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What Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Shampoo

Posted by Dr. Roth on

Dog in bath, What Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Shampoo

Good grooming practices are vital for keeping a dog's coat and skin healthy, and cleaning a dog’s coat is part of that. But when shopping for dog shampoo, it can be overwhelming to choose the best shampoo for a dog's specific needs. Pet parents need to know how to identify what ingredients are safe and what ingredients to avoid in dog shampoo. 

Different Coats Have Different Needs

There isn’t one shampoo that works best for all dogs. Just as people have different skin and hair types, so do dogs, and different coats and skins require different types of care. Here are few things to take into consideration when choosing a dog shampoo:

  • Coat thickness
  • Coat length
  • Coat texture
  • Coat density
  • Skin sensitivity
  • Skin oiliness
  • Allergies

Dog Shampoo Ingredients to Avoid

Similar to humans, skin is your dog’s largest organ and anything put on the skin can be absorbed into the body. Dog shampoo manufacturers spend a lot of money on marketing and packaging to promote their products, so it’s important to read the label and understand what each ingredient means.

It can be difficult to determine which ingredients are ok and which you’ll want to avoid because it depends on the way the product is synthesized. Manufacturers are not required to reveal how the product is handled and mixed. Avoid products that have a “proprietary blend of coat and skin conditioners and moisturizers,” on the label ⁠—  this leaves out key ingredients to help you make an informed decision. 

Here are some ingredients and phrases to avoid when shopping for dog shampoo or dog skin and coat supplements: 

 

  • Natural: This term is thrown around a lot in marketing, but it doesn’t mean much. There are very few regulations on what can be called “natural,” and a product that is advertised as “natural” doesn’t mean it’s safe or free from harmful chemicals.
  • Artificial anything: Ingredient⁠s— most commonly fragrances and colors ⁠— that are listed as “artificial” are toxic. Some fragrances have been linked to cancer, and some colors and dyes have caused organ damage in pets.
  • Fragrance: When “fragrance” is listed as an ingredient, it usually means it contains hormone-disrupting phthalates.
  • Preservatives: Many preservatives are synthesized from harsh chemicals and can cause skin irritation or allergies. Avoid anything that contains these  preservatives:  
    • Bronopol
    • Diazolidinyl urea
    • DMDM or DHDH hydantoin
    • Imidazolidinyl urea
    • Quaternium-7, -15, -31, or -61
    • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate 
    • Isothiazolinone 
    • Paraben 
    • Sodium benzoate
  • Cocamide-MEA and Triethanolamine: These substances are believed to be carcinogenic and therefore toxic.
  • Glycol: Polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol allow the chemicals to penetrate the skin easier, which means they can enter the bloodstream quickly and easily.
  • Alcohol 40: It dries out a dog’s skin, and, like the glycol, makes chemical penetration easier.
  • Sulfate: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and Ammonium Laureth Sulfate are all known skin irritants.
  • Plant-based and Vegan: Many manufactures put this phrase on shampoos that have ingredients derived from plants, but that doesn’t automatically mean they’re safe. Many toxic sulfates are derived from harmless coconut oils, but that doesn’t make them less toxic.
  • Dish Soap: Ever since Dawn started treating oil spill victims by cleaning the affected animals’ coats with their soap, using dish soap to clean pets at home has grown in popularity. While dish soap is good for cleaning crude oil out of fur and feathers, it strips the oils that dogs naturally produce and need to protect their skin and keep their coats healthy.

Safe Dog Shampoos

It might seem difficult to remember all these ingredients to avoid, so here are some easy ways to identify the safest dog shampoos. The safest products are labeled “Certified Organic.” Organic products are required to go through rigorous testing and are reviewed during the ingredient's entire lifecycle. Organic products cannot contain any genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or any ingredients that have been treated or grown with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or artificial agents.
Many pet parents have started making homemade dog shampoo, so that they can control the ingredients going into their dog’s skin and coats. Homemade dog shampoo is very easy to make, and usually cheaper than off-the-shelf products. If you decide to make your own, be sure to follow a recipe written by a veterinarian or other pet professional. 

Homemade dog shampoos can be made with these safe, household ingredients:
  • White vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Oatmeal
  • Baking soda


Many homemade shampoos call for a small amount of non-toxic dish soap. Used with vinegar, dish soap can remove excess oil from a dog’s coat and skin, without removing all the oil that they need‌.

DermAllay Oatmeal Shampoo for cats and dogs: 

For More Information

A veterinarian can help a pet parent determine if a dog has any allergies or sensitivities to common allergens. In addition to a veterinarian, a professional, reputable dog groomer can offer advice about the shampoos they use.

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