Do Shampoos Provide Any Real Benefit in the Management of Skin Disease?


Skin disease is one of the most common reasons for a vet visit1 and due to the multifactorial nature of most skin complaints, a multimodal approach is necessary for the optimum outcome. The use of specially formulated veterinary shampoos, either as standalone therapy or as adjunctive treatment, can be very valuable in helping to achieve the desired result for the patient in terms of comfort, resolution of clinical signs or long term management of chronic skin conditions. They may be used to remove surface allergens, control surface micro-organisms, remove scales and crusts and help to restore hydration, the epidermal turnover rate and the epidermal barrier. 

Factors that influence efficacy include employing the correct shampooing technique, frequency of use and selecting the appropriate formulation for the specific skin condition.  Ensuring a non-slip surface in the bath, using a towel or bath mat, will help to relax the pet during the process. Ideally there should be two applications of shampoo, with a thorough rinse in between. The first application should cleanse the coat and skin of surface dirt and old epidermal cells, whereas the second application of shampoo should be left in contact with the skin for 5-15 minutes (according to individual shampoo recommendations) to allow the active ingredients to be absorbed and penetrate the deeper cellular layers of the skin. It is important to thoroughly rinse off the shampoo after this second application. Frequency of shampooing will depend on the specific skin condition being managed, generally it is recommended to begin with twice weekly for the initial couple of weeks but this can be reduced to once weekly or every 2 weeks as adequate control is achieved. 

There are many different types of veterinary shampoo available and the choice on which to use should be guided by the specific properties of each and the skin condition in question. It is not uncommon for animals to have a combination of skin issues and it can be challenging knowing which shampoo to select, but on the whole, greasy, scaly skin will require shampoos with keratolytic and keratoplastic properties, whereas for dry, itchy skin look for shampoos with emollient properties. Many veterinary shampoos also have antimicrobial action, furthering their importance as adjunctive therapies for skin conditions as they can help to reduce the reliance on systemic antimicrobials in certain cases.  

In summary, veterinary shampoos should not be overlooked as an important component of topical therapy for the management of skin disease as, when used properly, they are ideally suited to provide fast and effective relief of clinical signs associated with many scaling and pruritic skin disorders.

1. Nielsen, TD., Dean, RS., Robinson, NJ., Massey, A., Brennan, ML. (2014) Survey of the UK veterinary profession: common species and conditions nominated by veterinarians in practice Veterinary Record 174, 324.