How to Choose the Best Dog Shampoo (For Fleas, Dandruff, & More)

Updated on May 24, 2019
Mrs. Obvious profile image

Mrs. Obvious is a mother, wife, and mentor. She used to own her own groom shop called Puppy Love and was self-employed for nine years.

How to choose the shampoo that's best for your dog.
How to choose the shampoo that's best for your dog. | Source

Shampoo Selection

What types of shampoo are out there, and when, why, and how should you use them? This article is a guide to which shampoo is best for your purposes. You don't have to be too picky about the kind of shampoo you use on your dog—just make sure to get a shampoo that is made for dogs, not humans. There are only a few human shampoos that can be exceptions to this rule. Some people use their own human shampoo with no problems, but I think it's best to use shampoo formulated for dogs in the first place because they are Ph-balanced specifically for pets.

The basic choices are: oatmeal, medicated, whitening, puppy, super-cleaning, hypoallergenic, flea shampoo, and conditioners.

Oatmeal-based shampoo is great to use as your basic go-to. It will help with dry skin (which causes itching), skin allergies, and soothing the skin after a round with fleas.

Medicated shampoo should be used with more severe skin irritations, seborrhea, etc. The ones you can buy at your pet store usually have some combination of coal tar, sulfur, and hydrocortisone in them. They can and do help improve some conditions and hot spots. If your pet has an acutal skin infection, yeast, or mites, you need to see a vet for the proper shampoo.

Whitening shampoo is usually used to brighten white-coated animals but can also be used to clarify and brighten other colors too. There are special formulations for brightening black coats as well. These whitening/clarifying shampoos clean really well, but can have the effect of stripping oil from the skin, so you may want to consider using a conditioner along with it if you use it every time you bathe your pet.

Puppy shampoo is really great for very young animals (four months or less) as well as for very old or fragile animals. It is wonderful at any stage of life for use on the face and around the eyes because puppy shampoo is usually tearless. Human baby shampoo is also very good for this.

A super-cleaning shampoo should be used whenever your dog has rolled in something nasty, is especially oily or stinky, or you know your regular shampoo just won't get that out of his fur. Look for words on the label like baking soda and degreasers. These kind of shampoos should not be used all the time as they will tend to dry out the skin and coat. Use a conditioner afterwards to make the coat nice and soft.

Hypo-allergenic shampoo is tearless also and was made for pets that are super sensitive to soap and break out in itchy rashes after every bath. They are also good for owners with sensitive skin. Do not assume that just because your pet has been really itchy after a bath once or twice that they need a hypo-allergenic shampoo. There are many factors to add up before insisting on a hypo shampoo for your pet. The most common reason for itching after a bath is that you may not have rinsed well enough. Secondly, your pet may be suffering from dry skin and you may not have used a shampoo that addresses that problem. Thirdly, the shampoo you used before may have been too strong for your pet and stripped all the oils out of his fur, causing him to feel like he has dry skin, thus causing the itching. This doesn't mean you freak out and just start using a hypo shampoo out of fear of causing a problem. Hypo shampoo is a great product for the dogs that actually need it. But it isn't a great cleaning shampoo. It won't help with smells or oily fur, and it won't soothe existing skin conditions. It doesn't lather well and, being hypo-allergenic, it has no soap in it, so it can't clean as well as any other normal shampoo. Many pet owners, once they’ve convinced themselves that their pet needs hypo shampoo, will then fear using any other shampoo that their pet may actually need and benefit from. Make sure you have tried several other shampoos including oatmeal and a good skin-conditioning shampoo before you make the switch to hypo-allergenic shampoo.

Flea shampoo will help you kill fleas, but use may have to be repeated several times. Every year, fleas get more resistant to the available products and manufacturers are constantly trying to keep up. Use an eye protectant in the pet's eyes and apply the flea shampoo to the head first. Fleas will hide on your pet anywhere. In the ears, eyes, nose, rectum, they don't care, they are running for their lives. Apply the shampoo to the head and neck first to prevent the fleas from hiding in these areas where you can't see them, and then move on to the rest of the body. Leave the shampoo on for at least 5-10 minutes, according to the label of the particular shampoo you are using. Kill as many fleas as you can with your own hands while you are waiting. You can do this easily by popping the fleas between your nails.

Flea shampoo works by paralyzing the flea's nervous system, so after a few minutes, you will see the fleas stop moving. But they aren't dead yet, it takes a few more minutes to actually kill them. Rinsing the shampoo off too soon will allow the fleas to recover instead of being killed, so leave it on as long as the label says. If you have followed these directions but are still having problems with live fleas on your pet, you may want to go ahead and use a topical flea product, like Frontline Plus, or take your dog to a groomer for a dip. Not all groomers will use dip these days, most of us prefer the use of topical flea products, so call around and ask if they have dip if that's what you really want.

The important thing to remember is that you don't want to mix too many flea products on your pet because they are poison. Flea shampoo, whether chemical based or natural based (neem oil, eucalyptus, penny royal, etc.) can be used together with dip or with topical products. But you don't want to use both dip and a topical product together because you could poison your dog. Some pets that are elderly, in fragile health, or nursing are going to be sensitive to flea products too. When in doubt about what to do, ask your vet.

Conditioners are made specifically to target either the skin or the coat. Knowing which kind you need before you buy will save you some money. If your dog is itchy, which usually means dry skin, make sure you buy one that is made to condition the skin. If you are using a conditioner because your dog's hair is dry, brittle, or not shiny, then use one made specifically for the hair itself.

Human dandruff shampoo like Head & Shoulders may be used on dogs to control flaky dandruff (a sign of dry skin) and has the added benefit of being able to kill fleas when left on for at least five minutes.

Dawn dish soap is another product safe to use on pets. It works great to strip out all kinds of oils and even environmental irritants. People who rescue wildlife have used it for years to strip harmful oils from birds' feathers and assist in the cleaning of other wild animals, and it has proven to be safe. We like to use it on very young puppies and kittens to kill fleas (I don't know why it works) because it is so gentle.

Eye protectants When using any shampoo product that doesn't claim to be tearless, it is a good idea to protect the eyes during the bathing process. There are a few products on the market to protect the eyes, and a couple more to wash irritants from eyes. Make sure you are buying a protectant for this purpose. An eye wash won't protect, it only serves like human eye drops to help relieve the eye of irritants.

One drop in each eye will usually be fine and is really all you want to use, as this product is very oily and too much will leave oily streaks down the face. Another natural thing you can use that you might already have at home is mineral oil. Use an eyedropper to apply. Here is the technique I use to get the drops into the eyes: Point the nose only slightly upwards and, coming from behind the pet's skull, pull back the top eyelid towards the tail and drop the eye drops onto the eyeball from above. Your pet's instinct is to look down, and because of this, the pet won't see the eye drops falling into its eyes and get upset. The pet's own natural tears will dissolve eye protectants within 20-30 minutes, so there is no need to worry about removing it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


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    • profile image


      2 weeks ago

      Is it ok to use head and shoulders for my boxer he is about one human year old

    • Mrs. Obvious profile imageAUTHOR

      Willow Mattox 

      19 months ago from Northern California

      Hi Anna, Yes you can use Equate brand. I have used it, and it works just as well as Head and Shoulders brand.

    • Mrs. Obvious profile imageAUTHOR

      Willow Mattox 

      2 years ago from Northern California

      Yay! I'm happy this worked for you. Some people will try specialty eye drops from the pet store to protect eyes. But you can also use a drop of mineral oil too. Careful to only use one drop per eye though, or you'll end up with super greasy eye look when she's all done!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I have a 8 yr old Lab/Shep mix she hates baths and its a task giving her one. She moves around so much its hard not getting the soap in her eyes. I've used all the shampoos made for dogs possible and they all seem to cause eye irratation. So I tried baby shampoo I dont know about anyone else but it worked great she didnt have any eye issues (even when it got in her eyes) Not only did it work it also gave her a nice clean smell.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Dawn CAN be used on a dog, but PLEASE only use it in emergency situations. Like noted, it works for getting grease off of their coats, maybe even skunk smell. But theres a reason they make shampoos specifically for dogs! If you want to use a human "shampoo", use the MILDEST thing you can find, like a baby shampoo. Dawn will strip the natural ESSENTIAL oils out of a dog's coat and may lead to dry skin and dull hair if used regularly.

      The chemicals in the soap kill the fleas, but also can cause irritation, conjunctivitis, and other skin issues when used regularly on dogs and puppies.

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 

      10 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      Great information - thank you for all the tips - will make bathtime a lot easier LOL...


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