They look harmless and smell nice, but many commercial dog shampoos contain chemicals that can damage the skin and coat and cause health problems. Learn to recognize risky ingredients and choose natural, non-toxic alternatives.
There are some many different shampoos out there that finding the right one for your dog can be a challenge. There are so many brands and preparations on the market that it’s hard to know where to begin. Add the many different products formulated as anti-itch, brightening, tearless, conditioning, anti-dandruff, flea and tick, medicated, hypoallergenic and so on, and the confusion just gets worse.
A good starting point is to learn how to read labels so you can narrow down your search to products you know are going to be safe for your dog. Here’s a checklist of what to look for, and what to avoid.
Steer clear of these
• The key cleaning action in shampoos is done by surfactants. The molecules in surfactants contain two chemical groups: one is attracted to soils and the other to water. In simple terms, the molecules work together to break down dirt from the surface of the hair shaft and scalp, and remove it.
Also referred to as surface active agents, surfactants can be of synthetic origin and include sodium lauryl sulfate. Shampoos may contain a blend of surfactants to generate various properties such as lathering and cleansing.
Many chemical surfactants in dog shampoos are petroleum based and are known carcinogens. A better option is to choose a shampoo that uses natural surfactants and non-toxic, natural ingredients. Surfactants of animal origin include tallow, while coconut oil or palm kernel oil are plant-based surfactants. Avoid shampoos that contain sodium lauryl sulfate.
• A lot of shampoos contain harsh detergents that actually strip all the natural oil from the hair, leaving a fluffy looking coat. These detergents can exacerbate skin conditions such as dryness, irritation and itching.
• Many shampoos that claim to be moisturizing may contain chemical additives such as propylene glycol, a cosmetic form of mineral oil that works as a humescent and creates moisture retention. This chemical is also a skin irritant, can cause liver and kidney damage, and is found in paint, wallpaper removers and de-greasers.
• Tar, found in some dandruff shampoos, is one of the first known human carcinogens. Tar is also found in all artificial colors, flavors and odors, so it’s is best to stay away from any shampoo containing synthetic dyes or fragrances.
• The majority of perfumes added to commercial shampoos are made with ethyl alcohol and synthetic chemicals. Perfumes can dry out the coat and trigger allergies in dogs as well as humans.
• Don’t use dish detergent to bathe your dog. These products may be labeled as “mild”, yet when you do a little research and read the material safety data, you’ll find they may cause skin dryness and eye irritation.
• Many “tearless” shampoos use chemicals to counteract and reduce irritation caused by other chemical ingredients. These too may be carcinogenic in nature.
• Hypoallergenic shampoos are formulated with ingredients that have little likelihood of causing an allergic reaction, but this doesn’t guarantee a sensitive dog won’t still react to them. Ingredients found in hypoallergenic (and other) shampoos that may cause allergic reactions are mineral oil, methyl paraben and propyl paraben. They can cause hypersensitivity and are linked to long term health problems.
Safe and effective alternatives
Ultimately, you want a shampoo that gently cleans without stripping the coat’s natural sedum. A good, basic all-purpose dog shampoo should be pH balanced for the coat, made with natural and organic ingredients, have low lather and smell great. Look for shampoos that use essential oils. These oils nourish the dog’s coat, leaving it clean and shiny. They come in a wonderful variety of scents such as lavender, tea tree, rosehip and geranium.
Plenty of dog shampoos offer skin treatments using natural ingredients. If a dog’s coat and skin needs special care for dryness or itching, a natural shampoo containing oatmeal and aloe vera is a good choice. Shampoos containing essential oils of rosemary, neem and tea tree help prevent dandruff. Tea tree shampoo is a good anti-bacterial and flea repellant, while lavender and calendula calm and soothe the skin. Natural oils such as jojoba, macadamia oil or safflower oil naturally condition the dog’s coat, leaving it soft and silky. These treatment shampoos are best left on the coat for up to ten minutes in order to allow the ingredients to penetrate thoroughly.
When buying a shampoo for your canine companion, remember to read the ingredients first. Familiarize yourself with those known to cause health problems in humans. A product with healthy, natural, organic ingredients may cost a little more, but the benefits are worth it – for you and your dog.