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Small dog getting a flea bath

The best flea shampoos for dogs

⚠️ Why does betterpet only recommend two flea shampoos for dogs?

While there are way more flea shampoo options out there — seriously, it can be overwhelming! — we had a hard time finding products that didn’t include trace amounts of peppermint oil. Although this is a popular natural ingredient in flea shampoos (it helps to mute that nasty medicinal smell), it’s actually toxic to dogs. Technically, trace amounts such as those in flea shampoos for dogs aren’t likely to harm your pup but we’d much rather be overly cautious. Better safe than sorry, as they say.

Flea shampoos to avoid

There are two flea shampoos commonly recommended online that are generally unsafe. The first is Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Shampoo. This contains peppermint oil which is technically toxic for dogs and not proven as a flea repellent.

Another flea shampoo we don’t recommend is Adams Plus Shampoo, which contains pyrethrin. There’s nothing wrong with pyrethrin in flea shampoos for dogs, but Adams Plus Shampoo has a cat picture on the label and claims to be safe for use on cats. This is absolutely not the case, unfortunately, as pyrethrins are toxic to our feline friends. (See below.)

Cats and pyrethrins

As mentioned above, flea shampoos that contain pyrethrin shouldn’t be used on cats, or dogs that live in households with cats. Why? Pyrethrins are incredibly toxic to cats and even ingesting the smallest amount can cause seizures, tremors, and death.

So, if you bathe your dog using a shampoo that contains pyrethrins and they then come into contact with your kitty, it’s incredibly dangerous. This also applies to topical medications that contain pyrethrins, pyrethroids, or both.

If you’re worried about the risk of pyrethrin poisoning, consider using flea collars or oral medications for your pup.

Essential oils can be toxic (they’re included in some shampoos), and pyrethrin/permethrin-containing products are toxic for cats, so if a dog gets a bath with one of these shampoos and then plays with family cat, the cat could be in danger!

Dr. Erica Irish, DVM

betterpet veterinarian

Best flea shampoo for dogs reviews

What we love: Created by a trusted brand, Hartz Flea & Tick Shampoo is fast-acting and effective at ridding your pup of fleas. We especially love that you can choose a soothing aloe or deep conditioning formula too, given that many flea shampoos can be quite drying. Just keep in mind that it doesn’t provide residual action effectiveness, so will generally work best in combination with preventative flea medications, like collars and oral medications.

What customers say: Highly rated by Amazon users, Hartz Flea & Tick Shampoo generally kills fleas within one wash. Reviewers also comment that it didn’t have an overly strong smell, although some thought the harsh chemicals were too much for their pup. Perhaps avoid this product if your dog is known to have pre-existing skin conditions or sensitivity.

Active ingredients: Pyrethrins, piperonyl butoxide, and N-Octyl bicycloheptene dicarboximide.

What we love: This Sentry Flea & Tick Shampoo is pH balanced and a betterpet favorite thanks to its fresh Hawaiian scent. Unlike many other flea shampoos for dogs, the oatmeal acts as a conditioner and will leave your pup smelling great and feeling moisturised. We also love how effective it is at getting rid of active flea infestations, as well as the dangerous deer ticks that sometimes carry Lyme disease.

What customers say: Reviewers on Chewy rate this flea shampoo very highly, commenting that it’s one of the most potent options for ridding their dogs of fleas and ticks. Many comments mention how the fleas literally start dropping off as soon as they apply the shampoo! Users especially seem to appreciate just how soft and shiny this shampoo leaves their dog’s coat, adding that a little goes a long way. It’s an excellent and affordable option.

Active ingredients: Permethrin and piperonyl butoxide.

How effective is flea shampoo for dogs?

Given that there’s some debate, you might be wondering just how effective flea shampoos are for dogs. Well, according to Dr. Erica Irish, flea shampoos “may temporarily reduce the number of live, active adult fleas. Most do not help with other stages of the flea life cycle.”

So, while they’re quite good at getting rid of fleas already hitching a lift on your furry friend, most flea shampoos generally do nothing to prevent more from hopping on after they’ve had a bath. Plus, they do nothing to get rid of flea eggs, larvae, and fleas lurking on your dog’s bedding and toys.

Even so, flea shampoos are good if you’re looking for a temporary solution to your adult dog’s active flea infestation. Just remember to combine them with more potent oral or topical treatments.

🚨 Flea shampoos aren’t safe for puppies under 12 weeks of age. Only use them on your adult dogs, and after checking in with your vet.

Choosing the right flea and tick shampoo for dogs

Choosing the right flea shampoo can be a challenge, given just how many options are on the market. Which ingredients should you look out for? What should you avoid? Here are some tips to help you pick the right product for you and your pooch.

👉 Flea shampoos can be quite drying, so avoid using them if your pup has irritated skin or ongoing skin problems.

Look for active ingredients that actually work. Some more natural flea shampoos use essential oils and plant-based extracts. While these sound good on paper, some are dangerous and others are simply not all that effective. For example, peppermint oil is technically toxic to dogs and unproven as a flea repellent anyway. Why waste your money? Instead, opt for flea shampoos that contain pyrethrin.

🚨 While pyrethrins are effective flea deterrents, they’re also highly toxic to cats. If you have a multi-pet household, we recommend using oral flea treatments in order to keep your feline friend safe. 🐱

Consider flea shampoos that have ‘residual action’ effectiveness. Residual action refers to a flea shampoo’s ability to kill fleas once bathtime is over, but most flea shampoos don’t have this quality. However, ones containing Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) may well give your pup some protection for up to a week after application.

👉 To really protect your dog from reinfestation, it’s best to use a regimen of flea prevention products.

How to give your dog a flea bath

Once you’ve picked out the best flea shampoo, it’s time to put it to good use. Just keep in mind that bathing a dog with an active flea infestation isn’t as straightforward as giving them a regular bath. Here’s how to get the most out of your flea shampoo.

  1. Rinse your dog thoroughly in lukewarm water. Make sure their fur is completely wet before applying the shampoo. It can also be helpful to do this outside, for the sake of your bathroom!
  2. Lather the flea shampoo all over them. Take extra care not to get it in their eyes or ear canals, but apply the amount indicated on the bottle. Flea shampoo is drying and generally smells quite strong so you may want to wear gloves.
  3. Leave it to sit for a few minutes. Most flea shampoos recommend leaving the lather to sit for five to ten minutes, but follow the specific instructions on your brand of choice.

🐶 Wondering how to keep your dog still while the shampoo works its magic? Try treats or peanut butter smeared on a nearby clean surface. 

  1. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water. You want to make sure you remove all the shampoo and debris from your pup before letting them loose. Be careful while rinsing around their eyes.
  2. Towel dry. After your dog has inevitably shaken off the excess water, you can finish up the bath by towel drying their coat.

👉 You can also use a flea comb to make sure you really get rid of all the adult fleas, plus flea eggs, left on your dog’s skin.

Preventative flea medications

It’s generally best to combine flea shampoos with other preventative flea treatments to really ensure your furry friend is flea-free. There are several complementary topical and oral flea medication options that you might want to consider for optimum flea control.

  • Flea collars, which offer longer term protection
  • Topical, spot-on products that kill adult fleas and eggs
  • Oral medications that eradicate the entire flea life cycle

👉 If you want to use flea shampoo in combination with other flea medications, make sure to bathe your pup with the shampoo first. After that, you can apply any topical medications. 

Why are these products more effective than flea shampoos?

Oral and topical flea treatments are more effective because of their ingredients, notably pyrethrins and pyrethroids. These ingredients help topical or oral flea medications repel fleas for up to a month or more.

Pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals that are sometimes used in insecticides. They’re stronger and longer-lasting, which means they’re able to eradicate flea infestations quite literally from the inside out, and at all life stages of the flea life cycle.

While many flea shampoos contain pyrethrins, the natural and somewhat gentler version of pyrethroids, topical spot-ons and oral medications usually contain pyrethroids. In some cases, they include both ingredients.

Over-the-counter vs. vet-recommended products

While over-the-counter treatments — such as Frontline, Advantage, and Advantix — are effective when it comes to killing fleas, vet-recommended brands tend to be more potent and surefire solutions. These brands include Bravecto, Simparica, and Revolution.

Follow the product guidelines and keep pets away from one another while products dry (if applicable) and you shouldn’t see any problems with stronger flea medications. Just remember to always consult with your vet before introducing any new products into your dog’s routine.

🚨Avoid flea medications that contain fipronil, as it’s no longer effective for flea infestations. That’s why we no longer recommend Frontline or Sentry flea/tick medication products which contain this ingredient in our list of betterpet favorites.