Hariamrit Khalsa contributed to this post.
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If at all possible, we avoid bathing young puppies because they aren't able to regulate their body temperatures yet and can get chilled very easily. There are times, however, when for various reasons it's necessary to bathe a puppy that is very young.
Young puppies don't regulate their body temperature until they are about 4-5 weeks old. The exact time they reach this developmental marker varies by breed and even by litter.
When neonates, puppies have a rectal temperature of about 97 degrees Fahrenheit (36 degrees Celsius). As they grow, their temperature slowly rises until it hits adult level at somewhere between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to 39 degrees Celsius). If at all possible, we wait to bathe puppies until they reach their adult temperature and can better regulate their own body temperature.
In most cases, baby wipes or dry shampoo works great on the little ones. In the event we do have to bathe a puppy before this time, here is how we do it to prevent chilling and distressing the puppy.
We prepare a warming basket, as we do when whelping. We put a soft fleece in the bottom of the basket, place a heating pad or hot water bottle on top of that, then another couple of layers of fleece over the heating pad. Be sure your heating source is not too hot as you do not want to scald the puppy.
We also place a couple of towels in the dryer so that we have warm towels to help dry the puppy.
To bathe, we disinfect a small basin, add warm water, and holding the puppy's head above the waterline, immerse the puppy in the basin, bathe, and then rinse. We immediately dry the puppy with a warm towel from the dryer. We take a second warm towel, wrap the puppy in the towel, then place the puppy in the warmer basket.
We use a hair dryer on warm heat and low velocity to dry the puppy through the towel. We don't want to use the dryer directly on the puppy. It doesn't take long if you dried her well with the first towel.
If the puppy cries or fusses she is either too hot, too cold, or frightened/upset. You don't want any of these things, so you'll need to sleuth out what it it is and fix the problem immediately—it's important to do everything you can to not make this traumatic for the puppy. If she's quiet and relaxed and content you are probably doing well.
We leave the puppy in the warmer for a few minutes to ensure she stays warm, then immediately put her back on mom to nurse and stay warm.
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