The 5 best dog shampoos in 2021, according to a veterinarian

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Bathing your dog helps keep their skin and coat clean, healthy, and moisturized.
  • Dog shampoos are gentle on a dog’s sensitive skin and can be used to manage skin conditions, such as allergies.
  • Our top pick for the best dog shampoo is Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe Pet Shampoo, an organic, all-natural shampoo.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Karie Johnson, DVM, veterinarian and co-founder of VIP Vet Visit, a mobile vet service in the south suburbs of Chicago.

Bathing your dog is a key aspect of responsible dog ownership. A good bath with a high-quality dog shampoo helps keep a dog’s skin and coat clean, healthy, and moisturized. Whether a dog bath is fun or feels like a chore to you, the dog shampoo you use plays a big part in maintaining optimal skin and coat health.

As a veterinarian, I understand that a dog’s skin and coat are windows into a dog’s health. Many factors, such as environmental allergies, can make a dog’s skin itchy, dry, and irritated. Likewise, systemic health conditions like malnutrition can cause a dog’s hair to become dry, brittle, and possibly fall out. Regular bathing, along with a healthy diet and routine preventive care, plays an important factor in a dog’s overall health and well-being.

Dog shampoos are not one-size-fits-all, though. For example, there are whitening shampoos for dogs with white fur. There are also dog shampoos that are formulated to kill fleas and ticks, as well as shampoos that cater specifically to a puppy’s sensitive skin.

With so many types of dog shampoos, it can be challenging to decide which one is best for your dog. To help you narrow down your choices, I researched 14 dog shampoos and evaluated them using multiple criteria, including ingredients, ease of use, and purpose (e.g, flea and tick prevention).

For additional insight on dog shampoos, I interviewed Karen Todd-Jenkins, a relief veterinarian in Trenton, New Jersey, and Cherese Sullivan, a relief veterinarian in Houston, Texas.

Individual dogs can have specific bathing needs, so work with your veterinarian to determine how often you should bathe your dog and what type of shampoo you can use to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy.

Here are the best dog shampoos in 2021

The best dog shampoo overall

earthbath oatmeal and aloe shampoo bottle

Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe Pet Shampoo is an organic, all-natural, hypoallergenic shampoo that soothes and moisturizes the skin without causing any additional irritation.

Pros: All-natural and organic ingredients, soothes and moisturizes the skin, does not wash away topical flea and tick treatments, lathers well and rinses easily, free of soap and synthetic fragrances, 100% biodegradable, safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age

Cons: Might not be effective if a lot of dirt is present

The ideal dog shampoo will do more than just clean your dog and make them smell good; it will also restore moisture to their skin and leave their fur feeling soft. Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe Pet Shampoo does all of these things, while also being gently formulated and safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age, making it our top overall choice.

The shampoo is especially useful for dogs with sensitive skin. Skin conditions like environmental allergies to dust and pollen can make a dog’s skin itchy and extra-sensitive. Other substances, such as synthetic fragrances, can also irritate a dog’s skin and cause persistent itchiness. Dogs with sensitive skin need a shampoo that is hypoallergenic, meaning it is free of ingredients that could irritate the skin.

The colloidal oatmeal and aloe vera in this shampoo relieve itchiness and restore the skin’s moisture. It is free of ingredients like soap and synthetic fragrances that could cause further skin irritation or allergy flare-ups. Its fragrance is from natural vanilla and almond oils.

The shampoo is 100% biodegradable, cruelty-free, and will not wash off topical flea and tick treatments.

The best flea and tick shampoo for dogs

image of a bottle of sentry flea tick shampoo for dogs

Sentry Flea and Tick Shampoo with Oatmeal for Dogs and Puppies works quickly to kill fleas and ticks for up to 10 days.

Pros: Free of pyrethrin, kills fleas quickly, soothes irritated skin, lathers well, safe for puppies at least 12 weeks of age

Cons: May stop working sooner than expected, scent may fade quickly

Flea and tick prevention comes with the territory of dog ownership. Although flea and tick preventives, such as topical spot-on treatments, are the primary and most effective form of prevention, flea and tick shampoos can provide additional protection from these tiny pests.

Sentry Flea and Tick Shampoo with Oatmeal for Dogs and Puppies earned the top spot for flea and tick shampoos. Importantly, it is free of pyrethrin, a synthetic insecticide that is commonly found in flea and tick shampoos. “Pyrethrin-based flea shampoos should be avoided because pyrethrin can be toxic to puppies and small dogs,” says Sullivan.

Instead of pyrethrin, this shampoo has the synthetic insecticide permethrin, which quickly and effectively kills fleas and ticks, including deer ticks. It also contains piperonyl butoxide, which enhances permethrin’s flea- and tick-killing abilities.

This formula includes oatmeal to soothe skin that’s become red and irritated from the near-constant scratching from flea and tick bites. It is safe for puppies at least 12 weeks of age.

The shampoo should be left on for at least five minutes to work most effectively. It lathers well, so a little goes a long way.

Flea and tick shampoos are medicated shampoos and should be used only when directed by a veterinarian. Skin conditions often have similar symptoms, like irritated skin. So, what looks like a flea problem might be something else, such as a yeast infection. “I normally discourage using a medicated shampoo unless we know what we’re treating,” says Todd-Jenkins.

The best waterless shampoo for dogs

a dog being sprayed with begleys waterless dog shampoo

Begley’s Natural No-Rinse Waterless Pet Shampoo provides a thorough waterless clean with natural ingredients.

Pros: Natural ingredients, distributes quickly across the skin and coat, does not leave a residue, 100% biodegradable, cruelty-free

Cons: Sprayer may break, scent is short-lived

There are times when a full dog bath isn’t convenient or practical. Begley’s Natural No-Rinse Waterless Pet Shampoo is an easy-to-apply, lightly scented shampoo that cleans and deodorizes without drying the skin.

This shampoo for puppies and adult dogs contains a proprietary natural enzyme blend that provides a deep clean by removing the residues of protein, fat, and starch from a dog’s fur and skin. It also contains naturally occurring biosurfactants, which are produced by microbes and give an extra boost to the shampoo’s cleaning power.

It is available in four different natural, essential oil-based fragrances: lavender, citrus, oatmeal mango, and tea tree. The ingredients are biodegradable, making it a safe choice for dogs and the environment.

The shampoo distributes quickly and easily across a dog’s skin and coat and doesn’t leave any product residue after it’s wiped off with a towel. For the face, the manufacturer recommends spraying the shampoo on a damp cloth first and then gently rubbing the face, being careful to avoid a dog’s eyes.

“Waterless shampoos are often helpful in specific situations, such as after surgery when a dog’s incision site has to stay dry,” says Sullivan. Dogs that suffer from incontinence or don’t like being bathed can also benefit from the quick cleans that a waterless shampoo provides. Waterless shampoos are a good solution when there’s a long time between grooming appointments.

Be mindful that waterless shampoos might not provide the same level of cleaning that a bath can provide. Bathing a dog with water and shampoo does a superior job of mechanically removing dirt and debris from the fur, says Todd-Jenkins.

The best shampoo for puppies

earthbath ultra mild puppy shampoo bottle

Earthbath Ultra-Mild Puppy Shampoo is a gentle, tear-free shampoo that contains natural and organic ingredients for cleaning puppies and detangling their coats.

Pros: Tear-free formula, natural and organic ingredients, does not wash away topical flea and tick treatments, free of soap, lathers and rinses well, safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age

Cons: Cherry scent may be off-putting

Unlike other puppy shampoos that we considered that contained synthetic ingredients, Earthbath Ultra-Mild Puppy Shampoo uses natural and organic ingredients to clean, condition, and detangle, making it our top choice for puppy shampoos.

A puppy’s skin is more sensitive than an adult dog’s skin. Because of this, puppy shampoos are formulated to be extra-gentle while still being effective at cleaning and moisturizing the skin and coat. This shampoo contains ingredients such as aloe vera and various vitamins to moisturize and nourish a puppy’s skin and coat.

The shampoo is safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age and does not wash off topical flea and tick treatments. For the first few weeks of life, puppies have trouble regulating their body temperature, so they can get cold easily. Because of this, it is recommended that puppies not be bathed until they are at least 6 to 8 weeks old, after they’re better at regulating their body temperature.

Earthbath Ultra-Mild Puppy Shampoo lathers well and rinses easily, which helps if you have a squirmy puppy that doesn’t like to hold still for a long bath. The gentle, tear-free formula will not sting a puppy’s eyes, but it’s a good idea to take extra care to avoid the eyes, nose, and mouth when bathing a dog.

The best whitening shampoo for dogs

chris christensen white on white dog shampoo bottle

Chris Christensen White on White Shampoo for Pets is gently formulated to whiten and brighten a dog’s coat.

Pros: Free of bleaching ingredients, gentle formula does not irritate the skin, lathers and rinses easily, light scent, can be used on all coat colors, lasts up to 4 weeks

Cons: May leave a purple tint on the fur if not used properly, puppies may not sit still for the 10 minutes that the product must stay on

Dogs with white fur need more than just a regular shampoo. They need a shampoo that also removes discoloring stains (e.g., urine and food stains) that are more obvious on white coats.

Chris Christensen White on White Shampoo for Pets whitens and brightens a dog’s fur for four weeks without relying on harsh chemicals like bleaching agents. It also removes yellow stains and provides a deep clean. As a bonus, the shampoo can be used on dogs with any coat color to increase the fur’s luster.

Whitening shampoos are primarily classified as bluing, enzymatic, or clarifying. Bluing shampoos, also called optical brighteners, contain blue or purple color enhancers that absorb and reflect light to hide stains. Enzymatic shampoos break down proteins that cause discoloration. Clarifying shampoos strip dirt from the hair cuticles.

This shampoo has a purple color that provides the optical brightening effect. It should be left on for up to 10 minutes; if left on for longer, it may leave a slight purple tint on the fur.

Although the shampoo’s formula is gentle, the manufacturer recommends testing the shampoo in a small skin area if a dog has allergies. It is safe for use in puppies at least 16 weeks of age and adult dogs.

How we selected dog shampoos

We consulted with two veterinarians to learn more about dog shampoos. They did not provide specific product recommendations but did lend their clinical expertise regarding how dog shampoos can be used for different purposes, such as soothing itchy skin or whitening the fur.

We also researched how dog shampoos work. For example, we studied the common insecticides — permethrin and pyrethrin — found in flea and tick dog shampoos.

Here are the selection criteria that we used to evaluate shampoos:

  • Ingredients: We analyzed the ingredients list of each shampoo to identify natural and synthetic ingredients. Preference was given to shampoos that contained 100%, or nearly 100%, natural ingredients.
  • Age: Except for puppy shampoos, shampoos were rated higher if they were safe for puppies and adult dogs. They were rated lower if they were for use only in adult dogs or did not specify an age group or life stage on the product label.
  • Ease of use: We read customer reviews to determine how convenient the shampoos were to use. For example, more preference was given to shampoos that lathered and rinsed out well than those that lathered poorly.
  • Scent: Shampoos with light, long-lasting scents were rated more highly than shampoos with an off-putting or short-lived scent.
  • Purpose: Shampoos that delivered on their claims, according to customer reviews, were rated more highly than those that were not as effective as promised.
  • Safety for puppies: Preference was given to shampoos that were safe for use in puppies over those that were either only for adult dogs or did not indicate safety for puppies on the product label.

What else we considered

  • Oster Oatmeal Essentials 4-in-1 Dog Shampoo: Oster Oatmeal Essentials 4-in-1 Dog Shampoo contains natural oatmeal, vitamin B5, and coconut-based cleansers to clean, condition, soothe, and detangle. We liked that this shampoo is multipurpose. However, the product label did not indicate whether it was safe for puppies, earning the shampoo a lower ranking.
  • Natural Chemistry Natural Flea and Tick Shampoo for Dogs: Natural Chemistry’s Flea and Tick Shampoo is free of pyrethrin and contains natural botanical extracts, such as cedar oil, to repel fleas and ticks. It also targets other pests, such as mites and mosquitoes. However, natural flea and tick repellents are less effective than synthetic insecticides. “By the time an owner spends weeks or months trying to use a natural product to control fleas, their house (and all their pets) might be infested,” says Todd-Jenkins.
  • Greenbone Lavender and Chamomile Dog Shampoo: Greenbone Lavender and Chamomile Dog Shampoo uses natural ingredients to repel fleas and ticks. It did not earn our top choice because, like Natural Chemistry Natural Flea and Shampoo for Dogs, its natural repellants are less effective than synthetic insecticides. Also, products that contain essential oils are not safe for use in households with cats, Sullivan told us.
  • Well & Good Hypoallergenic Shampoo: Well & Good Hypoallergenic Shampoo contains natural ingredients: shea butter to moisturize the skin and honey to add luster and shine to the coat. It is unscented, making it a good choice for dogs that are sensitive to fragrance. This shampoo lost out to Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe Pet Shampoo because it is more expensive for the same quantity of product.
  • Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Hypoallergenic Shampoo: This shampoo contains natural ingredients, such as lactic acid, to maintain skin moisture and allantoin to relieve dry, scaly, and irritated skin. It did not earn our top ranking because it is indicated for use in adult dogs only.
  • Burt’s Bees Waterless Shampoo with Apple and Honey for Dogs: Burt’s Bees Waterless Shampoo is a 99.7% natural shampoo that can be used when a bath with water isn’t practical. We liked the natural ingredients in the shampoo, but the shampoo’s scent is off-putting and short-lived.
  • Hartz Groomer’s Best Waterless 3-in-1 Solution Dog Shampoo: Hartz Waterless Shampoo cleans, freshens, and deodorizes without the need for water. Also, a little goes a long way, and the shampoo does not leave residue on a dog’s coat or skin. However, its ingredients are nearly all synthetic, including synthetic fragrance, earning this product a lower rating.
  • Synergy Lab’s Veterinary Formula Solutions Puppy Love Shampoo: Synergy Lab’s Puppy Shampoo is a gentle, tear-free formula that is safe for puppies at least 6 weeks of age. It lathers well, but its thick consistency makes it challenging to rinse out. The shampoo’s scent can last for up to a week after a bath, but the light fragrance may not be enough for some pet parents.
  • Wahl White Pear Brightening Shampoo for Pets: Wahl’s White Pear Brightening Shampoo contains plant-derived ingredients and has a pleasant pear scent. Although the shampoo is purple, it does not turn the dog’s coat purple. It has a thick consistency and lathers well but may come out of the bottle too quickly at bath time. And it contains more synthetic ingredients than what we found in Chris Christensen White on White Shampoo for Pets, our top choice of whitening shampoos.
  • Nature’s Miracle Supreme Odor Control Natural Whitening Dog Shampoo: Nature’s Miracle Whitening Shampoo contains natural ingredients, such as awaphui extract, to naturally whiten a dog’s coat. It lathers and rinses out easily and has a pleasant scent that is not overpowering. It did not earn the top ranking because it’s formulated for use only in adult dogs.

FAQs

a person drying a dog off with a towel after a bath

Deciding on a dog shampoo can be challenging, so pet parents like yourself commonly have questions about the shampoos and dog skin conditions.

Can I use human shampoo on a dog?

The short answer is no. The skin has a pH, which indicates how acidic something is: the lower the pH, the more acidic. The pH of human skin is approximately 5, while canine skin pH is slightly higher (5.5 to 7.5), meaning that human skin is more acidic than canine skin.

Shampoo for human skin is too acidic for a dog’s skin and could irritate a dog’s eyes. “In general, I advise pet owners to use pet-specific shampoos whenever possible,” says Todd-Jenkins.

When should I see the vet for my dog’s skin problems?

Dog shampoos can work well at managing various skin conditions in dogs, but they are not a cure-all for skin problems. Skin conditions often need veterinary care to be adequately controlled and treated. Here are some indications for when you should take your dog to your vet for skin issues:

  • Hair loss
  • Bad odor on the skin
  • Skin lesions, such as ulcers
  • Lumps and bumps on the skin
  • Excessive chewing, scratching, and licking
  • Skin problems that appear suddenly and worsen quickly

The earlier that you can take your dog to the veterinarian, the better, notes Sullivan. “Early intervention leads to quicker recovery, comfort, and, often, less expense,” she says.

What is the best type of shampoo for my dog?

That depends on various factors, such as your dog’s skin and coat health. For example, if your dog has dry and itchy skin from environmental allergies, a shampoo for sensitive skin would be a good choice. If you live in an area with abundant fleas and ticks, a flea and tick shampoo could accompany your dog’s flea and tick preventative. Puppies need specific puppy shampoo that is formulated for their extra-sensitive skin.

Your veterinarian can help you determine the type of shampoo that would be best for your dog.

The importance of bathing your dog

Bathing is part of the overall grooming process, which includes regular brushing and nail trims. But why is bathing so important? Bathing has many benefits, which our experts pointed out:

  • Prevents matting of the hair
  • Promotes skin exfoliation
  • Removes loose hair
  • Cleans dirt and debris from the coat

Bathing your dog also allows you to check for external parasites, such as fleas and ticks, explains Todd-Jenkins. Bath time also gets a dog used to being touched, promoting a strong human-animal bond, she adds.

Bathing Do’s and Don’ts

Whether you’re new to dog baths or have been bathing your dog for a while, there are some bathing do’s and don’ts that are good to keep in mind, according to our experts.

Do’s

  • Do bathe your dog regularly to prevent matting. Most dogs do just fine with one bath a month, but check with your veterinarian to determine a good bathing frequency for your dog.
  • Do contact your veterinarian if you notice any skin abnormalities, such as scabs, hot spots, or bald spots, at bath time.
  • Do use age-appropriate shampoos. This is especially important for puppies because shampoo product labels might not indicate a minimum age (e.g., 6 weeks of age). “When in doubt, err on the side of caution,” advises Todd-Jenkins.
  • Do pay attention to your dog’s behavior at bath time. Are they anxious or uncomfortable? Your veterinarian can recommend strategies to reduce your dog’s bathing anxieties.
  • Do go to a groomer if bathing your dog at home is proving to be too difficult for you. If your dog needs a medicated shampoo, take that shampoo to the groomer.

Don’ts

  • Don’t use human shampoos, unless advised by your veterinarian, because the pH is too acidic for a dog’s skin.
  • Don’t use medicated shampoo unless recommended or prescribed by your veterinarian.
  • Don’t assume that all herbal or organic ingredients in dog shampoos are safe. Check with your veterinarian if you are unsure about the safety of a particular shampoo’s ingredients.

Our sources

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