Best Shampoos for Dogs

Learn more about the best shampoos for dogs.

Has your dog ever rolled in something so foul you could barely stand the smell of him long enough to drag him to a bath? Does he scratch, dig, lick his coat? Has he ever encountered the business end of a skunk?

Dogs seem to love to reek of disgusting odors. That may be fine for an eau de dog cologne, but for humans our dog’s choice of fragrance is not always acceptable. This is especially true if your dog shares space in your house. Bath time is demanded.

But what are the best shampoos for dogs? It is not a one-kind-fits-all choice, and the selection is vast. If you are like me, you want to limit experimentation to the minimum — my dogs do not enjoy the bath experience. There are thousands of products to choose from. So, let’s take a look at a few categories of shampoo products for dogs.

First, two things to keep in mind:

  1. In general, do not use human shampoo or conditioners on your pet — especially the green guck like Prell. But, according to Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, human shampoos are sometimes fine. “Veterinary dermatologists recommend Johnson & Johnson Baby Shampoo frequently for sensitive dogs,” she says. “It seems human shampoos are milder than in years past, even for humans.”
  2. Examine your dog before bathing and determine if there are special needs. It will make the shampoo selection process much easier.

Cleansing Shampoos

You look your pup over and find that the only thing she needs is a fresh scent and a good cleaning. You are lucky; there are a lot of products to choose from, including this DIY recipe. I found a homeopathic solution for a gentle-use dog shampoo. I have three large dogs, and the idea of making my own shampoo is appealing, so I tried it.

You will need:

  • Sterilized container for shampoo
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons Dawn dishwashing detergent
  • 2 teaspoons aloe vera
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (vegetable oil will also work)
  • 2-3 drops of pennyroyal
  • 2-3 drops of eucalyptus oil (for flea control)

Pour the ingredients into the container and shake well to blend (actually, always shake well before each use).

My dogs didn’t mind this shampoo concoction. I wasn’t as comfortable with the lather; I worried that the dishwashing detergent would irritate their eyes and ears, so I practiced extra caution to keep the suds away from their faces. Overall, it was a good, gentle cleaning, and the dogs stayed fresh until their next exuberant roll in the mud.

Related: More DIY Dog Shampoo Recipes From Pets Adviser

Medicated Shampoos

For most skin, coat or health issues requiring a medicated shampoo, I prefer to get my veterinarian’s advice for the best shampoo formula. Infections, psoriasis, abrasions, lesions and some serious health issues are often diagnosed by your dog’s coat and skin condition. It is important to discuss concerns with a medical professional.

Most pet owners seek medicated shampoos to treat fleas, ticks and other parasites. There are products available online and at most pet supply stores that promise flea and tick control. Many of these medicated shampoos contain the insecticide pyrethrum. While pyrethrum is approved for use on pets, it can be harmful to dogs with certain health risks. It also tends to further dry the coat and skin, increasing itching, biting and scratching. The chemical is not “tearless” and will cause discomfort if suds get into your dog’s eyes.

Homeopathic shampoos are becoming more popular options with pet owners seeking medicated shampoos for their dogs. Look for shampoos that are labeled “All-Natural Ingredients” and contain aloe vera, eucalyptus oils, oatmeal and tea tree oils for conditioning, soothing and repelling pests.

No-Rinse Shampoos

It never fails — when company is coming, my dogs go above and beyond to make sure they find a way to get dirty just before the guest’s scheduled arrival. It is times like these I go for the no-rinse shampoo option. It is a trick used by most show dog handlers.

No-rinse shampoos are usually packaged in a spray or pump dispenser. Dispense the shampoo directly onto the coat and work into a lather. Use an absorbent towel to remove excess lather and dry.

No-rinse shampoos are not intended for regular use. They do not provide the cleansing and conditioning properties of a water bath, but they are a time saver when a full bath is just not possible.

Dry Shampoos

Like no-rinse shampoos, dry shampoos are designed for occasional use when time or availability prevents a full bath for your dog.

Dry shampoos are an effective quick fix to deodorize and freshen your pet. These products are typically a blend of talc, cornstarch, boric acid and baking soda. They are nearly always packaged in a powder form, and when sprinkled in the dog’s coat they absorb excess oils. The powder must be thoroughly brushed out or it will cause itching and excessive scratching.

Specialty Shampoos

Whitening shampoos are often used to remove blood stains, urine and grass and food stains from the coat and leave a “brilliant shine.” Some dog shampoos are designed to bring out a pup’s “natural attributes,” such as the color of a coat or the silkiness of the hair.

Most popular among the dog show circuit are shampoos that enhance white, black, red and brown coats. These shampoos, unlike the human color shampoo equivalents, do not actually dye the fur but add a certain pizzazz under the show ring lights.

Deodorizing Shampoos

I referenced the business end of a skunk early in this article. Yes, I do have some first-hand experience to share. Not too long ago, two of my dogs begged to go out around dusk. I opened the door and they nearly knocked me down, tearing outside and around the corner of the house. I immediately heard one yelp, and they both came running back to the door. I could smell the strong, odor of what was unmistakably a skunk!

Itzi, the larger dog, just stared rolling in the grass. Luke, the other dog, rubbed his face on the door mat. His eyes were shut tight, and he was sneezing. I knew he had taken a direct hit to the face.

I led them both to the garage and began the cleanup. I grabbed my laptop and found an online site that offered advice for removing skunk odors on dogs.

Option 1: Call the vet for a prescribed shampoo formulated for skunk sprays. But this was not a real option for me — it was Saturday night, and the emergency clinic was an hour away. I would have to burn my car if I tried to get them there! To minimize the lasting effects of skunk odor, time is critical.

Option 2: The “Skunk Remedy Recipe,” developed by chemist Paul Krebaum.

Prepare these ingredients:

  • 1 quart hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons Softsoap or Ivory Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • 2 teaspoons of Frebreze (I added this ingredient from another recipe)
  • 1 quart tepid water

Wear gloves and a mask (make one from a handkerchief if necessary). The clothes you are wearing during the bath will need to be destroyed; you cannot wash the odor out.

Pour the shampoo over your dog’s coat and work into a thick lather. Try to leave shampoo on the coat for at least 5 minutes. Rinse. Repeat.

For Itzi it took only two repeats. She was hit on the side and the odor didn’t penetrate her fur as much.

Luke was another story. I repeated the process four times before I could stand to get close to him without a mask. He slept in the garage that night and for several nights thereafter. Finally the remnants of the odor dissipated.

My colleague Kristine Lacoste has written more on dog de-skunking, and she has a nine-step plan of attack; it’s worth bookmarking for future reference. You never know…

It All Comes Out in the Wash

I would conclude by saying, “A clean pet is a happy pet” — but we all know that just isn’t true. Perhaps “A clean pet is a happy pet owner” makes for a better summary!

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