Avoid first thing in the morning, when your dog may be stiff, or later in the day, when your dog may be tired.

Conclusion

Your arthritic dog may feel quite insecure and unsure what will cause him pain, and this can make him more difficult to bathe. Take some time to think of ways to adjust bath time so that your dog's movements are minimized and he feels secure.  Let your dog be your guide; during the process, watch for signs of discomfort or distress and make allowances for decreased mobility during the bathing process.

Success Stories and Grooming Questions

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