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5 best shampoos for cats, according to a vet

These cat shampoos feature clean ingredients and are clinically tested and vet-approved

Updated October 5, 2021

Created By

Paige Bennett,

The 5 best shampoos for cats

Our favorite cat shampoos, reviewed

What we love: Aside from the impressive list of ingredients, it’s the non-ingredients in this gentle shampoo from Earthbath that catches our eye. It contains no parabens, soap, dyes, sulfates, alcohol, or phthalates, making it safe for cats 6 weeks or older and one of the best kitten shampoo options. It’s also made in the U.S., it’s cruelty-free, and the bottle is recyclable, so it’s good for your furry friend and the planet.

What customers say: Earthbath 2-in-1 Conditioning Cat Shampoo has 4.6 stars on Amazon from hundreds of reviewers who love how soft it makes cats’ fur after bath time. Reviewers rave about its effectiveness on long-haired breeds like Maine Coons. It has a subtle cherry scent that many reviewers like, but note that it may smell more like cough syrup to some noses.

Ingredients: Purified water, renewable plant-derived & coconut-based cleansers, organic aloe vera, vitamins A, B, D, & E, glycerin, botanical fragrance of wild cherry, preservative.

What we love: This liquid shampoo is made with organic ingredients like oatmeal and almond oil to help soothe dry, itchy skin. The Pro Pet Works Natural Organic 5-in-1 Oatmeal Pet Shampoo works for cats and dogs. In addition to cleaning and offering itch relief, this shampoo also detangles fur, deodorizes, and helps with shedding control. This aloe shampoo is made with aloe vera extract to support skin hydration.

What customers say: With over 10,000 reviews and 4.6 stars on Amazon, this pet shampoo is a popular choice. Professional pet groomers love the stuff, but many pet owners are even impressed with how easily the shampoo rinses out of fur. It works great for relieving itchiness from fleas or allergies.

Ingredients: Deionized water, surfactant blend derived from natural derivatives (coconut shampoo base), organic aloe vera extract, almond oil, hydrolyzed oat proteins, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, glycerin, glyceryl stearate, wheat germ glycerides, blend of cherry botanical extracts, EGDA, EDTA, proprietary blend of coat and skin conditioners and moisturizers.

What we love: Burt’s Bees is helping your cat’s coat stay soft and sheen with this hypoallergenic cat shampoo. Made with shea butter and honey, the shampoo cleans fur and skin while moisturizing and conditioning both. We love that this shampoo leaves out harsh ingredients like fragrances, sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and colorants.

What customers say: Reviewers are impressed that this shampoo works for cats with thick and long fur. It has a very faint shea butter scent, and it leaves fur feeling soft and looking shiny. The Burt’s Bees cat shampoo is great for soothing skin, too. Just make sure you rinse it thoroughly, as some reviewers note it’s not the easiest shampoo to rinse out.

Ingredients: Water, coco glucoside, glyceryl oleate, coco betaine, glycerin, xanthan gum, honey, beeswax, butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, citric acid, potassium sorbate, phenoxyethanol.

What we love: Soap can actually dry out cat skin, so a soap-free shampoo is best. That’s why we chose Bayer Hylyt Hypoallergenic Shampoo as one of the best cat shampoos, although it’s also suitable for dogs and even horses. The shampoo removes dirt and odors, but leaves skin and fur soft, moisturized, and smelling great. It cleans deep without stripping the skin of its natural oils.

What customers say: Pet owners love that this shampoo keeps fur soft and shiny while also soothing dry, itchy, and flaky skin. It’s especially praised for its ability to fight odors, making it a great option for felines who love the great (and often messy or stinky) outdoors.

Ingredients: Water, sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium lactate, PEG-120 methyl glucose dioleate, glycerin, hydrolyzed collagen, PEG-75 lanolin, sodium chloride, fragrance, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, safflower oil, FD&C yellow #5.

What we love: Oatmeal is the first ingredient in the Dechra Dermallay Shampoo, meaning it’s effective for making your cat’s skin feel soft instead of dry, irritated, or inflamed. The gentle formula works for cats, dogs, and horses, and it contains alpha-hydroxy acids to help exfoliate.

What customers say: With 4.8 stars on Amazon, it’s safe to say this is a favorite for consumers. Pets with sensitive skin have no trouble with this shampoo, and the Dermallay Shampoo helps restore shine to pets’ coats. The subtle green apple scent is a major plus, too.

Ingredients: Solubilized colloidal oatmeal, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium lactate, lauramide, glucamate, methocel, safflower oil (linoleic acid), ceramides.

Cat hiding from bath time

peek-a-boo

Sure, cats bathe themselves, but sometimes, you’ll need to give them a bath. Because cats lick their fur frequently, it’s important to use a shampoo that’s safe. While there are many different types of cat shampoo on the market, the best cat shampoos are made with clean ingredients, have performed well in clinical trials, and are even recommended by vets. We used these criteria and tips from our veterinarian to find the best shampoos for cats.

How do I choose the best cat shampoo?

When you’re shopping for pet shampoo, there are several considerations to keep in mind. Our vet recommends following these tips for finding a trustworthy shampoo for your feline friend.

  • Opt for clinically tested shampoos. A good cat shampoo will go through clinical tests on cats to make sure the product is effective and safe.
  • Ensure it’s formulated for cats. Shampoos that are not formulated for cats may not work with the pH of cat skin.
  • Check that it’s easy to rinse. Cats lick their fur and skin, so you want a shampoo that you can thoroughly rinse out. Even if the shampoo is made with natural ingredients, you don’t want your cat ingesting a bunch of shampoo.
  • Watch out for essential oils. Citronella oil and concentrated essential oils may cause adverse reactions for cats, so our vet recommends steering clear of shampoos with these ingredients.

👉 If your cat is experiencing a fungal infection like ringworm, your vet may recommend certain shampoos to treat their symptoms.

Ingredients to avoid in cat shampoos

The FDA doesn’t test grooming aids, or cat shampoos, so consumers should check ingredients before applying shampoos to pets’ fur and skin. It’s important to watch out for harsh chemicals and toxic ingredients that could harm a cat’s skin or health. Here are some ingredients that can be problematic for cats:

  • Essential oils. Many concentrated essential oils are toxic to cats, whether they come into contact with their skin or are diffused in a room where the cat is. Avoid cat shampoos that contain essential oils.
  • Fragrances. Fragrance often refers to a blend of different ingredients used to create one scent, and those ingredients do not have to be separately disclosed. It’s best to stay away from pet shampoos that list fragrance as a vague ingredient.
  • Sulfates. There are many types of sulfates, with the two most common being sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. Sulfates can cause skin irritation for cats.
  • Phthalates. Studies are still underway about the safety of phthalates, but they are currently suspected to cause hormone disruptions in pets.
  • Mineral oils. Mineral oils can be impure or contaminated, so it’s best to avoid them to stay on the safe side. Aside from that, these oils can also clog the pores of pet skin, especially if your pet has naturally oily skin.
  • Formaldehyde. You probably won’t see the word “formaldehyde” under the ingredients list of a cat shampoo, but it can sneakily show up in other ingredients that release formaldehyde, including DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.

👉 Some ingredients like neem oil are okay in small concentrations, but it’s important to check with your vet if you’re unsure about a certain ingredient before using it on your cat.

How often should I bathe my cat?

Generally, cats don’t need to be bathed regularly. Cats usually stay clean by grooming themselves with their tongues. Some cats do need help with regular bathing. Long-haired cats or cats with greasy skin, like the Sphynx cat breed, will require baths. Old or overweight cats that have trouble bathing themselves also require help. In these cases, plan to give your cat a bath once every 3 months, and brush their fur every week.

“Most cats don’t need baths unless they get something on their hair coat or have diarrhea that gets on their feet and/or rear end.”

Dr. Michelle Diener, DVM

Which shampoo is best: waterless or liquid?

The best shampoo for your cat depends on the mess at hand and your cat’s personality. If your cat really hates water, you can opt for a waterless cat shampoo. With this type of shampoo, you can spray it on, then massage it into the coat. But if your cat has something particularly tough to remove from the fur, liquid shampoo and water will thoroughly cleanse the fur.

How to give your cat a bath

Cats notoriously hate water, so it can be a challenge to bathe your pet. But you can help make them feel at ease and prevent any unwanted scratches with a few tips to make bathing a cat easier for both of you.

Prepare for bathtime — Grab cloths, the shampoo, a small cup for rinsing, and towel to dry off, and a brush. Set everything near the sink or bathtub to prepare for the bath.

Confine the space — Your cat might try to escape, and if they succeed, you want to limit how far they can run. Close the bathroom door. Opt to bathe the cat in a space with a retractable hose so you can easily rinse them. A confined bathing area, like a bathtub with tall glass walls, can help keep your cat from running off mid-bath.

Test the water — Make sure to only fill the tub with 3 to 4 inches of lukewarm water before bringing your cat in the bath. The water shouldn’t be too hot or cold for a cat.

Stay calm — Your cat will sense if you’re nervous. Help them feel more at ease by going into bath time calmly.

Use a pitcher or cup — Pour the lukewarm water over the cat’s body with a small pitcher or cup until the body is completely wet.

Avoid the face — If you need to clean your cat’s face, use a damp washcloth. Otherwise, avoid lathering soap in this area, and don’t dump water over the cat’s face.

Ask for help — The easiest, most efficient way to bathe a cat is with two sets of human hands. Ask someone in your household to help gently hold the cat while you bathe the cat.

Rinse thoroughly — Cats lick their fur frequently, so it’s important to make sure you remove all remains of soap from the bath. Continue rinsing until there are absolutely no suds left.

Supervise the cat — Stay with the cat for the entire duration of the bath. You should never leave a cat alone in the bathtub unsupervised.

Dry quickly — After the bath, wrap your cat in a towel and dry the fur as much as possible.

Brush the fur — Once the fur is mostly dry, help your cat feel more relaxed after their stressful bath by brushing their fur. This will help prevent tangles or mats, too.

Frequently asked questions about cat shampoo

Can I use human shampoo on cats?

It’s not recommended to use human shampoo for cats. Cat skin and human skin have different pH levels, and human shampoo can cause dry skin and irritation for cats over time.

Can I use Head and Shoulders on my cats?

Cats can get dry, flaky skin, just like humans, but again, Head and Shoulders is formulated for human skin, not cat skin. It may worsen the problem.

Can you use dog shampoo on cats?

If you have a shampoo that is formulated for both dogs and cats, like some of the options in our best cat shampoos list, you can use it for cats. But in general, you shouldn’t use dog shampoos for cats. Dog shampoos may contain flea control treatments or essential oils that are toxic to cats. In particular, some dog shampoos may contain permethrin, an insecticide that is dangerous for cats to come in contact with.

What is the best shampoo for cat dandruff?

If your cat has flaking skin, you’ll want a shampoo that can help moisturize and condition their skin. Some of the best cat shampoos for dandruff include Pro Pet Works Natural Organic 5 in 1 Oatmeal Pet Shampoo, Bayer Hylyt Hypoallergenic Shampoo, and Dechra Dermallay Shampoo.

What can I use to wash my cat?

Use shampoos formulated for felines to wash your cat. You may want to talk with your vet if you aren’t sure what options will work best for your pet. When purchasing cat shampoo, be sure to check the ingredients to avoid dangerous essential oils, sulfates, and other harmful ingredients.

Is dish soap safe for cats?

Using dish soap to wash cats is controversial. Some sources say it’s safe, but if you use it for regular bathing, it can actually strip your cat’s skin of natural oils, which help protect from skin infections. The best option is to use a shampoo specifically formulated for cats and made with cat-safe ingredients.

How do I wash a cat without cat-specific shampoo?

If you don’t have cat-specific shampoo, make sure you purchase some as soon as possible. It’s the best option for washing a cat without causing irritated skin or other serious health problems.

In the short term, you can use baby shampoo, which is gentler than normal shampoos for humans. Avoid added fragrance in the ingredients. Make sure you use small amounts and rinse thoroughly from your cat’s fur. Don’t use Dawn dish soap, as this can cause intense vomiting and sometimes diarrhea and respiratory issues if your cat ingests this product. It’s best to use shampoos that are specifically formulated for cats to avoid any risk for toxicity or adverse reaction.