Chlorhexidine for Dogs: What Every Pet Parent Should Know

Chlorhexidine for Dogs: What Every Pet Parent Should Know

Is chlorhexidine for dogs the answer to your pup’s common skin and oral health problems? Dive in and find out.

Dog hot spots, smelly skin folds, ear infections, skin infections, and gum disease. YIKES! As a dog parent, we’re betting you can check the box on many of these common problems (and you have the vet bills to prove it)!

That’s why chlorhexidine for dogs has become quite popular in pet circles. But what exactly IS chlorhexidine, how does it work, and when should you look for an alternative? Keep reading for the scoop.

What Is Chlorhexidine for Dogs?

Chlorhexidine is a disinfectant and antiseptic, used to help prevent or eliminate bacteria, viruses and fungal growth in both humans and our canine friends. Chances are, you’ve crossed paths with this ingredient at some point. You may have wiped your skin down with a chlorhexidine wipe to disinfect it before surgery or used a chlorhexidine dental rinse to aid your gum health.

Chlorhexidine for dogs is most popular for treating skin infections. You’ll find it available, without needing a prescription, in many forms: wipes, spray solutions, liquid additives, and shampoos. It comes in various concentrations, typically around 2% for dog skin care products and less than 1% for oral health products. It’s important to always follow directions when using chlorhexidine on dogs as too much of a good thing is not a good thing! Misusing chlorhexidine products for dogs can lead to side effects like itching, burning and skin rash. Consult your veterinarian before using chlorhexidine on your dog.

How Chlorhexidine Works on Dogs' Skin

Many dogs, especially those with allergies and weak immune systems, are prone to getting skin infections. And our wrinkly canine pals with all their skin folds can get pretty smelly too! Chlorhexidine products are often a sound strategy to help combat skin problems, as they help eliminate bacteria and fungi on the skin by disrupting the cell wall. By tackling the problem at the bacterial source, it can help dogs say goodbye to the discomfort of skin infections and help prevent them from reoccurring.

Symptoms of skin infection in dogs

  • Red skin
  • Bumps on skin
  • Itchy skin, as indicated by dog scratching or licking their skin
  • Scaly, thickened or flaky skin
  • Sores or crusty scabs on skin
  • Skin color changes
  • Discharge on skin

Cons of Chlorhexidine for Dogs' Skin

In general, chlorhexidine is considered safe for dogs, but there are some side effects to be aware of. For parents of dogs with sensitive skin, a common complaint when using ear wipes, body wipes or shampoos with chlorhexidine is that it makes the dog’s itching worse, dries out their skin, causes their hair to fall out, stings their ears, or gives them a scaly rash. EEK! If your dog has allergies or skin sensitivities, you may want to try another option before spending money on chlorhexidine dog products, which are often more expensive than other dog skin care products.

Additionally, be wary of using chlorhexidine as a dog ear infection medicine, and instead, take your dog to the veterinarian for their guidance. Chlorhexidine can harm your dog’s ear if your dog’s ear drum is perforated, which is a common occurrence with ear infections.

Eww, what's that smell?!

Beyond the skin irritation, many pet parents report a strong disklike (by them AND their dogs) to the overpowering smell of products with chlorhexidine. Dogs have a sense of smell 10,000–100,000 times greater than us humans, and although they can’t talk, there are other ways they show us they don’t like a smell. They may pull away from us when we have the product out or try and leave the room.

Best Chlorhexidine Alternative for Dogs with Sensitive Skin

For pet parents of dogs with sensitive skin, you want products that won’t cause irritation but will STILL target problematic bacteria at the source and offer immediate itch relief. Both veterinarians and groomers recommend Oxyfresh grooming products.

Only Oxyfresh products are formulated with proprietary Oxygene®, a gentle, non-toxic oxidizing ingredient that works right at the bacterial source. This ingredient is odorless and there are no coverups with overpowering harsh fragrances, which often cause itch and irritation. If your pup has sensitive ears or skin, give these Oxyfresh grooming products a try.

  • Oxyfresh Pet Shampoo: Formulated especially for sensitive skin, this moisturizing dog shampoo with silk amino acids will get your dog’s coat clean, soft and oh-so shiny without drying out their skin or causing flakiness. Gentle and soothing with no alcohol, dyes or phthalates, it’s a clean you and your dog can always feel good about.
  • Oxyfresh Pet Shampoo five star review

  • Oxyfresh Ear Cleaner: This hypoallergenic ear wash is perfect for cleaning the delicate skin inside dogs’ ears. No burning alcohol, bubbling peroxides or irritating fragrance ... just fresh, clean ears. It removes yucky brown wax buildup better than ear wipes, and provides instant itch relief, making it an essential defense against dog ear infections.

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Chlorhexidine Mouthwash for Dogs: What You Should Know

Chlorhexidine is often used in dog oral rinses to help eliminate and reduce bacteria counts and help with gum problems. Harmful oral bacteria overgrowth, in the form of plaque and tartar (calculus), is a common cause of bad dog breath and gum disease, which affects 80% of dogs by age three.

If gum disease progresses, it can affect a dog’s quality of life, leading to pain and troubles eating. It can even reduce their lifespan by several years. Chlorhexidine helps prevent plaque and tartar by targeting bacteria. Mouthwash for dogs, whether with chlorhexidine or not, is a growing trend because of how easy it is to use compared to a traditional dog tooth brushing routine.

Cons of chlorhexidine mouthwash for dogs

Even though we call it a mouthwash for dogs, dogs can’t actually rinse and spit out mouthwash like we can. They swallow the oral rinse, which can be problematic as chlorhexidine has a strong bitter taste. To mask the bitterness, many brands will add flavoring agents into their formulas, from steak to chicken and even mint. The problem with these dog oral rinses is the dogs won’t drink them. They don’t want their water bowls messed with! Therefore, it’s like dumping money down the drain ... along with the dog mouthwash.

The second problem with chlorhexidine mouthwash for dogs is that chlorhexidine stains teeth. If you’re trying to brighten your dog’s smile and get rid of the yellow buildup, chlorhexidine mouthwash is not the answer for your dog.

Best Chlorhexidine-Free Oral Rinse for Dogs

The best strategy regarding mouthwash for dogs is to look for a product that’s 100% free of flavors. So many oral rinses contain flavors that dogs turn their noses up at, from mint to green tea and more. The most popular mouthwash for dogs on the market is USA-made Oxyfresh Water Additive. It contains zero flavors, scents, dyes or alcohol.

No more masking that bad doggie breath – Oxyfresh eliminates it right at the microbial source with proprietary Oxygene®. This non-toxic purifier targets bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease but without the side effects of chlorhexidine (staining, bitter taste, and irritation for sensitive pups). It’s the simplest dog gum disease home remedy ever ... just add to dog’s water bowl and call it good. No brushing needed!

The bottom line: chlorhexidine for dogs can be effective in the fight against dog gum disease and skin infections, but for sensitive or picky pups, it’s smart to find products that can do the same thing but without the undesirable side effects. Ahem, like Oxyfresh! Give Oxyfresh products a try and see why veterinarians, groomers, and dog parents around the world swear by ‘em!

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Meet the Author

Melissa Gulbranson is the Co-Chief Operating Officer & Chief Marketing Officer for Oxyfresh. A recipient of the Pet Age's "Women of Influence" Award, she’s passionate about educating pet parents in ways that really resonate with them. Melissa loves days on the lake and hiking with her fur kid, Parker, and husband, Doug. Parker (a total ham) can be spotted running laps through the office each morning, greeting every team member. You can find Parker near the treats, and Melissa on Linkedin.