Bathing your dog is almost always a challenge. This is even truer for senior dogs, whose mobility is limited and nerves are constantly on edge. While some owners take their elderly dogs to a groomer, this can be costly and time-consuming. For many owners, the best option is to bathe their senior dog in the comfort of their home.

This can be a great idea, as it provides your dog with a familiar atmosphere, and makes bath time a bonding activity between the two of you. Due to the frailty of older dogs, it’s important to plan bath time accordingly.

Before beginning the bath, make sure you have the following supplies:

  • Gentle shampoo & conditioner. As older dogs tend to have drier skin, coarser coats, and a tendency toward alopecia, make sure you select the gentlest shampoo and conditioner you can find (without too many harmful chemicals). There are brands specifically designed for older dogs you may want to look into.
  • Slicker brush. These wide-sized brushes keep coats smooth and shiny. The fine bristles detangle and remove loose hair.
  • Washcloth & warm towels. A washcloth will ensure better lathering, and warm towels will feel wonderful against your dog’s achy bones when bath time is over. Pro tip: To make your towels warm, stick them in the dryer for a couple of minutes!
  • Non-slip bathmat. The slick bottom of the tub provides little traction for your dog’s paws. Older dogs with failing joints will have an especially hard time keeping their balance. Place a non-slip bathmat in the tub to keep them upright.
  • Sling/ramp (optional). If you have an older dog, it’s likely they have mobility issues. As a result, getting them into the tub can be very difficult. Unless you have an accessible shower space, or a low basin, you should use a sling to lift up their hind legs into the tub. You can also set up a ramp to help them get over the edge.

The Bathing Process

Once you have all the supplies you need, it’s time to prepare your dog for their bath. Note that, if your older dog is suffering from arthritis or other ailments, this may be a two-person job. Make sure to set aside a decent time window to get the job done. When it comes to elderly dogs, bathing can take a while.

With all the considerations in mind and supplies handy, follow these steps to make bath time a breeze.

Step 1: Prepare your four-legged friend.

Brush their coat, give them some treats, and indulge them in plenty of cuddles! Remind them that they’re in a safe space, and that you’re there to see them through this experience. Consider placing some cotton balls in your dog’s ear to prevent water from getting into the ear canal. Perhaps even let your dog sit in the bathroom with you as you prepare the bath so they don’t get caught by surprise. Especially if your older dog is suffering from cataracts or other visual impairments, hearing their bath being prepared will prevent shock.

Step 2: Prepare the bath.

Fill the tub with lukewarm water – not too cold and not too hot. Don’t fill the tub too high, just below their belly is perfect. Having a detachable shower head is ideal. But, if you don’t, keep a large cup or small bucket handy for rinsing. Make sure your supplies are within reach. Place your elbow in the tub to accurately assess the temperature of the water.

Step 3: Gently guide your dog into the bath.

You may need a partner for this – unless you have the previously mentioned mobility aids to make it an easier process. Talk to your dog in a reassuring tone as you lift and place them into the tub. Never plunk them in suddenly!

Step 4: Let the bathing begin.

Once your dog is in the tub, start pouring water over their body with the cup/bucket. If you have a detachable shower head, set it on the lowest pressure and use that. The shower head gives off a massaging feel, which feels especially good for arthritic older dogs. If you don’t have a detachable shower head, use your hands to massage your dog while you rinse them.

Then, massage and lather in the shampoo and conditioner thoroughly. Use a washcloth to scrub their underbelly and wipe any rogue suds away from their ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. As you wash your dog, feel free to sing or talk to them in a gentle and reassuring tone. Make sure that all soap residue gets washed off, as remnants can cause skin irritation.

Post-Bath Procedure

Once all the soap has been rinsed off, begin to drain the tub. Wrap your dog in the warm towel and begin to ease them back out of the bathtub. Remember to use either a ramp or sling for this if the tub has high walls. Towel-dry your dog while giving them plenty of praise for conquering their bath time fears.

Let your dog shake out any excess water and use a hair dryer to finish off the drying process. Keep it on a low setting, as you don’t want to burn your dog’s skin. Once they’re nice and dry, give them a treat to reward them for completing this feat.

With a mastered bathing routine, your elderly dog just may learn to fear bath time less. Not only can this be a heartwarming bonding activity, but it will ensure your elderly pet’s final years are as comfortable and squeaky clean as can be.  


About the Author: Ellie Batchiyska is a writer for Handicapped Pets, the top manufacturer of dog wheelchairs, harnesses, slings, and various other mobility aids.