Many of us canine companion owners know of that “doggy smell”, and sometimes do our best to diminish it. It may not be an issue for us, but for people who are not used to being around dogs it can become pretty powerful.
What is that doggy dog smell, anyway? Dogs being mammals do have sweat glands in their skin but most of any perspiring, if it occurs, will come from their paws. This is why in the summer dogs can leave sweaty paw prints on wooden floors! Mostly, though, the process of heat exchange in canines occurs by panting or vasodilation of their blood vessels. The sweat glands in their skin on the hair follicles do produce a tiny amount of liquid that smells differently to each individual dog (but the same to all of us) along with sebum from the sebaceous glands which coats the dogs skin to help protect it. Built up amounts of this oil can also leave a musky doggy odour. Be noted that If your dog has symptoms of overproduction of this oil named oily seborrhea, it is best to speak to your veterinarian before trying to handle it yourself.
It’s important to consider our dogs skin pH level when looking for products to help reduce these odours. Like our canine friends, we have an acid mantle which is a fine film on top of our skin which helps to protect it, and the acidity or pH is dependant on each individual species. Canines acid mantle pH is roughly 7.5 on the pH scale, compared to humans who are roughly 5.5, which makes dogs skin more neutral/slightly alkaline and more prone to bacteria growth should the protective barrier film become disturbed. This makes even gentle human baby shampoo, with a pH of 5.5, much too acidic for dogs skin. Using a product designed for acidic skin will strip your dogs acid mantle, to which his skin will try to over compensate and can eventually lead to excess oiliness and odour.
Sulfates, parabens and phthalates
So by now you’re aware of the number one rule when it comes to caring for your dogs skin: that being no products intended for humans! It doesn’t quite stop there, though. Just like our own hygiene products, harsh chemicals such as sulfates, pthalates and parabens creep into dog products that can actually have detrimental effects which often lead to worsening that dreaded dog odour. Remember: our furry friends pH being more alkaline makes it much more susceptible to having its acid mantle destroyed.
Sulfates are probably the most discussed chemical when it comes to worsening skin conditions across all mammalian species. There’s 2 main types of well known sulfates, Ammonium lauryl sulphate (ALS) and sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS). Although they sound similar their structure is very different; SLS molecular structure is small, which means the molecules penetrate deeper layers of the dermis of the skin which disrupts the formation of new cells. ALS in contrast has much larger molecules unable to penetrate these layers of skin, and thus causes less irritation compared to SLS. Another major difference is the solubility in water between the two with SLS being much less soluble, and that SLS foams rather a lot whilst ALS much less. This doesn’t mean much else other than shampoos which are intended to be clear cannot use SLS as it would present itself a milky colour, and that products with ALS will produce less soap-suds. There are some rumours that SLS has links to causing cancer (in humans), although the credibility of this has yet to be proven. Whilst it is possible to find completely sulfate-free dog shampoos, if push comes to shove, ALS is much preferred whilst SLS should be avoided completely.
Parabens are another largely discussed chemical and are used in products primarily to prolong the shelf life. Parabens have been linked to interfering with hormones especially estrogen, which can cause some problems in regards to mating seasons and females attracting male dogs. But for this article, parabens have been linked to causing irritability or allergic reactions on the skin and thus should be avoided if possible. The main types of parabens in products to look out for are methyl, ethyl, propyl and butyl parabens.
Lastly we have phthalates, which are used as gelling agents in products to make them appear a thicker consistency. Whilst there aren’t many direct negative impacts on the actual dermis of canines, I thought I’d just mention them as there are veterinary studies to show that phthalates can damage vital organs, the endocrine system and the reproductive system – particularly developing testes – within animals. Phthalates have been banned in cosmetic products within the EU, but for our American readers, it may be something to note whilst searching for products for your pooches.
However, regardless of the ingredients I would advise to shampoo and clean your dogs skin sparingly for when he actually needs it. Whilst safer ingredients will not destroy your dogs acid mantle, they will still cause some alteration: whilst one wash of a harsh shampoo may completely break down the acid mantle, over washing of gentler products may also negatively affect the skin.
So what can I use?
There are actually many brands that take pride in taking a more natural and safer approach to canine hygiene. For my own personal ethics I also always opt for the cruelty free brands, and even then the market for products across all budgets are impressive. Here are some brands which you may love:
- Wild wash
- Faith In Nature
- Pure Light Botanics
- Serenity Pet
- Natures Groom
Helping Snowdogs… One owner at a time.