The Role of Water In Canine Skin & Coat Health
Water is a fundamental facet of the grooming process, and yet it is commonly overlooked for its value and effectiveness to gently cleanse, exfoliate, and moisturize the skin and hair coat. Water is expressly important to the overall health and vitality of not just the inside of all living beings, but to the outside as well. Water is in its simplest form- the most natural and safest vehicle for removal of pathogens and debris from the canine coat and the best source for adding moisture to the canine skin. Without considering the role of water aside from mechanically removing shampoo and dirt from the coat, we would come up short of really understanding and utilizing our options for caring for the very foundation on which we lay our grooming skills much as a painter does upon canvas.
Contrary to popular belief, water is not pure. Unless a salon has a large filtration system in place, the water coming from the shower heads, going into shampoo and topical dilution bottles, and going onto the skin of each pet which you bathe, all contains microorganisms and trace elements. Environmental changes such as heavy rains, drought, and changes in water table tapping can all affect the makeup of water from your pipes. The pipes themselves add certain elements to the water before we even add anything else to it.
Trace elements, chemicals and microorganisms within water used during the bath are deposited on the skin and coat and can superficially permeate the skin as well. The content of your water will affect what and how the skin absorbs, and it will also affect the actual content and ability of your topicals to perform their manufactured purpose. Keep in mind that you may find that your shampoo dilution rate may change, and the outcome of the coat may change as well depending on your water chemistry. Softened water will yield most usually an optimal performance of most any shampoo or topical when compared to well or city water from a tap which may be hard or contain trace elements.
It should be mentioned that with regard to cleaning and sanitizing both your shampoo dilution bottles, mixing bottles and your entire shampoo or hydro-dilution system, that the importance of proper sanitizing is paramount. Anaerobic and aerobic bacteria grows both in diluted shampoo as it sits, and on the inside of all bottles, hoses and fittings through which water and shampoo passes. Shampoo, conditioner and other liquid topicals are a feedstock for secondary bacteria to utilize. Once water is added to any bottled shampoo or liquid concentrate, the product’s storage and shelf life becomes quite short-(breaking the seal may also shorten shelf life, but not as directly as when water is added). These bacteria can quickly and aggressively populate the surface of such areas and grow into various molds, fungus and secondary bacteria colonies as well. This petrie dish environment is where skin infections like furunculosis begin.
Thereby, with diligent attention to cleanliness, we can avoid this possibility, get the most from our products, and have the best result upon the canine coat.
The temperature of water will not only affect the comfort of a pet, but it will also affect the skin’s absorption and moisturizing ability.
As well, it is simple sense that warmer water used in the shampooing process (using warm water to dilute your shampoo for application upon the coat) helps to beef up the cleansing ability of your surfactant formula by helping to liquefy congealed sebum build up and oil based dirt on the hair shaft and skin.
One should utilize a variety of temperature settings for any given pet client per their needs, but overall, the bathing water for a pet with no open sores or medical issues should always be tepid-warm. Water that is too hot is severely irritating and drying to the skin, and will cause heat stress reaction in most pets (listlessness, swaying, unsteadiness and drowsy expression). With the bath water being the most warm, the subsequent rinses should be progressively cooler in temperature. Meaning that the rinse after your shampoo should be cooler than the water used to wet the coat or apply your shampoo, and the water used to rinse conditioners from the coat should be the coolest. Water that feels warm enough upon your skin for you to bath in is far too warm for a canine. Water that is quite warm should never be applied to open, irritated or aggravated skin as it will be painful and likely worsen the symptoms due to damaged or sensitized epidermal nerve endings.
With reference to changing the water temperature while treating skin symptoms, the reason for this is that different temperatures possess different abilities or benefits upon the skin.
This temperature change process is to use warmth to both dilate or open the follicles or pores, and increase circulation and plump up the skin; thereby more easily releasing lodged sebum and oil based dirt on the skin and hair shaft surface. Warm water also helps swell and lift built up dead skin cells of the stratum corneum and aids dead hair up and out from the dilated follicle cup, and to help lift the hair cuticle depending solely on topical pH levels.
To use cool temperature upon the skin is to help constrict blood vessels and capillaries and tighten the skin, to seal moisture within the skin, and to help seal active ingredients upon hair shaft as well. Cooler water being used as your final rinse also calms epidermal nerve endings which can help alleviate generalized itching. Also, cooler water helps to congeal skin oil and set the topical coat conditioners upon the skin.
Soaks and Wraps
When doing soaks to soften layers of buildup, it is best to do these soaks warm- depending on the pet’s needs and age (older or ill dogs as well as pregnant or nursing females should not be allowed to have an elevated core temperature) so that the pet does not become chilled. When applying an oil treatment, it is also recommended to use a very warm rinse to keep the skin open before applying the oil and a warm towel wrap for maximum absorption.
Always stay tub-side and monitor the pet during the duration of any soak or wrap to be sure that they remain alert and do not slip or injure themselves just as you would during the bath.
Pressure and Flow
Since within many coat types the hair grows at an oblique or slanting angle to the skin, we should note that the direction of the water flow, coupled with the amount of pressure of that flow against the skin, can alter the lay of the coat and apply pressure to the arrector pili muscle and phylosebacous unit in general. One should rinse water through the coat in the direction that you wish for the coat to lay and in fact this will help you with training and setting the lay of coat. Drop coated dogs can be rinsed with the lay of coat even though they typically have a more lax arrector pili reaction. Furnished dogs can be rinsed with the growth of coat on the jacket, and against the coat growth on the furnishings. Stand up coats can be rinsed against the growth of coat. For double coated dogs, rinsing with the growth of coat but using an elevated water pressure will help to lift up and out dead packed coat if the skin beneath is healthy.
The pressure of the water can be both abrasive and damaging to irritated skin and brittle coat if set too high. One should use less pressure and higher volume of water when rinsing through the coat. Squeezing the hair with the shower spray held closely to the coat is safest, with minimal aggressive rubbing since hair is most vulnerable when it is wet and elastic. As well, pressure that is set too high will not only irritate the skin, but could also press pathogens more deeply into the hair follicle causing possible reactions.
In close, remember that water is an effective and incredibly gentle tool for canine skin and coat health and helping to ease the mechanical facet of the grooming process. Let water pressure and flow be one of the tools you have at your disposal to more easily do your job and optimize skin & coat health.