Dogs in the wild don’t need baths. Why do our dogs?
Well, they don’t need baths, but if they want to live in our homes, and sometimes even sleep in our beds, they have to look and smell cleaner than dogs normally do.
Shampoos can be formulated for general cleaning, or for specific purposes, such as killing fleas or soothing irritated skin. Since there are more effective methods of accomplishing both of these tasks (see “Flee, Evil Fleas,” and “A Garden of Benefits,” this issue), we’ll focus only on the sudsy substances that do the best job of cleaning your dog’s hair, without irritating his skin, or making him sick. (We’ll deal with medicated shampoos in an upcoming issue.)
Yes, Virginia, there are shampoos that can have deleterious effects on your dog’s health. The most toxic ingredients are found in shampoos intended to kill fleas, but a few can be found in ordinary shampoos.
Given the variety and number of products available, WDJ recommends that you avoid products containing any of the ingredients below. Each has been linked to a health hazard, and though they may be present only in tiny amounts, there are safer alternatives available. This list is from “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats,” by Richard Pitcairn, DVM:
• Anise oil
• Boric acid
• Benzene hexacholoride
• Benzethonium chloride
• Dimethyl phthalate
• Pine tar
• Sodium arsenite
• sodium cresylate
Besides the absence of toxins, our criteria for selecting a shampoo include:
• Ingredients listed on the container. Unlike food manufacturers, shampoo makers are not required to list their ingredients on the bottle. But without an ingredients list, a person can’t determine the quality of the ingredients nor whether it contains potentially harmful products or chemicals that an individual dog may be allergic to. (For more label-reading tips, see the sidebar, “Reading the Fine Print,” page 5.)
• A shampoo that doesn’t harm the dog, us, or the environment. WDJ gives extra points to those manufacturers who deliver their product in a recyclable container.
• The product should be priced reasonably. The price of a shampoo has more to do with the cost of the maker’s advertising than the cost of the materials used in its manufacture.
Getting into the tub with suds
Based on our first requirement, we eliminated roughly 70 percent of the dog shampoos on the shelves of our pet stores. Few makers of these products see fit to share their contents with their consumers. Well-known shampoos such as Hartz’ Love Your Dog Shampoo, Miracle Corp. of Australia’s Miracle Coat Premium Pet Shampoo, Lambert Kay’s Groom & Glo, Pet Botanics’ Herbal Shampoo, Sergeant’s Fur-So-Fresh, and Natural Research People’s Nature First Herbal Shampoo, and PurePet’s Pure Care are among those without the ingredients listed on the label.
We brought home a bag full of products that did list the contents, called the neighbors (asking for dog bath “volunteers”), and turned on the hose. We washed quite a few dogs, but failed to ascertain much of a difference between the coat quality or shine of the dogs that had been scrubbed with different shampoos. In desperation, and much to the consternation of our housemates, we took a half a dozen dog shampoos into our own showers, and tried them on our own hair!
While we found no great differences from one dog shampoo to the next, we did find them to be generally different from our “people” shampoos.
For one thing, each of the shampoos we tried was noticeably thinner than the shampoos we’re accustomed to. Considering that dog baths often take place in less than ideal circumstances – slippery dogs trying to escape, your back screaming in protest at being hunched over, water flying every which way – soap that runs through your fingers too easily is one more annoyance. It also means you invariably end up using twice as much of it to get enough onto your dog.
Each of the shampoos shared another characteristic – they lathered much less than our regular “people” shampoos. We kept in mind that this has nothing to do with their ability to clean, but we still missed the lather. Lather is fun. Lather makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something. On the other hand, each of them rinsed out quickly and easily.
Musing in the shower, we thought, “These shampoos work so well, why not use them on our hair all the time?” The answer is . . . they cost more than the kind we usually use! So why shouldn’t you use “people” shampoo on your dog? If your shampoo works well, is less expensive than your dog’s brand, and has none of the potentially harmful ingredients listed above, go ahead!
Below, you’ll find our selections. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of dog shampoos on the market. Shampoos that are better than our picks may exist, and products that are worse than our pans may also. When searching for products to either recommend or review unfavorably, we try to call out examples that are familiar or easily accessible to most shoppers, and that are most representative of the variety of products available. More important than attempting to give you the name of the single most marvelous shampoo in the world, we are trying to teach you how to recognize the hallmarks of good as well as sub-par products.
-By Justin Litvack