The picture at the top is my dog. He’s called Teddy and has a nasty habit of rolling in dead things or poo…. He likes living in the house with us and so if he indulges himself in his habit, he gets the hose. As was the case on this occasion….
If he stays out of poo and dead things, his shampooing is much more pleasant as he is allowed in the bath where there is warm water!! I love using a bar-style dog shampoo on him. They last for ages, lather up nicely and are really convenient and easy to use – especially for emergency situations like this one. There is a great selection of bars and natural shampoos over on Green Elephant – the neem oil shampoo is particularly good at deterring fleas.
So now to the real point of this blog… why should we care about choosing a natural dog shampoo and what should we look for when we’re choosing..???
Lots of us are already on board with natural skin care and beauty products for ourselves. We now know that there are lots of potentially harmful chemicals in products that we put on our skin, which can be absorbed into our bodies. Endocrine disrupters, carcinogens and irritants can all be found in some of the creams and lotions we’ve been using on our skin and our children’s skin. And not surprisingly, nobody is happy about this!!
But what about our pets..??
With a thick coat of fur….surely we don’t need to worry too much about what we use to wash them with….. Do we…??
A Dog’s Skin
Just like human skin, a dog’s skin is his largest organ and it accounts for 12-14% of his body weight. It protects him from his environment, regulates his temperature and gives him his sense of touch. And just like us, anything you put on his skin can be absorbed into his body. He also grooms himself by licking his fur and skin so any product residue remaining on his coat could be ingested directly.
What is surprising is that a dog’s skin is actually thinner and much more sensitive than that of a human. A dog’s fur coat is needed not only to further regulate his temperature, but also to protect his delicate skin underneath from physical and UV light damage.
The pH of a dogs skin also differs from ours. Our skin is slightly acidic and normally around 5.5 whereas a dog’s skin is much closer to being neutral – like water. This is why you shouldn’t use a human shampoo on your dog because it could be very irritating to his skin and coat. Over time, an acidic human shampoo can strip away the natural oils from the skin and hair leaving dry, irritated skin and a dull coat.
How to Choose a Natural Dog Shampoo
So, when you’re gazing at rows and rows of colourful bottles and wondering which natural dog shampoo to choose, what should you look for..?? And most importantly, what should you try to avoid..???
1. Pick a Natural Dog Shampoo that was made for Dogs!!
As we mentioned above, the pH of a dogs skin is different to that of human skin. Using a human shampoo on your dog could cause irritation so always choose a shampoo that’s been made especially for dogs on your fur baby!!
2. Look for a List of Ingredients on the Bottle of Your Natural Dog Shampoo
It would be nice to know what’s in your natural dog shampoo wouldn’t it…?? But a problem with the pet industry is that it is relatively unregulated. That means that companies can put whatever they like in your dog’s shampoo and there is no legal requirement for them to tell you what they have used. Lots of companies do list their ingredients, but that doesn’t always mean it is a complete list.
Believe it or not, there are lots of shampoos you can buy that have no ingredients listed on them at all. And some that will add generic terms to their ‘ingredients’ list like ‘odour removers’ or ‘rinsing and conditioning agents’ which doesn’t really tell you much….!!
If a company won’t/doesn’t share exactly what they have used in their products, then we think their products are probably best avoided.
3. Study the List!!!
The ‘bad’ things that can appear in our dog’s shampoo are not dissimilar from what we should avoid in our own shampoos. If it’s bad for us, then there’s a good chance it’s bad for our dogs too. There are long lists of chemicals with equally long names that it’s recommended we avoid, but to keep it simple and easier to remember, here are FIVE that I have found hiding in some ‘natural’ dog shampoos from big brands readily available in New Zealand:
Fragrance or Parfum. Artificial fragrance can include hundreds of undisclosed scent chemicals and ingredients including phthalates (thought to be an endocrine disrupter). Fragrance chemicals have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.
Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate. This is an antimicrobial preservative and is a ‘formaldehyde releaser’. Formaldehyde itself has been classified as carcinogenic to humans and whilst formaldehyde releasing ingredients only produce relatively small amounts of the more serious chemical, it can be enough to trigger severe allergic reactions. Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate is rated as 6 by the EWG, a moderate overall hazard score (Formaldehyde is rated 10….).
Sodium laureth sulphate. SLES is a surfactant and it’s found in a huge number of detergent and personal care products – shampoo being the most common. And yes…it turns up in dog shampoos too!! Not only is there a high risk of irritation, but perhaps of greater concern is that it might be contaminated with toxic manufacturing impurities like 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen with an EWG rating of 8.
Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone. These are both preservatives often found together in liquid personal care products…and dog shampoos. They have risk ratings of 6 and 7 respectively on the EWG SkinDeep database meaning that for humans, these chemicals are deemed medium-high risk. The risk of irritation to skin eyes and lungs is considered high, and there are suggestions that it might be neurotoxic. It’s banned or highly restricted for use in human cosmetics in some countries.
PEG 80 Sorbiton Laurate. This is sometimes used as a fragrance ingredient and also as a cleansing or solubilising agent. Its EWG rating is 5 which indicates a medium overall hazard risk. It’s suspected to be a human skin allergen and there are concerns that impurities may be present including ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, both of which have high hazard ratings.
You’ll see that I have referred to EWG Ratings here. EWG is the Environmental Working Group and they work to provide us (consumers) with information about everyday products and chemicals (like cleaning liquids and skincare) based on research. Their database is searchable and lists thousands of products and chemicals. Each record/chemical is given a risk rating indicating its toxicity or potential hazard to us. A green 1-2 rating is low hazard, an orange 3-6 rating is medium hazard whilst a red 7-10 rating is considered to be a high hazard.
Whilst these ratings indicate hazards to humans (not dogs), it makes sense to avoid high hazard rating chemicals when choosing products to use on our dogs.
4. The Good Guys
Good things to look for include natural skin moisturisers like aloe vera, vitamin E, honey and tea tree oil. Colloidal oatmeal is good for relieving dry or itchy skin.
Essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus and citrus are great for making your dog smell nice and they also act as insect repellents.
Herbs including comfrey and calendula can sooth irritation from flea bites or stings, and calendula can help to heal skin abrasions due to its antimicrobial properties.
Natural oils like olive, coconut, jojoba and avocado are all great for your dog’s skin and will help to make his coat soft and shiny too.
You’ll have heard of and recognise most of these ingredients so if you find a natural dog shampoo that has a few of these high up on the list of ingredients, you might be onto a good thing!!
Generally, although not in every case, long, long lists of ingredients are probably best avoided and if you’re at all unsure go for a short list of ingredients that includes things you recognise!!
5. Choose a Natural Dog Shampoo Brand You Trust
Do your research and try to shop with a brand you trust. Companies that really care about producing high quality natural products for your animals usually shout about it and have a full disclosure policy. You’ll be able to see exactly what ingredients they do use in their natural dog shampoo and why they use them.
We know that choosing high quality products that are safe, from brands you can trust, is important to you. And not just for you…but for your pets too!! That’s why we have a whole category dedicated to pets where you can find sustainable and natural dog shampoos, grooming products, treats, clean up, and pest control.
And because we try our very best to be transparent, if you’re not sure about something after looking at any of the products, we encourage you to go ahead and ASK THE VENDOR A QUESTION. Like us, they are all passionate about what they do and want you to feel comfortable with your choices.
So next time you’re looking for a natural dog shampoo, check out our Pet Category and get the best for your best mate!!