Human shampoo is made to wash out natural oils and wax on our hair, but a dog’s skin is much more sensitive

Ingredients In Dog Shampoo To Avoid

There are many ingredients in dog shampoo that are dangerous to dogs. Sadly, any products intended to clean an animal are not subject to FDA control. That’s a major reality and a very scary fact from the FDA’s website pertaining to animal products they regulate.

There are specific ingredients in dog shampoo to avoid and never allow to touch your dog’s skin. The skin is the biggest organ of a dog. The skin not only protects a dog from the outside world, but it also gives dogs a sense of touch and regulates temperature. You never want to put ingredients like sulfates, parabens, phosphates, synthetic dyes, or perfumes on a dog’s skin.

Some dog shampoo ingredients can make your dog sick. Diligent pet parents pay attention to the ingredients in a dog’s food and treats but often forget to check a dog shampoo label. Not all canine shampoos are created equal.

Some of them can cause serious damage (or worse) to a dog’s skin and internal organs. Here’s what ingredients in dog shampoo you should avoid to keep your dog happy and healthy.

Can I Use Human Shampoo On My Dog?

Human shampoo is made to wash out natural oils and wax on our hair, but a dog’s skin is much more sensitive. Because a dog’s skin is more neutral to alkaline in nature than human skin, he requires a shampoo that is pH balanced for dogs.

A human’s skin is around 5.5 to 5.6, which mean it is more acidic. A dog’s skin pH, however, is between 6.2 and 7.4, more neutral to alkaline. If you use human shampoo or baby shampoo on a dog, the skin layer called the mantle gets disrupted. This makes it easy for bacteria to take hold, leaving him open to parasites, viruses, dry skin, and flakiness.

Human shampoos are more acidic since our scalp can tolerate ingredients a dog cannot. Since a dog’s skin is thinner than a human’s, you can imagine why certain chemicals, preservatives, and dyes cause great danger to them.

Which Ingredients In Dog Shampoo Should You Avoid?

Ammonium Laureth SulfateMineral oil
Artificial colorsParabens
Artificial dyesPEG-40 Lanolin
Cocamidopropyl BetainePerfumes
Cocomide DEA or MEAPhthalates
FormaldehydePolyethylene glycol
Isopropyl (SD-40)Polysorbates
Isopropyl alcohol Propylene Glycol
Isothiazolinone preservativesSodium Lureth Sulfate
Methylisothiazolinone & MethylchloroisothiazolinoneSodium Lauryl Sulfate

Any dog shampoo that is intended for therapeutic purposes of to affect a dog’s structure or function is subject to FDA regulation as an animal drug. If your vet prescribes a shampoo for your dog, talk to her about any side effects and safety concerns first.

Ingredients to avoid in dog shampoos include, but are not limited to:


Renowned veterinarian, Dr. Jean Dodds, says research indicates parabens can disrupt a dog’s endocrine system. Parabens serve to extend a product’s shelf life and reduce bacterial and fungal growth in the product. Some common parabens you may see on dog shampoo include:

  • Isobutylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Isopropylparaben
  • Propylparaben


The United States government classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogenic ingredient, yet it is often used as a preservative in dog shampoo. If it causes cancer in people, you can deduce its carcinogenic properties to dogs.

Some of the names of formaldehydes and sulfate benzoates on dog shampoo include:

  • Bromopol
  • Doazolidinyl urea
  • DMDN Hydantoin
  • Imidazolidinyl urea
  • Quaternium-7, -15, -31 -61
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate

Read closely because the label may say “preservatives” while containing formaldehyde derivatives.


Sulfates are chemicals that cleanse and foam. You know the foam produced when you brush your teeth? Sulfates are involved. Dr. Jean Dodds advises using sulfate-free dog shampoo if your pooch has dry skin.

Pet shampoo manufacturers may claim sulfates remove oil and dirt from a dog’s skin, but they are chemicals that can cause problems. Redness, skin irritation, itching, dryness and stripping the skin of its natural oils are all side effects of using sulfates. 

Some by-products of sulfates, such as SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) and 1,4-dioxane are known to cause cancer. On California’s Proposition 65’s list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects, 1,4-dioxane is one of them.

Do you see bubbles in your dog’s shampoo without shaking it? It likely contains sulfates. Some of the ways manufacturers label their products with sulfates include these ingredients:

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS)
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS)
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES)
  • Sodium Coco Sulfate (SCS)
  • TEA Lauryl Sulfate
  • MEA Lauryl Sulfate

Keep sulfate-containing dog shampoo away from your pup’s eyes, as SLS has been linked with cataracts and protein formation in the eyes, which can lead to blindness.


These show up as MEA (monoethanolamine), DEA (diethanolamine), and TEA (triethanolamine) on a dog shampoo’s label. Ethanolamines help create texture and foam, and when blended properly can control the pH level of a product. Here’s where it gets scary: When ethanolamines are combined with nitrosamines, which are believed to be carcinogenic, you can imagine the horrible outcome on a dog’s skin and body.

Because some nitrosamines can be absorbed through the skin, the European Commission prohibits DEA in cosmetics to reduce contamination from nitrosamines, believed to be cancer-causing.

Ethanolamines may appear on dog shampoo labeling as:

  • Diethanolamine (DEA)
  • Cocamide DEA 
  • DEA-cetyl phosphate
  • DEA oleth-3 phosphate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Myristamide DEA 
  • Oleamide DEA 
  • Monoethanolamine (MEA)
  • Cocamide MEA 
  • Linoleamide MEA 
  • Stearamide MEA
  • Triethanolamine (TEA)
  • TEA-lauryl sulfate

MCI (Methylchloroisothiazolinone)

Our rule of thumb is this: If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t be bathing your dog with it. Methylchloroisothiazolinone is a known carcinogenic designed to prevent fungus and preserve shampoo ingredients. Some countries have banned its use, but many have not.


We all want our dogs to smell good and not like a “wet dog” after a bath. If the scent comes from a natural source, such as botanicals or plants, the label should say so. Otherwise, fragrance can contain a whole lot of things that have no place on your dog’s skin.

Dog getting a bath and ready to use shampoo without harmful chemicals.
Dexter is ready for bath time.

How To Choose A Safe Dog Shampoo

“When choosing a general shampoo for your pets, it’s important that you select an option that is appropriate for your canine or feline companion over those created for humans,” says Patrick Mahaney, VMD/CVA. “Be especially cautious in choosing a shampoo for your cat, as they are extremely sensitive to the toxic effects of essential oils — tea tree oil, etc.”

Here are our top tips on choosing a dog shampoo that is best for your dog:

  1. Be sure the ingredients are visibly listed on the dog shampoo label and choose one without the dangerous ingredients listed above.
  2. Don’t use antifungal, antibacterial, or antiparasitic shampoos unless your vet prescribed it. You want the good bacteria to remain on your dog’s skin.
  3. Avoid oatmeal shampoo if your dog is sensitive to oatmeal in general. Dogs lick themselves and groom themselves, leading to more issues. Dr. Dodds indicates grain-based shampoos may contribute to skin fungus and bacteria.
  4. Avoid rosemary as an ingredient if your dog is epileptic or has seizures. Rosemary is safe for most dogs, per Dr. Dodds, but it can promote seizures in “vulnerable dogs.”
  5. Consider the dog’s coat and if he has an undercoat that needs special cleansing. For example, French Bulldogs have low-density hair but Cocker Spaniels have thicker hair.
  6. If it says biodegradable on the label, it means the soap residue won’t harm your water supply nor the dog’s coat.
  7. Understand the FDA is not regulating pet shampoos, so ignore the front of the bottle and make sure you know what’s actually inside.
  8. Try to avoid dyes and colorants like D&C Blue, D&C Yellow, and anything made with coal tar.
  9. If it says sulfate-free, it can still contain chemicals, such as propylene glycol, sodium myristate, and any number of scary things. Read closely.
  10. Use extreme caution with flea and tick shampoos. These are primarily a thing of the past and while the chemicals may temporarily get rid of the pests, they aren’t long-lasting to prevent a re-infestation.

What Are Herbal Dog Shampoos?

Since using Dr. Harvey’s herbal canine products on my Cocker Spaniel, I’ve noticed a huge difference in his overall well-being and health. However, not all herbal products for dogs are created equally, which is why I rely on Dr. Harvey’s reputation and experience.

Since I learned to read a dog shampoo label, I feel confident telling you about Dr. Harvey’s herbal dog grooming products. They contain no harmful chemicals or preservatives, and are made only with herbal and organic ingredients.

The word herbal means botanical or plant-based. Despite the word botanical on the bottle, I always read the label of ingredients on the back.

NOTE: As a Dr. Harvey’s brand ambassador, I can highly recommend these products.

My dog uses herbal canine shampoo to stay healthy and clean.

Dr. Harvey’s Herbal Organic Shampoo For Dogs

This is everything a pet parent wants and more in a dog shampoo. This is one of my favorite shampoos to use on my Cocker Spaniel, Dexter because it is biodegradable, cruelty-free, detergent-free, chemical-free, and is made in the USA. Perfect for dogs who have sensitive or allergy-prone skin.

Take a peek at the label of ingredients: Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Aloe Vera, Vegetable Glycerine, Organic Chamomile Extract, Organic Stinging Nettles Extract, Organic Sage Extract, Organic Calendula Extract, Organic Hops Extract, St. John’s Wort Extract, Horsetail Extract, Lavender Oil, Organic Rosemary Extract.

Dr. Harvey’s Herbal Protection Organic Shampoo For Dogs

I use this shampoo during flea and tick season in conjunction with the Dr. Harvey’s Herbal Protection pray. It protects my dog against fleas and ticks without harmful chemicals and smells clean and fresh.

Ingredients include: Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Organic Aloe Vera, Vegetable Glycerine, Organic Chamomile Extract, Organic Stinging Nettles Extract, Organic Sage Extract, Organic Calendula Extract, Organic Hops Extract, St. John’s Wort Extract, Horsetail Extract, Catnip Oil, Erigeron Oil, Neem Oil, Citronella Oil, Cedarwood Oil, Geranium Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Organic Rosemary Extract

Dr. Harvey’s also has a canine organic ear wash and an organic herbal protection spray against fleas and ticks that we use and recommend.

Bonus: Here are the natural flea and tick preventatives we use on our dog.

Does My Dog Need To Use Conditioner?

According to most pet groomers, dogs with without an undercoat will benefit from a canine conditioner. The reason for this is dogs with an undercoat have coarse, thick hair (like a Labrador Retriever), don’t really matte, and their coats tend to repel dirt.

Most dogs benefit from a conditioner that does not contain any of the dangerous ingredients we outlined above. Dogs who are prone to tangles or matting or those with itchy skin may benefit from a quality canine conditioner.

Pet parents who bathe their dog at least once a week tend to condition their coats. Since frequent bathing can dry the coat and skin, a quality conditioner helps restore the lost moisture in addition to brushing.

How Often Should You Bathe Your Dog?

The frequency of bathing your dog depends on the dog’s breed, lifestyle, coat length, and if they well, rolled in mud or something gross.

If you have a show dog, such as an American Cocker Spaniel with a longer coat, bathing is required more often, such as once a week in a full show coat. I bathe my Cocker Spaniel, who I keep in a sporty puppy cut, twice a month.

You don’t want to over-bathe your dog, which can lead to dryness, flaking, and itching of the skin. Dogs need oils to keep their skin healthy. You should brush your dog daily. If you have a short-coated dog, use the appropriate brush or tool for his hair size and needs.

What About CBD Shampoo For Dogs?

There are many different CBD-infused grooming products for dogs on the market. We’ve tried the Pet Releaf line with success. Learn more about CBD Dog Shampoo and where to purchase it.

Bark Back

What are you using to bathe your dog? Do you know what shampoo your groomer uses? Has this ever crossed your mind before? Let us know in the comments below.

dangers of dog shampoos

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  1. Such an important topic. It’s imperative pet parents are made aware of these dangers, and I’m so happy to see you bring this topic to the forefront, Carol Bryant.

  2. Thank you so much for this most important information. The health and well being for our precious pets is so important. I loved the list.

  3. Amazing! I wasn’t aware that shampoo could have such dangerous affect on our faithful canine companions in such a manner. Glad I came across this very insightful information!

  4. Thank you for sharing this information. I like your sentiment that “if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t bath in it”. That definitely puts things I to perspective. I didn’t know dogs had specific conditioners. I have always heard that they can prevent natural oils from forming which can dry out coats. I’m glad there is a trusted one you found.

  5. Our doodle gets sick about 5 days after going to the groomer. I called and Our Groomer used ALOE DEEP Cleanse .

  6. This is valuable information but unfortunately products intended for cleansing or promoting attractiveness of animals are not subject to FDA control. The grooming industry has a long way to go with regards to providing product ingredient labeling with this information.

    1. Correct. Did you read the first paragraph which states, “There are many ingredients in dog shampoo that are dangerous to dogs. Sadly, any products intended to clean an animal are not subject to FDA control. That’s a major reality and a very scary fact from the FDA’s website pertaining to animal products they regulate.”

      I am in agreement with you.

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