Crowning the best dog shampoo is a lot like naming the best laptop on the market—it really depends on what is most important to you. When buying a computer, a consumer must consider the end user, the computer’s primary intended use, and the core components that make up the computer, ie processor, ram, memory capacity, etc. Similarly, a verdict on the best dog shampoo involves several pieces of information. When making a decision on which shampoo works best for your situation, you should consider the following questions:
- What breed is your dog? (Different breeds have different types of hair, and different types of hair have different needs when it comes to shampoo.)
- Has he ever been diagnosed with a skin condition of any type? Allergies, seborrhea (dryness), parasitism, alopecia (hair loss), etc.? (Always consult your vet to address diagnosed skin conditions before using a medicated shampoo.)
- Does her lifestyle (regular visits to the puppy park, dirt-baths in the backyard, etc.) affect her cleanliness?
- Does she objectively smell bad after a certain period of time between baths, or do you just like baby powder smell all the time?
The answers to these questions will vary from dog to dog, but these questions serve as an important starting point for determining your dog’s specific needs. For example, I had a neighbor who owned a beautiful, black Labrador. At the time, she was still young and moderately sized, but very active. Living in Southern California, she didn’t have much of a yard to play in; however, the weather was always nice, and the owners would take her to the beach when they could. Their dog had super healthy skin, she always seemed to smell normal, and her coat was beautiful. When I asked how often they bathed her, they told me about once a month, mainly after long days at the beach to wash off salt water so she wouldn’t get dried out. This is a perfect example of a healthy dog, living in a clean, relatively chemical-free environment, with no real yard or woods nearby. The climate and her lifestyle made it easy to maintain the natural oils on her skin. For these neighbors and their dog—the “end users,” if you will—the best dog shampoo was a mild, soap-based wash that didn’t dry her out, and that they could store easily and use every few weeks.
Well? Stop Dodging The Question!
With all that being said, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and talk about the “hardware,” or the foundational components of a great dog shampoo. After all, no matter the breed, size, or age of your best friend, all dog owners love their pets and should have a few standards when it comes to shampoo.
First, is it made for a dog? Most dogs’ skin has a pH level ranging from 5.5 to 7.5, tending toward a more alkaline concentration. One of the crucial components of a dog’s skin is something called the acid mantle. This thin layer covers the skin, serving as a barrier to protect the porous topmost layer of the skin—the stratum corneum—from environmental contaminants such as bacteria and viruses. If its skin is stripped of this layer and unprotected, a dog is open to a host of microorganisms, which may present as dry, flaky skin; irritated, peeling skin; or a rash of itchy bumps. Therefore, it’s crucial to find a shampoo with a pH balance that is specifically intended for a dog’s skin. Dog shampoos should be in the neutral range, around 7. Many shampoo manufacturers will include the pH level on the label, but at the very least, they should clearly state that the shampoo is formulated for dogs.
Artificial fragrances or colors added to the shampoo can irritate the skin mantle, too. Your dog can be a big, strong guy and still have sensitive skin. Look for natural skin moisturizers like vitamin E, aloe vera, honey, or tea tree oil. Fragrances to look for should be natural, meaning the source comes from nature or an essential oil. Chamomile, lavender, eucalyptus, and citrus are some examples of clean, pleasant fragrances, some of which can do double duty as insect repellents. If you can find completely organic or natural dog shampoos, that’s even better.
Don’t rely on the front label of the shampoo bottle alone. Again, read the ingredients list to avoid common but harmful chemicals, such as diethlanolamine (DEA). One press release from a leading shampoo brand described DEA as “a naturally occurring fatty acid derived from plants [that] has been used for decades as an agent to boost foaming, stability, and add viscosity to hundreds of shampoo, cosmetic, and consumer products.” The problem is that in 2012, DEA was included in California’s list of Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity. Other commonly used chemicals to avoid in whatever shampoo you buy for your dog include sodium benzoate, parabens (more commonly listed as butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben), 4-hydroxy- methyl, methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone, 2-bromo- 2-nitropropane- 1,3-diol (bromopol), doazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium-7, -15, -31, -61, and sodium hydroxymethylglycinate. Thepossible effects brought on by these chemicals range from simple allergies that cause itchy, red skin to cancer, organ system toxicity, and neurotoxicity.
The best dog shampoo really is determined by your dog’s needs, but no matter your situation, the best dog shampoos on the market have these things in common. They are formulated for dogs, keeping their specific body chemistry and physiology in mind. They are as chemical free as possible and contain natural simple ingredients. In the end, the best dog shampoo you can find for your dog will be made up of natural ingredients that are proven, time-tested, and safe for all dogs.