Dog Shampoo: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / January 25, 2018
Dog shampoo

dog bath time

When it comes to bath time, it’s hard to say who dreads it more – you or your dog. You may think that bathing your dog is a time-consuming and stress-inducing affair, particularly if your pup is less-than thrilled about getting hosed down. Even for the pooch who doesn’t mind a little sudsing every now and then, bath time is always a process. But with the right tools and preparation, it doesn’t have to be such a chore. It all starts with being aware of your dog’s specific needs and making sure to use the right products. You wouldn’t want to use a shampoo full of chemicals and preservatives on your own tresses. So why would use a harsh dog shampoo that leaves his skin feeling itchy and irritated?

With an endless array of products available on the market, it can be daunting trying to find the right one. Don’t give up and just grab the bottle that smells the best or has the prettiest label (we’ve all been there). Check out our doggy shampoo guide for everything you need to know to get your pup looking and smelling fresh.

Best Dog Shampoo 

best dog shampoo

Again, you probably wouldn’t want to use anything on your dog that you wouldn’t let touch your own hair. That does not mean, however, that you should use your $40 salon quality shampoo on your dog. In fact, using human shampoo is one of the biggest no-nos in dog bathing 101. Essentially, people shampoo is formulated for our particular human needs, and dog shampoo is formulated for those particular canine needs. The chief difference lies in the pH levels of our skin. Humans are slightly acidic, with a pH of 5.5-5.6, while dogs’ skin is much more neutral, at around 6.2-7.4. So many products designed for human skin will be too acidic for your dog, causing itchy skin, irritation, and hives.

That said, all those key words you look for in your own beauty products – natural/organic, sulfate- and paraben-free, no artificial colors or fragrances – you should also seek in doggy shampoo. A quality natural pet shampoo will contain only gentle ingredients that won’t irritate or strip natural oils from the skin. This is particularly important for those pups with existing skin conditions or allergies.

Earthbath Dog Shampoo

EarthBath’s shampoo and conditioner line contains only natural ingredients – no artificial colors/fragrances and no parabens, sulfates, phthalates, or phosphate. Their oatmeal and aloe shampoo (which also comes in a fragrance-free variety) is a popular choice among pet owners. This soap-free and pH-balanced shampoo contains oatmeal to moisturize dry, sensitive, or irritated skin. Note that, while uncommon, some dogs may develop a food or environmental allergy to oats. Check with your vet if you think your dog may have an oat allergy and avoid products containing colloidal oatmeal.

4-Legger Dog Shampoo

4-Legger Certified Organic Dog Shampoos are another great line of all-natural, non-toxic shampoos guaranteed safe for your pooch. The brand’s lemongrass and aloe shampoo is hypoallergenic, certified organic, and contains just a handful of natural ingredients – saponified organic oils of coconut, olive, and jojoba, natural essential oil blend of rosemary and lemongrass, organic aloe vera, and rosemary extract. The rosemary and lemongrass, known for anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antimicrobial properties, cleanse the skin and stimulate blood circulation. Meanwhile the oils and aloe cleanse, moisturize, and hydrate.

Dog Shampoo Ingredients To Avoid 

dog shampoo to avoid

Even if a product claims that it’s all-natural or free of preservatives, it’s a good idea to read the ingredients on the back of the label. Ingredients to avoid include:

Sulfates: Sodium Lauryl/ Laureth Sulfate, Ammonium Lauryl/ Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Coco Sulfate, TEA/MEA Lauryl Sulfate

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: Doazolidinyl Urea, Imidazolidinyl Urea, Quarternium-7, -15, -31, -61

Parabens: Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, 4-Hydroxy-Methyl Ester Benzoic Acid

Isopropyl Alcohol: Isopropanol, 2-Propanol, Propyl

Artifical colors: D&C, FD&C, Yellow 5

Beyond causing skin irritation, these common shampoo ingredients may have much more damaging ramifications to your pup’s health. Many of the above-mentioned, including sulfates and parabens, have been linked to cancer and other conditions affecting the nervous and urinary systems. Sulfates can cause dryness and irritation of the skin due to its petroleum and lauryl alcohol content. However, the byproducts (like 1,4-dioxane) released in the conversion process, are known or suspected to cause cancer and birth defects.

Now don’t go home and immediately pour all your toiletries down the drain. You should be aware that there are no long-term studies examining the effects of regular use of these products. While these ingredients have been linked to certain adverse health outcomes, the effects of long-term exposure on health is inconclusive. That being said, if you can avoid those dubious ingredients, why not do so? There are plenty of great pet shampoos on the market that help you do just that.

Dry Dog Shampoo 

Waterless or dry shampoos are gaining in popularity as a quick, convenient alternative to the old rinse, lather, repeat routine. Dry shampoo works well in a pinch – like when you’re having company over and need to neutralize that doggy smell fast – or for those dogs who are particularly troublesome come bath time. However, dry shampoo is not a substitute for regular bathing. Waterless shampoo absorbs excess oils from the skin but does little to actually remove dirt and environmental toxins. Moreover, overuse of dry shampoo might strip too many of those natural oils. Bad news, as the skin needs those to promote healthy hair growth and to prevent hair follicles from clogging.

Sometimes the convenience factor of waterless shampoo is just too good to pass up. These products can be used safely in addition to (not in place of!) a regular bathing regime. Having trouble deciding between all those powders, sprays, gels, and foams? Follow the above criteria and choose only those products that are natural, safe, and without any harsh chemicals.

Vet Recommended Waterless Dog Shampoo has a fresh apple scent and contains no alcohol, artificial dyes, or phosphates. It’s easy to use – just spray and wipe – and won’t affect topical flea treatments. Bodhi Dog is another great choice, with two spray-on waterless shampoo varieties in lavender and lemongrass. You can use these gentle, hypoallergenic sprays as they are plant-based and soap, alcohol, paraben, and sulfate free. Simply spray your pup’s coat, let it stand for a minute, and rub with a towel to remove the excess. A quick brushing once he’s completely dry will really bring out the coat’s luster.

Medicated Dog Shampoo 

medicated dog shampoo

Need a potion that packs a little more punch? Look to medicated shampoos to soothe itchy skin, inflammation, and alleviate bacterial and fungal infections. You should not, however, use medicated shampoos on a daily basis as they are more concentrated. Many require a veterinary prescription, so it is best to check with your vet for usage information. A common active ingredient in medicated dog shampoo is salicylic acid, used to relieve itching from infection or irritation. Another is pyrethrins. Pyrethrins are chemicals that are mild insecticides, used to treat parasitic infestation.

SynergyLabs Medicated Dog Shampoo is widely considered by pet owners to be the best over-the-counter medicated shampoo for skin conditions. Their line of Veterinary Formula Clinical Care  products are formulated to combat everything from seborrhea and dandruff to parasites and bacterial infections. The formulas are soap and paraben-free and pH-balanced. OxyMed Medicated Pet Shampoo is another great alternative for pets suffering from dandruff, seborrhea, hot spots and other skin conditions. The nine-ingredient formula contains beta-hydroxy salicylic acid and tea tree oil to alleviate dry, itchy skin. Throw in some Vitamin E and aloe to soothe and nourish.

AntiFungal Dog Shampoo 

Is your dog suffering from intense itchiness or skin irritation, especially around the ears, nose, neck, back, and toes? Or maybe they’re experiencing hair loss, sores, and discharge? If so, chances are they’ve developed a yeast or other fungal infection. The Malassezia species of yeast normally inhabitants the skin and mucocutaneous areas. But certain factors – humidity, allergies, skin parasites, prolonged use of steroids, and hormonal disorders – cause the yeast to multiply uncontrollably. The good news is that many antifungal shampoos can both target the infection and alleviate symptoms. Most antifungal shampoos contain Ketoconazole 2% or Miconazole 2%, which are shown to effectively treat ringworm and yeast infections.

Dechra MiconaHex+Triz Shampoo contains both 2% Miconazole and 2% Chlorhexidine Gluconate, in addition to lavender and lemongrass oils to soothe and hydrate skin.  Nootie Medicated Antimicrobial Dog Shampoo contains both active ingredients and is a great multipurpose product for fighting fungal and bacterial infections. Best of all, the shampoo is free of soap, parabens, sulfates and other chemicals (it does contain a mild fragrance).

Homemade Dog Shampoo 

homemade dog shampoo

For those DIY-ers out there, skip the hunt for the perfect pet store product altogether and simply make your own! Homemade shampoo is more cost-effective and allows you to control exactly what goes into the formula. What’s more, many of the ingredients that you’d use in a homemade shampoo, you’ll likely already have on hand. Think pantry staples like white or apple cider vinegar, baking soda, oatmeal, and castile soap. If you’re feeling fancy, throw in some aloe or a couple drops of rosemary, peppermint, lavender, or other essential oils.

Try out this hydrating lavender-infused oatmeal dog shampoo for an itch-free and glossy coat:

Homemade Dog Shampoo

1 cup of uncooked oatmeal
1/2 cup of baking soda                                                                                                                                                                                           2 drops of high-quality Lavender oil
1 quart of warm water

Grind the oatmeal to a fine powder in a food processor. Pour into a bowl and mix in baking soda. Add warm water and lavender oil, stirring until incorporated. Use immediately or store in a clean, airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Dog Grooming Supplies 

dog grooming brush

Once you’ve picked out the perfect shampoo for your pooch, gather the rest of your grooming products and get bathing! You’ll want to brush your dog before bath time in order to remove any excess hair and debris. This also allows you to check for fleas and ticks. Now it’s bath time. If you’re using a tub or shower in your home, fill it up with warm water (not hot!) to chest-level. If you’re bathing outdoors, consider purchasing a plastic or metal tub, which will provide you with better control. Keep a few old towels on hand for a quick rubdown and then let your pup air dry naturally. Alternatively, especially for our long-haired friends, you may choose to safely use a hair dryer for a more polished finish. Don’t forget to keep treats on hand to reward your dog for putting up with you and your confounded baths!

Looking Forward to Bath Time

With regular grooming and bathing and a natural dog shampoo, your pup will be paw-sitively glowing in no time! Look for high-quality, natural ingredients that gently cleanse and hydrate while keeping itchiness and dryness at bay. You’ll feel much better knowing that the shampoo you’re using on your trusty companion is safe. Your dog will feel much better without itchy and irritated skin. And who knows, maybe you’ll both even start looking forward to bath time.

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for