How To Find the Right Dog Shampoo

Funny dog in bathtub with suds on head getting ready to jump out

Key Points

  • Always avoid harsh chemicals or irritants in your dog's shampoo, like artificial fragrances.

  • For dogs with sensitive skin, consider using a natural or organic shampoo with oatmeal.

  • Talk to your vet about what type of shampoo works best for your dog's coat.

  • Watch out for toxic essential oils, like cinnamon or wintergreen, that are toxic to dogs.

Choosing the right shampoo for your dog is more important than you might think. A dog's skin is sensitive and susceptible to irritation and infection if not cared for properly. The wrong shampoo strips your dog’s coat of its natural oils, triggering a variety of skin issues. Start by avoiding common mistakes when selecting a dog shampoo, such as focusing merely on scent or price. This comprehensive guide outlines key factors to consider for your dog's hygiene and health.

After all, you never know when you need to look your best. Aspyn, a golden retriever service dog, had the very important job of showing the Swifties that looking your best while working is easy work for her. She looked her best in pink shoes and a touch of pink highlights around her ears as she performed her duties admirably despite a huge, noisy crowd at a Taylor Swift concert in August 2023.

Avoid Shampoos with Harsh Chemicals or Irritants

Many dog shampoos contain harsh chemicals or irritants like parabens, artificial fragrances, and sulfates. If you notice these ingredients on a label, steer clear. Your dog's skin is highly absorptive, and these potentially harmful substances make their way into their systems over time.

Exposure to harsh chemicals leads to skin irritation, allergies, and more serious health issues. Signs of chemical irritation include redness, itching, and abnormal shedding. Be proactive in reading labels to avoid chemically-loaded dog shampoos.

Research shows that certain brands contain these harmful chemicals. Some brands put profit above the health of your pet, using cheap, harmful chemicals to achieve a longer shelf life or a more pleasant scent.

The largest controversy on this issue involves Hartz, which was sued by pet owners claiming Hartz products killed their animal. Many professional groomers find using Hartz products causes adverse effects. Hartz disputes those claims, saying that pet safety "is a top priority for Hartz."

Check for Hypoallergenic Options

A hypoallergenic shampoo is gentle on the skin and less likely to cause allergic reactions like skin irritation and itching. Hypoallergenic shampoos are an excellent choice, especially for dogs with sensitivities. Look for products with natural ingredients that soothe sensitive skin, such as aloe, chamomile, oatmeal, and vitamin E.

Be wary of those claiming to be hypoallergenic but contain harmful chemicals. The use of the term “hypoallergenic” isn’t regulated, and disreputable brands make false claims. Many reputable brands offer high-quality, truly hypoallergenic shampoos for dogs.

Stay with reliable brands that have a history of positive customer reviews and displaying labels showing a commitment to natural ingredients over harmful chemicals. The Natural Brand Company is one of those brands that commit to providing hypoallergenic shampoo.

Consider Natural or Organic Options

Natural and organic shampoos are often packed with benefits for your dog. Organic ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides or artificial fertilizers. This means they’re not just safer for your pet, but also for the environment. Natural ingredients provide gentle and effective care for your dog’s coat and skin, leaving it healthy and shiny.

Look for certifications from reputable organizations confirming the shampoo is genuinely natural or organic. However, bear in mind that the definition of 'natural' is a grey area, and some manufacturers misuse the term. Always double-check the ingredients list and sourcing information.

If your dog's shampoo contains artificial coloring, sulfates, and parabens, then it isn't natural or organic. Highly rated natural and organic dog shampoos often have a blend of essential oils, plant-based cleansers, and soothing ingredients like aloe or oatmeal. You can't be too careful when it comes to protecting your canine companion.

American Kennel Club writer Anna Burke says, "Some essential oils are poisonous to dogs. This includes oil of cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), wintergreen, and ylang ylang. These oils are toxic whether ingested by mouth or spread on the skin."

Calming Dog Ad

Avoid those essential oils in your pet's shampoo. If you see them on the label, move on.

Consider Your Pet's Specific Needs

All dogs don't have the same needs. Younger dogs have more sensitive skin that dries out quickly. Older dogs have drier skin that needs moisturizing ingredients. Active dogs often need more frequent washing, and different breeds have drastically different coats. These factors all influence the type of shampoo that's best for your pup. Before selecting a shampoo, consider your dog's skin and coat health, as well as their routine activities and environment.

For a dry, flaky coat, a moisturizing shampoo is beneficial. If your dog has an oily coat, buy a balancing shampoo. If your dog loves to roll around in the mud or has regular playdates with other pups, a shampoo with stronger cleaning powers keeps your pup clean and smelling good after a fun day. For the mostly-inside dogs, a gentler shampoo does the trick.

Consult Your Veterinarian

If you're unsure about which shampoo is best or if your dog has specific skin issues, ask your vet. They can tell you what to look for and possibly recommend specific brands or products. Even if your vet hasn't examined your dog's coat, they have valuable advice based on breed-specific information and experience with other patients.

Veterinarians understand the unique needs of different breeds and the potential impact of certain ingredients on the skin conditions of dogs. They keep up with the latest research to be able to provide up-to-date information to guide you in finding a shampoo that's compatible with your dog's skin pH level and specific needs.

Look For Shampoos Made for Your Pet's Coat Type

Just as humans have different hair types, dogs have different coat types that require specific care. Fine-haired dogs often need a gentle shampoo that doesn't weigh down their coat. Dogs with thick fur benefit from a deeper-cleaning shampoo.

Shampoos for short coats typically aim at deep cleaning and deodorizing, while long coats require shampoos with added conditioners to keep them tangle-free. Rough-coated dogs benefit from a shampoo designed to clean without softening, as their fur specifically needs more texture.

Determine your dog's coat type and select a shampoo made specifically for it. Choosing a shampoo specifically suited to your dog’s coat type significantly improves their overall skin and coat health.

Read the Product Labels Carefully

Examining the product label provides important information. Look for wholesome, recognizable ingredients like olive oil, coconut, aloe, and oatmeal. Try to avoid ingredients you can't pronounce –- they're likely artificial and potentially harmful. Also steer clear of shampoos with artificial colors or fragrances that cause adverse reactions in many dogs.

While brand claims on the label are often helpful, remember that many terms like "natural" or "organic" are not regulated in the pet industry. A certification from a respected third-party organization like USDA Organic lends more credibility to these claims.

Beware of shampoos claiming to be “vet-recommended” or “hypoallergenic” with no evidence or testimony supporting these claims. Another tip is to be careful of shampoos that have their front label in English but list ingredients in a different language. This indicates the product may contain lower quality products.

Consider Your Dog's Skin Conditions or Sensitivities

If your dog has a specific skin condition or sensitivity, you need to choose a shampoo designed to alleviate it. Conditions like dermatitis, dandruff, or frequent itching all benefit from special care. Look for multi-action shampoos or medicated options to help treat these conditions effectively.

It’s important to choose a dog shampoo with a pH balance close to that of your dog's skin. Dogs have a higher skin pH than humans, which means using human shampoo disrupts their skin function and leads to irritation. Look for shampoos labeled as pH-balanced for dogs.

Medicated or veterinary-brand shampoos are often recommended to treat ongoing skin conditions. Shampoos with ingredients like oatmeal and aloe soothe sensitive skin. Talk to your vet for specific brand recommendations if your dog has a significant skin issue.

Splish Splash

Finding the right shampoo for your canine companion is definitely no walk in the dog park due to the myriad options available. However, staying informed about the basic factors to consider in that choice simplifies the decision-making process significantly.

With the right knowledge in hand, you are ready to select a shampoo that respects your dog's skin pH, suits their specific needs, and contributes to their overall health and well-being. In putting your dog's hygiene and grooming first, you're making a commitment to their health, happiness, and longevity.

You have the information. You want what's best for your best friend. Now It's time to head to the store to buy the best shampoo for your dog.

For more canine-related information, subscribe to Breed Expert.

Was this article helpful?