Dog shampoos are important canine care products that are geared primarily for the maintenance of their hygiene. Some products actually come with different formulations to help in the control and management of pests like fleas and ticks. However useful, some canine shampoos contain harsh ingredients that may pose a threat to your pet’s health. It is therefore, important for you to learn how to choose the correct hair care product for your pet. We have researched the market for 10 of the best shampoos for dogs to help you get started.

Dog Shampoo Buyer’s Guide

Giving your pet pooch a much-needed bath can do a lot more than just maintaining its hygiene. It can also be a great way to manage and control common pest problems like fleas and ticks while also strengthening the bond between you and your mutt. It is thus, critical to know which shampoo to use on your dog as some of these may contain ingredients that may bring harm to our pets.

We understand that the subject can be quite intimidating and confusing especially to novice dog owners. While there are tons of online resources detailing the whole process of selecting the right product for your pet as well as providing answers to some of the more nagging questions that pet owners may actually have, we have decided to pool these resources and evaluated them for their intrinsic value, relevance, and validity. Hopefully, towards the end of this section, you will be more enlightened on how you can ensure better care for your pet.

Why Use Dog Shampoo and Not Human Products?

Here’s the thing about pet care products – there’s just way too many of them that you simply don’t know which ones are really essential and which ones you can do without. Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t think a dedicated dog shampoo is necessary and that their human shampoos should already suffice. This is a very common occurrence especially among individuals who simply fail to realize the important differences between human and dog skin as this is where the issue whether it is safe to use ordinary human shampoo on dogs or not.

  • The Acid Mantle 

Consider the acid mantle as a natural barrier between the external environment and the different structures of the skin. The outermost layer of skin is actually a collection of epithelial cells in various stages of cornification or hardening. The innermost layers are fresher and softer while the layer that we see on our skin is actually made of cornified tissues. That is why this is called stratum corneum.

Given the fact that the stratum corneum is made up of hardened skin cells, it would be safe to assume that this is enough to afford us or our dogs the protection we need against external threats. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. These hardened skin cells can still be attacked by bacteria and viruses that can enter through the rest of the skin layers if there’s a cut or opening in the skin.

As such, as a supporting mechanism to this primary defense barrier, the body also produces a very thin layer that experts call as the acid mantle. The acid mantle keeps microbial contaminants from invading the skin by providing an acid environment which will help neutralize these microorganisms. Moreover, the acid mantle helps reduce the rate of evaporation and facilitates the more efficient absorption of water to keep the skin well-hydrated.

When we take a bath, this thin protective layer is inadvertently washed away. That is why many of the bath soaps and shampoos that we use contain ingredients that will help blanket the skin while it is in the process of renewing its acid mantle. These products also help to moisturize the skin.

So, the acid mantle is a very important protective layer of the skin. Its effectiveness is dependent on the correct balance of acids and bases on the skin. You know this as pH balance.

Here is where the main difference lies and one of the fundamental reasons why you cannot use human shampoo on your pet.

The normal pH of human skin is slightly more acidic, typically ranging between 5.2 and 6.2. You should know that the normal pH of the human blood is between 7.35 and 7.45, which is slightly alkaline, if we take the conventional pH standardization of 7.0 as being neutral. Your dog, on the other hand, typically has a normal skin pH of 6.2 to 7.4 which is more on the alkaline side.

Using ordinary human shampoos on dogs can substantially disrupt their acid mantle. This leaves your mutt especially vulnerable to microbial invasion such as bacteria, viruses, and even parasites. Not only that, because the moisture from their skin has been essentially stripped away, they develop dry and flaky skin. This can be especially itchy, leading to incessant scratching and potentially cutting up the skin. As we have already said, any loss in the integrity of the skin will result in the entry of pathogenic microorganisms.

That said, you should never use your own shampoo on your mutt regardless of how ‘mild’ these products are formulated.

  • Skin Sensitivity 

We did mention that our outer layer of our skin is actually composed of several sub-layers; 5 to be exact. When taken together, you are looking at a 10 to 15 rows of skin cells. On the other hand, our canine friends only have 3 to 5 rows of skin cells.

Because their skin is essentially ‘thinner’ than ours, using hair wash products that contain harsh chemicals or ingredients can easily erode these layers. Again, this leads to skin rashes, drying, flaking, and even intense itching, which you already know what happens next.

Now you might think that this is bull since dogs can easily go anywhere without hurting or damaging their skin. This is where their coat comes in. Unlike the hair follicles in humans that grow as individual hair, the hair follicles in canines typically grow in clusters, providing ample protection for the skin beneath it. Unfortunately, if they do get a bath, moisture can easily get under this cluster of hair follicles, somehow trapping them in the process. This is also one of the reasons why it is a lot more difficult to dry their hairs after getting wet.

Giving your mutt a bath using your shampoo can lead to more severe skin irritation primarily because they have more sensitive skin.

Should you use your own shampoo on your dog? The straightforward answer is ‘NO’. If you’re not convinced, try bathing your mutt with your own hair wash product and you will see that the odor is not at all that pleasant. Many pet owners tend to repeat the washing believing that doing so will help remove the nasty smell. Unfortunately, it only gets worse because the acid mantle has already been severely disrupted and bacteria are already wreaking havoc on your pet’s skin. If you don’t mind the smell, sooner or later your mutt will be scratching incessantly and you’ll be wondering if it has fleas or ticks. Sadly, most pet owners will never think that it is their pet’s use of human shampoo that is causing the itching.

how to choose the right dog shampoo

How to Choose the Right Dog Shampoo

Based on what we have already been discussing, it is important never to use human shampoo on your pet, no matter how ‘mild’ these products are being aggressively marketed. The important thing to do next is to understand how to choose the right canine shampoo. Here’s how.

  • Determine the type of skin that your pet has. 

One of the best ways to help you choose the right product for your pet dog is by taking a closer look at its skin. If you are not familiar with the process of identifying the type of skin your pet has, your veterinarian can help you.

If your pooch has dry, itchy, and flaky skin and accompanied by a rather dull coat, you may choose a product that has a more gentle formulation. It should not be harsh to help prevent the worsening of the skin irritation. Similarly, a gentle hair product can aid in the restoration of moisture into your pet’s coat and skin, leading to less dry and less itchy skin.

If the main issue is a sensitive skin, shampoos that are gently formulated and contain natural substances like oatmeal, vitamin E, and honey can help relieve the intense itching brought about by hypersensitive skin. Gentle shampoos also have a soothing effect on your mutt’s skin and coat.

  • Check if your mutt has fleas or ticks. 

Pets that have flea or tick problems can benefit from a product that has certain ingredients intended for killing these ectoparasites. These pests are known to bring a variety of canine health problems such as fever, pest bite dermatitis, anemia, and many more. If your pet happens to have any of these problems, it is often wise to choose the best flea shampoo for dogs. However, it is important to take note that this should not be the only method of eradicating these pests. Environmental control and the administration of other flea medications should also be considered.

  • Choose age-appropriate canine shampoos. 

Just like humans, you need to choose shampoos that are appropriate to the age of your pet. For example, if you have a puppy, make sure to get only an especially formulated shampoo for puppies. These have different formulations relative to their adult versions to cater to the even more sensitive skins of pups. These lead to a reduction in the risk of skin irritations as well as eye irritations.

  • Assess if your pooch requires some deodorizing agent. 

Ordinary canine shampoos don’t have certain ingredients that can help find nasty odors. Some products simply mask the odor by providing a stronger smell, albeit one that is more pleasing to the nose. While it is easy to see why you would want to pick this, a deodorizing shampoo is better suited for the problem as it gets right to the smelly cause. By removing the source of the nasty odor, you are essentially guaranteeing a more pleasant smell for your beloved pet.

  • Consider getting color-specific shampoos. 

Maltese, Japanese Spitz, and other breeds of dogs that have white or light-colored hair can be shampooed with products that contain whiteners and brighteners. These products also contain other ingredients that are especially formulated to improve the natural shine of your pooch’s coat. These hair care products also help minimize fading as well as yellowing. If you have a mix color haired pooch, you may want to look at products that contain natural brighteners to help improve the luster of your mutt’s coat.

  • Check if you need waterless shampoos or wipes for instant baths. 

You may not need it now, but sooner or later, you will. There are products that are especially designed for on-the-go and instant cleaning of your beloved furry pal without needing a bathtub and a shower hose. These waterless shampoos can be used for everyday cleaning especially in certain parts of your furry pal. For example, these are often used in cleaning the eyes, ears, teeth, paws, and even bottoms. These make excellent and convenient options if you’re traveling or when you simply need to give your furry friend a good cleaning.

  • Evaluate if your pet has skin conditions. 

If there are skin problems in your pet like redness, blotching, flaking, or even excessive dryness, you may want to buy a medicated shampoo for dogs. Like products that are especially formulated for fighting fleas and ticks, medicated products can contain substances that are geared specifically for managing the different signs of the skin problem. For instance, these can have antimicrobial properties such as what an antifungal canine shampoo provide. There are also products that contain anti-inflammatory substances to help reduce any skin inflammation and redness. There are also shampoos that come with antibacterial ingredients to help rid the skin of these pathogenic organisms and help reduce irritation and itching in the skin.

  • Consider products that help you control shedding. 

Shedding is a natural phenomenon experienced by all living organisms with hair. The human hair, for example, undergoes a cycle of growth and shedding. While most hairs are growing, others are resting or are shedding. The same is true with our canine friends. They do shed.

Unfortunately, what most pet lovers are worried about is the danger that accompanies the shedding as these small particles can easily get airborne. If you don’t have any airway hypersensitivity or allergies to dander, then it’s not a big issue. However, if you have a family member who happens to be hypersensitive to such particles, a heavily shedding dog can be bad news.

Getting a canine shampoo that contains anti-oxidants, amino acids, and healthy oils can help reduce the amount of shedding in your pet. These pet care materials can also help improve your mutt’s coat by making it healthier and shinier.

  • Determine is your mutt’s coat requires some untangling.   

If you have a pet that is more prone to tangling of its coat, you can use a combination of dog conditioner and shampoo to help restore the moisture in both your pet’s hair and skin. This will also make combing and brushing your mutt’s coat a lot easier. If your pet happens to have frizzy locks or really stubborn tangles, you can choose a separate conditioner to be applied after shampooing. This will help replenish the natural oils in your mutt’s coat while also aiding in the detangling process.

  • Consider getting a conditioner. 

You might think that only humans need conditioner. On the contrary, our pet mutts also deserve a specially formulated dog conditioner to help restore the moisture in their coats as well as replenish the natural oils that are often removed or washed away during shampooing. The active ingredients in these hair care materials covers and seals the hair shaft. This can help reduce the incidence of tangled hair, making it a lot easier to brush or comb.

  • Steer clear from products that contain harmful ingredients. 

Safety is an attribute that should receive primacy in your buying decisions. While a particular brand may be so effective in cleaning and washing your mutt’s coat, if it brings a variety of health conditions to your pet, then it is still useless. Your pooch may have shinier and softer hair but if it contracts diseases or health issues brought about by harmful chemicals and other substances, then you are essentially facing a costlier problem. It is for this reason that, whatever you do, it is best to steer clear from products that contain harmful ingredients.

dog shampoo ingredients to avoid

Dog Shampoo Ingredients to Avoid

We have already said that one of the key factors that you need to consider when choosing the right dog shampoo is its safety profile. Unfortunately, some brands come formulated with very harsh ingredients that can cause various health concerns. In order for you to steer clear of these products, it is important to know which dog shampoo ingredients to avoid. Here, we are going to share with you 4 groups of ingredients that you need to watch out for in your choice of the best canine shampoo.

  • Preservatives 

A majority of us consider preservatives as very important ingredients in lengthening the shelf life of many of the things we use and consume in life. These substances are inherently useful in preventing the premature spoilage of a lot of things including food. Sadly, research has shown that these substances can lead to various health issues in the long run.

One of the most common preservatives used in many applications today is formaldehyde. This substance has been shown to create problems in the brain and spinal cord. Moreover, it is a known carcinogen. It can also produce skin rashes.

Unfortunately, you will not see ‘formaldehyde’ written in the labels of many items. Instead, you will see various chemicals that are known to release or form formaldehyde. You may need to watch out for the following substances:

  • Doazolidinyl urea
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol or bromopol
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Quaternium-7, -15, -31, -61

Another preservative that you may want to be especially cautious are parabens such as methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. The major issue in parabens is that they are very potent estrogen disruptors which can adversely affect the reproductive functioning of affected canines. These ingredients are also known to produce certain types of cancers.

Sodium benzoate is also a popular preservative that is relatively safe when it is given by itself. However, if this substance is mixed with Vitamin C or ascorbic acid or even citric acid, the resulting chemical reaction leads to the formation of benzene. This is where the problem lies as benzene is known as a major risk factor in the development of leukemia as well as other disorders of the blood.

  • Sulfates 

These are the ingredients that make shampoos and other personal and pet care products bubbly. There is this notion that the more bubbles an item produces the better it is when it comes to cleaning and washing away dirt, grime, and other particles. These are ingredients that are useful in making your pet’s hair shinier as these are effective in enveloping oil and grease for easier removal from the hair.

While you can easily identify these ingredients by looking at the word ‘sulfate’ such as sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, and sodium lauryl sulfate, there are some products that don’t explicitly label their formulations with sulfates. Instead, you may read ‘coconut based cleaners’, ‘coconut based surfactants’, ‘naturally extracted from coconuts’, or even ‘vegetable based cleaners’. So, be on the lookout for these ‘ingredients’ regardless of how ‘natural’ their manufacturers claim the item to be.

All versions of the sulfates can cause skin dryness, severe itching, and redness. These three substances are also highly reactive to both dioaxane and ethylene oxide which are known carcinogens. Ethylene is also toxic to the normal growth and development of tissues as well as the immune system. It is also a well-known allergen.

  • Ethanolamines 

If you see three-letter combinations that end in ‘-ethanolamine’, stay away from these as these can be easily broken down into nitrogenous compounds known as nitrosamines. These are substances that are carcinogenic and have displayed considerable developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, and even organ system toxicity.

You need to watch out for the three very common ethanolamines: the mono-, di-, and tri- ethanolamines, more popularly known for their 3-letter acronyms MEA, DEA, and TEA, respectively.

  • Artificial colorings and fragrances 

Just because you bought the best smelling dog shampoo doesn’t mean that it’s already safe for your pet. There are many products in the market that are filled with artificial fragrances as well as artificial colorings.

A very common ingredient that you will not likely to see in product labels is phthalates. These are substances that are used to bond the different molecules of fragrances together. Without phthalates, there’s no way your shampoo will remain as fragrant as the first day you opened it. Regrettably, phthalates are known hormone disruptors.

Artificial colorings, on the other hand, are mostly synthesized from petroleum products. These are believed to be factors in the development of allergic reaction, birth defects, organ damage, and even cancer.

How Often Should I Bathe my Dog?

One question that always pops out in pet grooming discussions is the frequency of bathing dogs. It is a question that can have a variety of answers. Ask any vet and he or she will tell you that it all depends on the most compelling reason behind the activity.

Bathing too often can irritate your mutt’s skin. It can also damage your pet’s hair follicles. And if worse comes to worst, the risk for bacterial and fungal infections can also be increased. Bathing infrequently, on the other hand, can also lead to the development of health concerns.

So, how often should you bathe your mutt?

The general consensus is that bathing on a weekly basis is beneficial as the process can help augment the natural grooming behaviors of canines. If your pet happens to venture into an area that gets it very dirty, you can easily clean the dirty parts with a waterless shampoo or wipes. If your canine friend happens to have short hair and is relatively clean, bathing it once a month should suffice.

How to Wash Your Dog Properly

Admit it. Bathing your pooch is a very time-consuming process, not to mention a struggle, especially if your furry pal happens to detest the idea of you bathing it. Canines are not afraid of water. Unfortunately, their earlier experiences can play a major role in the formation of an aversive or avoidant behavior. Here are some tips on how to wash your dog properly and make the experience less threatening and more fun.

  • Engage your furry friend in active play. Take it for a run. Play catch or fetch. The point is for you to tire it and drain it of excess energy so it will be a lot easier to bring to the bath tub.
  • Give your furry pal a good brushing of its coat. If you can remove any tangles, do so even before you hit the water. As much as possible, remove any matting as this can trap water which can irritate your pet’s skin.
  • Protect the ears from the possible entry of water. Insert a cotton ball inside the ear canals to help keep water out while also preventing ear irritation and infection.
  • Check the temperature of the water. It should be lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. If it’s too hot, you risk burning your dog’s skin. If it’s too cold, it might shiver. However, if your pet happens to be a large breed, you can use slightly colder water.
  • Calm your pet. Use a reassuring voice in encouraging it to go to the bath. Most canines will eventually learn that the whole bathing process is not a means of torturing them.
  • Always use an appropriate dog shampoo. Never ever use a human shampoo even if it is for babies.
  • Don’t forget to rinse well. Any residue can irritate the skin. A good rule of thumb is to rinse your pet’s hair at least 3 times.
  • Air-dry your pet after the bath or you can use a specially designed blow-dryer for canines. Resist the temptation of using your own hair dryer as this can be extremely hot for your pet, even if you’re going to put it in the lowest speed and temperature setting.
  • Always reward your pooch right after bathing. Praise it, pet it, or even play with it so your dog learns that bathing is a very pleasant experience that brings about many positive things.

Bathing your dog is an important part of their grooming. While you may be tempted to use your own shampoo on your pet, don’t as this can lead to a host of problems. Use only dog shampoo that is appropriate for your pet’s skin and hair condition as well as any other grooming and health issues. Always check the ingredients listed on the label of the product you wish to buy. Equally important is knowing how to give your pet a proper bath as well as the frequency of bathing. These pieces of information, together with our list of the 10 best shampoos for dogs, should help you gain a better understanding of the importance of bathing and grooming in dogs.

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Olivia Williams
Olivia is our head of content for MyPetNeedsThat.com, mum of one and a true animal lover. With 12 different types of animal in her family, it's never a dull moment. When she isn't walking the dogs, feeding the cats or playing with her pet Parrot Charlie, you will find her product researching and keeping the site freshly updated with the latest products for your pets!

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