Many dog parents are looking high and low for the perfect hypoallergenic dog shampoo for their dogs. But what exactly is “hypoallergenic”? If a shampoo is labeled “hypoallergenic dog shampoo”, does that automatically mean it’s good to use for all allergy-prone dogs? If not, what should we look for when choosing a shampoo for our dogs?
This post tries to look at all these questions and more.
What is a Hypoallergenic Dog Shampoo
A “hypoallergenic” product is supposed to be less likely to cause allergic reactions in those who use the product. So, many of us assume that a hypoallergenic dog shampoo contains very few potential allergens in it. As such, dogs using the shampoo are less likely to have an allergic reaction.
The problem is, in the United States, non-medicated dog shampoos, including “hypoallergenic shampoos”, fall under the category of “grooming aids”. These “grooming aids” are not regulated by FDA or any other government agency.
In Canada, the Government’s website clearly states that:
“Hypoallergenic” is neither a legal nor a scientific term. It simply means that the manufacturer has chosen ingredients to produce a finished product with minimum potential for causing allergy. This does not guarantee that the product will not cause an allergic reaction in some individuals, since people are allergic to a wide range of substances.
Because there is no regulation on the use of the word “hypoallergenic”, manufacturers can use the term very loosely. You will be surprised to find questionable ingredients in some so-called “hypoallergenic dog shampoos” (see below).
Also, many dog parents are under the wrong impression that a “hypoallergenic dog shampoo” would NOT cause any skin irritations or allergic reactions in any dogs.
That is of course not true. The thing is, all dogs are individual beings. They react differently to even to the same ingredient. So it is important to understand that there isn’t such a thing as a “hypoallergenic dog shampoo” that is universally suitable for ALL dogs.
What To Look for in a Dog Shampoo
OK. with the understanding that even a so-called “hypoallergenic dog shampoo” can cause allergic reactions in some dogs, what then should we look for when choosing a shampoo for our dogs, especially if the dog has super-sensitive skin?
Here’s a good start:
Look for a shampoo that doesn’t have a long list of ingredients. The fewer the ingredients, the fewer the chances of your dog reacting adversely to the ingredients. Simple math!
Full Disclosure of Ingredients
Sometimes some products only have just a few “featured” ingredients listed. They don’t fully disclose all the ingredients. In such a case, either go to the manufacturer’s website to see if they have a complete list, or call them directly to find out. If they are unwilling to disclose, choose another shampoo!
Clear Descriptions of Ingredients
You may have seen some shampoos with descriptions such as “a proprietary blend of herbs”, or “a blend of natural oils”, or something similar. This kind of wording should also be questioned. We need to know exactly what goes into that “blend” to ensure that the “blend” doesn’t contain something that might be harmful to our dogs.
What Shouldn’t Be in a Dog Shampoo
Next, we need to identify potentially harmful ingredients that may be used in a shampoo. Avoid the following:
1. Chemical Surfactants and Emulsifiers
Manufacturers of many chemical-laden dog shampoos often boast that their products are rich and thick, “lather well”, and “clean well”.
But what they use to achieve that is problematic. Let’s take a look:
Sulfate is a foaming agent. It also acts as a surfactant, which is a substance that reduces the surface tension of water. It helps loosen the grease and dirt from the hair and skin.
Some common sulfates used in shampoos include sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, and TEA lauryl sulfate.
While sulfates are not carcinogens, they can be very drying to the skin because they strip the oils from the skin. If your dog has dry skin, using a shampoo that contains sulfate could possibly cause skin irritation.
Ethanolamines also act as a surfactant, and include cocamide DEA, cocamide MEA, Triethanolamine, diethanolamine, etc. They pose health risks such as organ toxicity and is found to be a potential carcinogen.
This is also a surfactant and is a compound formed by mixing coconut oil and a chemical called dimethylaminopropylamine. (Can anyone pronounce this?)
Cocamidopropyl Betaine is a common cause for skin and eye irritation, and eczema.
Propylene glycol is used as an emulsifier or co-surfactant, but is also used as a humectant, and a solvent for fragrances and preservatives.
According to ewg.org (Environmental Working Group), propylene glycol can cause irritations in the eyes, skin, and lungs. In people, it can cause hives and allergic contact dermatitis at concentrations as low as 2%.
Polysorbate is a surfactant and emulsifier. It is obtained by treating the harmless sorbitol with ethylene oxide, which is carcinogenic.
2. Artificial Fragrance and Coloring
This is a no-brainer. Dogs have a sensitive nose, and some dog shampoos have such strong and irritating smell that dogs get really stressed by the smell!
And if there is artificial fragrance, you will usually find phthalates, which are chemicals used to make synthetic fragrance last longer.
But phthalates are known to be a potential carcinogen and are also associated with reproductive problems and birth defects.
Artificial coloring in shampoo – Honestly, do we care what color the dog shampoo is?
3. Chemical Preservatives
Some dog shampoos use chemical preservatives, such as:
- Methylisothiazolinone (MIT or MI)
- Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI)
- Parabens (such as butylparaben)
- Formaldehyde releasing agent (e.g. Doazolidinyl urea, DMDM Hydantoin, Quaternium-7)
All these preservatives cause not only skin irritations, such as itching and burning, but some may even be neurotoxins. Avoid shampoos that use any of these preservatives at all costs!
Look for a shampoo that uses natural preservatives, such as vitamin E, rosemary oil extract, grapefruit seed extract.
You may even want to get a preservative-free shampoo for your super-sensitive dog! If so, be sure to get a smaller bottle so you can get through it before the expiry date.
A Look At Some “Hypoallergenic Dog Shampoos”
Now that we know what’s good and what’s bad to have in a safe dog shampoo, let’s take a look at some best-selling “hypoallergenic dog shampoos” on Amazon.com.
Dog Shampoos With Good Ingredients
4-Legger Certified Organic Hypoallergenic Dog Shampoo
The ingredients look good:
Saponified organic oils of coconut, olive, and jojoba, organic aloe vera, and rosemary extract
They are all U.S. certified organic ingredients, detergent-free, paraben-free, and sulfate-free.
This product has so far received 90% of good comments (4 and 5 stars) on Amazon.com.
But a few pet parents said the shampoo made their dogs’ hair dry and not soft.
Earthbath All Natural Hypo-Allergenic and Fragrance-Free Shampoo
The ingredients checked out fine:
Purified water, extra-mild renewable coconut based cleansers, aloe vera, xanthan gum, olive oil squalene (preservative)
It is unscented. Most dog parents found this shampoo to be mild and non-irritating for their dogs.
The only common complaints were about the packaging – Some bottles leaked during shipping.
Tropiclean Pure Pet Shampoo
Water, organic blend of oatmeal, frangipani, mild coconut cleanser, vitamin E
No complaints from dog parents!
Dog Shampoos with So-So Ingredients
Vet’s Best Hypoallergenic Dog Shampoo for Sensitive Skin
This “Amazon’s Choice” product is on the top of the list of “hypoallergenic dog shampoos”.
The problem is, they only list their “featured” ingredients. What is the cleansing agent? Soap? If so, is the soap natural or chemical? What are the other ingredients? We don’t know unless we contact the manufacturer.
While they have received quite a few 4 and 5 stars, some pet owners complained about a “strong artificial perfumy fragrance” and some said it didn’t clean well.
Pro Pet Works Natural Oatmeal Dog Shampoo + Conditioner In One
This product is one of Amazon’s “best sellers”.
It contains, among other things, “glyceryl stearate”, “blend of cherry botanical extracts”, and “EGDA”.
Glyceryl stearate is a chemical surfactant. EGDA (Ethylene Glycol Diacetate) is a chemical that can cause skin and eye irritation.
Blend of cherry botanical extracts – what exactly are they?
Burt’s Bees Dog Hypoallergenic Shampoo
This shampoo contains some questionable ingredients:
- Glyceryl oleate: According to ewg.org, this compound causes irritation to the skin, eyes, and lungs.
- Potassium sorbate: This is a preservative but there is strong evidence that it’s a skin allergen in people. (ewg.org)
- Sodium benzoate: This is also a preservative but may cause organ toxicity. In Japan, it is restricted for use in cosmetics with strict concentration limit.
While it has received many good reviews, some dog parents complained the shampoo left their dogs’ fur dry and coarse.
Shampoo with Bad Ingredients
Perfect Coat Gentle Hypoallergenic Dog Shampoo
OK. Take a look at the ingredients:
Need I say more?
Nootie Hypoallergenic Shampoo for Dogs
Another so-called hypoallergenic dog shampoo with questionable ingredients:
I am so surprised that they could actually call their shampoo “hypoallergenic”!
Note that the above list of so-called hypoallergenic dog shampoos is not a complete list, just a few examples to give you an idea of what makes a good dog shampoo, and what not.
To Sum Up…
The most important point to remember is, there is no such a thing as a hypoallergenic dog shampoo that is good to use for all dogs.
Even getting a dog shampoo with all good ingredients is no guarantee that your dog will not develop skin irritations or allergic reactions to it. What seems to work well with a lot of dogs may still stimulate severe itching in YOUR dog if he happens to be allergic to one of the ingredients.
When trying a new shampoo for the first time, use it on a small area of your dog and see what happens.
Yes – choosing the right shampoo for your dog is a matter of trial and error!