How to Choose a Dog Shampoo

How to Choose a Dog Shampoo

The shampoo aisle at the pet store is not unlike the shampoo aisle at the drugstore. There are tons of brands to choose from, various formulas, numerous scents, and lots of promises. While it might seem like choosing a shampoo at random is the easiest way to go, the truth is that the shampoo you choose for your dog does matter. So how can you choose the right dog shampoo for your furry friend?

1. Evaluate Your Dog’s Skin

Healthy fur comes from healthy skin, so the first step in choosing a dog shampoo should be evaluating your pup’s skin. Is their skin normal? Greasy? Dry? Flaky? Itchy? Does it have a funky odor? When in doubt, ask your veterinarian to take a look at your pet’s skin and give you the rundown. This will help you start zeroing in on good dog shampoo.

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2. Evaluate Your Dog’s Coat

Some dogs have smooth, silky fur. Other dogs have coarse, curly hair. Some dog fur is prone to tangling and mats, while others are greasy to the touch. Feel your dog’s fur, and ask your veterinarian for their opinion. You’ll be one step closer to choosing a dog shampoo.

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3. Consider Your Options

Once you’ve evaluated your dog’s skin and coat, you can take a look at different shampoo choices for your dog’s particular pampering needs:

If your dog’s skin and coat are normal:

Choose a basic cleansing shampoo, like Perfect Coat’s Tearless Dog Shampoo. A basic cleansing shampoo will clean the coat, strengthen it, and leave your dog smelling fresh.

If your dog’s skin or coat is dry/itchy:

Choose a soothing shampoo, like Veterinary Formula Soothing & Deodorizing Oatmeal Shampoo. A soothing shampoo will clean and moisturize the skin and coat without stripping skin oils. Most soothing shampoos contain emollients that increase moisture in the skin, as well as soothing ingredients such as oatmeal, Vitamin E, aloe vera, and fatty acids. If your dog’s dryness or itching is severe, your veterinarian may recommend a medicated shampoo such as Epi-Soothe Oatmeal Shampoo.

If your dog’s skin or coat is greasy/oily:

Choose a shampoo specially formulated to remove excess sebum and grease from the skin and coat, like Ark Naturals Neem Protect Shampoo. In severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend a medicated shampoo such as Pyoben, which removes secretions from the coat and flushes grease from the hair particles.

If your dog’s coat gets tangled:

Use a 2-in-1 shampoo and condition, like Fresh n’ Clean’s 2-in-1 Oatmeal Conditioning Shampoo, or a soothing shampoo followed by a conditioner, like Richard’s Organics Nourishing Conditioner. Just remember that matted fur is not easy to detangle even after a conditioner is used, so brush your dog’s fur before bathing them and cut out problem mats.

Natural and Homemade Shampoo for Dogs

All dogs need the occasional bath, even dogs that don't shed. When you’re talking about washing the yuck off your dog, there are plenty of inexpensive, natural, and gentle ways to wash a dog. Homemade dog shampoo might be the answer you need.

What’s Not Green About “Regular” Shampoo for Dogs?

Some of the ingredients in commercial dog shampoos may sound nice to us, but they can cause itching, flakiness, and general discomfort when applied to a dog’s very sensitive skin. Some ingredients don’t sound particularly nice in the first place!

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), for example, is a common cosmetic base and may be found in some dog shampoos. It is a petroleum product that can sap the natural moisture from the skin. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), which are detergents commonly found in dog shampoos, have been linked to eye damage, diarrhea, and severe skin irritation.

Many human-grade cosmetics are phasing out certain chemicals that might still be found in dog shampoos. These chemicals may include phthalates, which control viscosity (gloopiness versus runniness), or paraben, a preservative added to extend shelf life. While many of us aren’t too concerned about the rare application of these small dose chemicals during doggy bath time, we should be concerned about washing these chemicals down the drain.

What to Watch Out for When Making Your Own Shampoo for Dogs

Skin pH is a tricky thing. Certain dogs are naturally more acidic than others, and we’re not talking about personalities.

Each dog will have their own skin pH level, and each homemade soap ingredient will also have its own pH level. A healthy human pH range for skin is 4.5 to 6.5. For dogs, a healthy range is between 6 and 8.5. Any soap too low in pH levels (that means too acidic) can cause skin irritation. When making your own shampoo for dogs, shoot for ingredients with pH levels around the 7 mark. Many soaps and soap bases will have pH levels listed on the label. If not, check the product’s website, or get in touch with the company to find out.

The pHs of some common household ingredients are:

  • Baking Soda: 8.3 (alkaline)
  • Water: 7.0 (neutral - neither acidic nor alkaline)
  • Vinegar: 2.2 (acid)
  • Lemon Juice: 2.0 (acid)

When combining these common ingredients to make dog shampoo, be sure you’re balancing alkaline substances (like baking soda) with acidic substances (like vinegar) in a neutral base (like water) to keep the pH of your shampoo balanced for your dog’s skin. Too alkaline should not be a problem, but too acidic will irritate, and can even harm your dog’s skin.


Make Dog Shampoo for Deep Cleaning That Lasts! The Vinegar and Glycerin Bubbly Shampoo Mix Recipe.

  1. Mix two cups each of apple cider vinegar and natural/organic dish soap with a 7-8 pH.
  2. Mix in four cups of water.
  3. Add 4 oz of vegetable glycerin to your mixture.
  4. Shake well upon mixing, and again before every use.

Avoid dish soaps with strong scents or artificial additives. Look for labels that read “free” and “clear.”

Simple Bath Soap Recipe: Unscented Castile Soap, Vinegar, and Water

Shred 3-4 tablespoons of solid, unscented castile soap with a cheese grater. Or use 2-3 tablespoons of liquid unscented castile soap. Add 4 cups of hot water. Mix with a spoon or whisk until the soap solids are dissolved. Add 1 cup of white or apple cider vinegar. Pour ingredients into a bottle for storage. Shake well before each use.

You won’t need much of this soap. It lathers well. Most Castile soaps will have a pH of around 8.

Getting Fancy Recipe: Rosemary Infusion Conditioner

Mix 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary into 4 cups of water, and bring the water to a boil. As soon as it boils, remove it from the heat, and allow it to sit for ten minutes. Strain the rosemary out, and allow the rosemary water to cool until it’s about body temperature. After a bath, pour the infusion over your dog’s coat for extra softness and shine.

Low on Time Dry Dog Shampoo: Baking Soda Rub for a Stinky Pooch

Sprinkle half a cup of dry baking soda all over your dog. Avoid the face entirely - we don’t want them breathing in the baking soda, or getting it in their eyes. Rub the baking soda in, then give your dog a good brushing. Odors will be reduced or eliminated, and baking soda should not irritate anyone’s skin.

Tips for a Green Dog Bath:

Don’t Leave Water Running

Wet your dog, then shut the water off. Lather them up, and be sure to scrub all over, even between the toes. Avoid eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. The face can be cleaned with a damp washcloth separately. When it’s time, turn the water back on for a good rinse.

Don't Double Lather

If you give a good first wet-down before shampooing, even the muddiest dog will be already partially clean. Most dogs will be clean enough after one thorough lathering and a final rinse. Washing only once saves both water and shampoo and reduces the chance of drying out your dog’s skin.

Towel Dry

Save the hairdryer for yourself, not your dog. Using a for-humans hair dryer on your dog can dry out your dog’s skin, and it wastes energy!

Bathe Your Pets at Home

Unless you use a groomer that adheres to green practices, chances are your groomer will use more energy, waste more water, and use more toxic cleansers than you might use at home.

7 of the Best Dog Shampoos for Any Situation

Dogs are messy -- everybody knows it. They love to roll around in the mud and seem to have no problem walking around covered in filth. Though they don’t mind smelling to high heaven, to our delicate olfactory sense, their odor can become something of an issue. There is, however, something you can do to remedy this pungent problem -- bath time.

While you can’t bathe them all the time (because shampoos remove oils from their fur, and can end up doing more harm than good if used too often), a bath every now and again will keep your dog from getting too ripe. And, with the right shampoo, you can take care of some other problems as well, such as itchy skin, hot spotspyoderma, and even flea and tick infestations.

For a better idea of what shampoo you should be using, check out our wide selection of highly rated and highly effective shampoos. Your dog will be smelling like a field of daisies in no time.

All Natural Shampoo

1. Ark Naturals Neem Protect Shampoo

  • The environmentally friendly formula is gentle and effective at cleaning pets
  • Contains neem -- a tree oil used to remove dirt, grease, and sebum from your pet’s coat
  • Safe for dogs of all ages

2. Richards Organics Deodorizing Shampoo

  • The natural formula soothes skin and leaves coat shiny, healthy, and odor-free
  • Contains baking soda, zinc, rosemary extract, & lavender oil
  • Safe and gentle on your dog’s coat
  • Doctor recommended

Heavy Duty Shampoo

3. Triple Strength Dirty Dog Concentrated Shampoo

  • Uses patented DirtRepel ionic technology to keep your pet’s coat clean longer
  • Triple strength formula knocks out even the stinkiest odors
  • pH balanced to keep your pet’s skin from drying out
  • Contains aloe, Vitamin E, and shea butter for a smooth bath time
  • Pleasant green apple and white tea scent

4. VF Clinical Care Oatmeal And Tea Tree Oil Infuser Shampoo

  • Contains colloidal oatmeal for all-natural moisturization
  • Tea tree oil makes for an effective antibacterial and antifungal agent
  • pH balanced specifically for your dog’s skin and fur
  • Paraben-free
  • No artificial fragrances
  • Great at calming insect bites

Hypoallergenic Shampoo

5. Vets Best Hypo-Allergenic Shampoo

  • The soap-free, tearless formula is great for dogs with sensitive skin
  • Will not affect flea and tick treatments
  • Relieves itching and soothes dry coats
  • Great for dogs with seasonal allergies
  • Contains aloe extracts and vitamin E

White Hair Shampoo

6. Bayer ExpertCare Healthy Coat Brightening Shampoo

  • Contains oatmeal to help moisturize skin
  • Uses coat conditioners and brightening agents to add some sparkle to your dog’s coat
  • Soap-free formula soothes dry skin
  • Powder fresh scent leaves your dog smelling great

7. Groomers Blend Ultra White Shampoo

  • Removes yellow tint from white fur
  • Restores coat to a glistening white
  • Professional formula

What shampoo do you use on your dog, and why? Leave a comment and let us know. And to save 20% on dog shampoo, sign up for PetPlus!

PetPlus is a benefit program for pet owners that provides member-only access to medications at wholesale prices, plus discounts on food, supplies, vet visits, boarding, and more. Learn more at

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professionals with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.

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