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Pet Grooming: Choosing the Right Pet Shampoo

Whether your pet loves bath time or simply tolerates the experience, most dogs and cats need the occasional bath, and some small animals even need a freshening up with a pet wipe once in a while. Don't be overwhelmed by the wide range of pet shampoos available—instead, let's navigate the choices to help you select the appropriate formula that will have your pet squeaky clean in no time.

One note of importance: Shampoos formulated for human use should never be used on your pet. While it may seem harmless to do so—after all, it's just soap, right?—the fact is that human skin and pet skin have different levels of acidity, and your pet's skin has a higher pH level. This means that your pet's skin isn't as acidic as yours, and shampoos formulated for humans will be too harsh for your pet's skin. Using human shampoos could cause your pet's skin to dry out and become flaky and irritated. Instead, use a shampoo specifically designed for your pet's needs.

Shampoos for Dry or Sensitive Skin

If your pet has dry, flaky or itchy skin, a moisturizing shampoo can be a smart choice. Of course be sure to also consult your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of any skin condition first. Look for products that contain soothing ingredients such as vitamin E, aloe vera, honey or oatmeal. Dry skin can also mean that your pet has sensitive skin, so try to avoid scented products, as scents can be the source of additional irritation. If you're unsure, opt for unscented. For particularly itchy pets, ask your veterinarian if a shampoo with hydrocortisone would be a good choice.

Flea and Tick Shampoos

In addition to their cleaning properties, some pet shampoos have ingredients aimed at killing and/or repelling fleas, ticks or other pests. The active ingredients in these shampoos offer short-term protection, and only treat parasites on contact—not those living in your pet's environment. For these reasons, flea and tick shampoos should be used in conjunction with other flea products, not as your only defense against fleas and ticks. Check your pet shampoo and flea prevention labels, as they will tell you if they will wash off flea and tick topical treatments or not.

Puppy or Kitten Shampoos

For young pets, a specifically formulated puppy or kitten shampoo can be a great choice. Just as baby shampoo is recommended for infants, puppy and kitten shampoos are generally milder and can be less likely to cause skin or eye irritations than shampoos formulated for adult pets.

Deodorizing Shampoos

For situations in which an ordinary shampoo just can't eliminate an unpleasant odor (perhaps your dog loves to roll in smelly things), consider a deodorizing shampoo. These shampoos act to remove the source of the unpleasant odor, rather than simply covering it up, and can be an excellent choice in stinky situations.

Shampoos for Pets with White Coats

For pets with white or light-colored coats, you might want to consider shampoos specifically designed for your pet's color. These shampoos contain brighteners and whiteners and other ingredients that aim to enhance the natural shine of your pet's coat, while minimizing fading and yellowing.

Waterless Shampoos and Wipes

There are several alternatives to using shampoos if your pet needs an instant bath, if you're away from home or if you have a pet that would rather not be in water. Pre-moistened pet grooming wipes are convenient for everyday cleaning or for targeting specific areas–such as paws, ears, eyes, dirty bottoms and even teeth. There are also grooming wipes that are appropriate to use on small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets. Sprays and foams are waterless options that are ideal for cats or for pets during cold weather. Be sure to check the packaging labels to make sure you're choosing the right option for your pet's specific needs.


While shampoos are used for actual cleaning of your pet's coat and skin; conditioner is applied after (or sometimes in combination with) shampoo and is designed to aid in the detangling of your pet's coat. Conditioners may also help to replenish oils that are washed out of the coat by shampoo, and can be particularly useful for pets with long coats.

Any type of shampoo or conditioner should be kept out of your pet's eyes, ears and mouth during a bath, and if you're using a medicated or flea shampoo, you should be even more careful.