27 June 2014 | Doggie health issues

Maintaining the pH Balance in Dogs’ skin

Problem: The Itchy & Scratchy Show. Solution: Bath time! But will any soap or shampoo do?  

Snoopy has been scratching for days – a closer look reveals an irritated skin. No worries, nothing that a soak in the tub and a good shampoo won’t cure. You head to the kitchen for the dishwashing detergent, or to the bathroom to fetch the shampoo, or even better – grab a bottle of little Jimmy’s baby shampoo and prepare to give Snoopy a bath to help soothe his itchy skin (and combat that dreaded doggy smell at the same time). Wrong.

Barring a serious skin infection which could be due to a myriad of reasons, dry, flaking skin and mild infections could very well be cured by good old soap, but not the kind us humans use. Not even Jimmy’s mild baby shampoo.

The difference between dogs’ skin and human skin

First a brief biology lesson: Just like human skin, dogs’ skin is made up of different layers, the outermost being the epidermis – its primary function is to protect against the ‘nasties’ in the environment. The epidermis in turn is protected by the stratum corneum, which serves to hydrate the skin by adding moisture when necessary and preventing excessive evaporation. The pH levels of this layer are important because an imbalance in these levels can cause no end of skin problems – providing a breeding ground for bacteria, parasites and viruses. According to petmd, the normal range of skin pH levels for humans is 5.2 to 6.2 (more acidic) and for dogs, depending on size and breed, it is 5.5 to 7.5 (which is more alkaline). To put it in perspective, pure water has a pH very close to 7. To complicate matters further, the epidermis of a dog is much more delicate as it is only 3-5 cells thick (in humans it is about 10-15 cells thick) and hence very susceptible to bacteria if this balance is not maintained. Biology lesson over.

Only wash your dog with pet shampoo

So why should we not wash our dogs with the shampoos or detergents in our bathrooms and kitchens? Because our shampoos are designed to replenish and moisturise this important outer layer of our skin according to our human pH levels, and if we use these on our dogs, it will upset their delicate skin’s pH balance, leaving them vulnerable to infection and disease. (Particularly if we use dishwashing detergent which will strip the outer layer of all its goodness completely – just think what it does to the grease on our plates.) Infections will then lead to a further deterioration in your dog’s skin condition, and the smell worsens, so you wash them again, and it soon becomes a vicious cycle. A good dog shampoo will be formulated specifically to maintain your dog’s all-important pH levels.

Make sure you check the product label before you buy to be 100% certain (it should give the exact pH level or at least state that it is pH-balanced for dogs) and while you’re at it, check to see if the product contains natural skin moisturisers, such as vitamin E or aloe vera, which are an added bonus to get Snoopy’s skin condition back to its former glory.

The shampoo shopping experience can get more complicated because a dog’s pH varies tremendously. For example a German Shepherd has an extremely alkaline pH level while Labrador Retrievers tend to me more acidic. If you are unsure about what’s best for your particular breed, chat to the pet shop owner or even better, your vet.

There are a number of ways of preventing and treating problem skin conditions (grooming, diet and medical treatment to name a few), but a good bath – using the correct dog-specific shampoo – goes a long way to your pooch having a happy, healthy, and glossy coat and skin.

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