Updated January 18, 2022
We looked for proven results — We compiled a list of shampoos with high praise, investigated a few niche products, and tossed in a few vet recommendations, of course.
We skipped shampoos with no-no ingredients — As we do with any topical product, we read through the ingredients of each shampoo. We used the EWG Skin Deep® database to investigate anything that seemed unnecessary or unnatural. We ignored products with ingredients that made our vets raise their eyebrows (synthetic fragrances, formaldehyde releasers, mineral oil, etc.).
👉 At betterpet, we don’t recommend anything for dogs that we wouldn’t feel comfortable putting on our own skin.
There are shampoos on the market made with ingredients that may be harmful to pets. It has been found that certain chemicals and cleaning agents can cause irritation to skin and coat.
Products for animals aren’t as closely regulated or tested if they’re for cleaning or enhancing the appearance of an animal. The FDA states that “grooming aids” aren’t subject to regulation by “any government or non-government organization.” Basically, companies don’t have to tell you what they put into their products, nor are they put through any kind of testing for safety. 😐
You may find the word “fragrance” in an ingredients list on a bottle of shampoo. That sounds like one ingredient, right? According to the FDA, fragrances can be made up of many ingredients to achieve a desired scent. These combinations can be claimed as “trade secrets,” and the FDA is not allowed to force a company to disclose what the fragrance contains. This creates a grey area and some uncertainty about what exactly is in the product, harmful or not.
It’s unclear if mineral oils alone have the potential to be carcinogenic, but there have been studies speculating that it depends on how well purified the oil is and if it’s contaminated. Generally, unless prescribed by your vet for specific skin conditions or other medical concerns, you should avoid this ingredient. Especially for dogs who are prone to have oily skin, steer clear of this potential pore clogger.
While proven to be safe in small quantities for humans, these surfactants can irritate over time in animals. The two most common sulfates found in shampoos are sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. If you see “sulfate” in combination with another word, that’s a sulfate too!
This group of chemicals found in plastics, food, and hygiene products are suspected to be hormone disruptors. Some are even banned for commercial use. Phthalates are still used among human products and are said to be safe, but an experimental animal study has found phthalate exposure to be especially disruptive to the development of the male reproductive system in the animals tested.
Although “formaldehyde” isn’t stamped on the bottle, chemicals that slowly release the preservative are showing up in products under the names of DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate.
Studies have shown formaldehyde to be toxic to animals, especially upon inhalation. While deemed safe for humans in small doses, again, there is no regulation on dog shampoo that prohibits companies from putting as much of any preservative in a product as they wish. These “formaldehyde releasers” prevent mold and bacterial growth over the product’s life-span. How much is released over time is unknown, especially in dog products.
Now that you know which ingredients to avoid, things get a little easier. It’s time to nail down the facts about your pup—no one knows them better than you! Use these next considerations to refine your search for the best shampoo.
It might be tempting, but don’t get in the habit of using human shampoo on your dog. Let’s be real: One bath with a tearless baby soap (or even Old Spice) probably won’t immediately agitate your dog’s skin, but over time, it can dry it out.
If you have to use human shampoo for an emergency (like when your mom calls and says she’s coming over in an hour), use the least fragrant soap you have. And definitely don’t use bar soap — they’re usually much more potent.
Dog skin has a different pH than human skin — Human skin hovers around 5.5 on the pH scale, which is slightly acidic. Thus, human shampoo is often acidic and filled with surfactants — a type of chemical that bonds dirt and oil from our skin with water. (It’s what creates the lather we all know and love.)
Dog skin falls around 7.5 on the pH scale, which is far more alkaline. They also have only 3-5 layers of skin, whereas humans have 7-10. Used consistently (and often), the acidity in human shampoo can break down a dog’s skin mantle and make it vulnerable to bacteria and parasites.
When you think of bath time, it sounds pretty straight forward. You get wet, lather up, rinse, and dry. Bathing your dog, however, can be a challenge. Being calm and prepared is your best bet for success.
Gather all of your products and tools before you even say the word “bath” to your pup. The last thing you want is a wet dog running through the house because you forgot to grab something before you got them in the tub. If you’re filling the tub, fill it up before your dog is even in the bathroom. The loud noise of the faucet running can cause anxiety and set a negative tone.
Paws that slip on the wet tub floor can make it stressful for you and your dog. Try using a slip mat or even a damp towel under their feet to give them a better footing. A few treats might even be in order to create a positive atmosphere.
Don’t forget a brush! — Brushing your dog’s coat out beforehand will remove loose hair and dirt while evenly distributing oil onto the hair strands, making lathering up a little smoother. Brush after towel drying or while blow-drying with a canine-specific dryer to prevent tangles and create a smooth and shiny appearance. Remember to avoid dirty or muddy areas when drying your pup because most dogs like to roll around on the ground to help dry their coat.
End bath time with a lot of praise and play to let your doggie know taking a bath isn’t so bad, and hopefully, they’ll look forward to it next time!