How we picked our favorites
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.
At a glance: The best doggie shampoos
- Natural Dog Company Sensitive Skin Shampoo — Our favorite for sensitive skin
- Earthbath Oatmeal & Aloe Shampoo — Best for dry, itchy skin
- 4-Legger USDA Certified Organic Dog Shampoo — Best hypoallergenic
- Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Medicated Dog Shampoo — Veterinary-grade for skin irritations
- PetHonesty Antibacterial & Fungus Treatment Shampoo — Best anti-yeast formula
- Vet’s Best Waterless Dog Bath — Best travel shampoo
Choosing the right shampoo is about ingredients
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. 😐
Types of ingredients to stay away from
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.
Other factors to consider
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.
- Age. Humans have soaps for different life stages, and dogs do too. A puppy’s sensitive skin can be easily irritated by the ingredients and concentrations found in adult dog shampoo. It’s important to make sure you have the right product for your dog’s age.
- Coat type. The breed of your dog will determine the type of coat they have. Labrador retrievers have short fur with an undercoat that sheds. Yorkshire terriers have long hair that will grow out and may need a conditioner or detangler. Even if you don’t know what breed your dog is, observing and brushing your dog’s coat will tell you all you need to know.
- Skin type. Dogs can also have varying skin types depending on breed. Some breeds are prone to be dry and itchy, while others may be more oily. Choosing the wrong shampoo could lead to exacerbation of either one of these types.
- Medical conditions. If your dog has been diagnosed with a skin condition, your veterinarian may have prescribed a medicated shampoo to help relieve the issue. It’s best to follow the recommendations of your vet when it comes to washing. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from more than dry or oily skin, make an appointment to get them checked out by your vet.
Don’t use human shampoo on your pet
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.
Giving your dog a bath: the basics
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!