• Shelby Gottschalk
  • Dog Nutrition and Member Service Specialist

  • 3 mins read time
  • What's Really in your Dog's Shampoo?

    Did you know that pet grooming products are not regulated by the FDA? If you’re like me, you’ve taken a look at the back of your dog’s shampoo bottle and struggled to pronounce some of those ingredients out loud! They’re not all bad, but it’s important to know what they are and what their purpose is. Let’s take a look at a few common ingredients found in your everyday dog shampoo.

    Dioxane: Not only is this in your pup’s shampoo, but it could also be in yours! In 2013 and 2014 Johnson and Johnson stated that they would phase out using Dioxane in their baby shampoo products as it was too toxic. It’s a common ingredient in the cosmetic industry that even the FDA states is a contaminant and a carcinogen. It’s potentially harmful and has the ability to cause cancer just from exposure. We may be aware of such toxic ingredients in our own shampoo (or maybe not!), but it isn’t always obvious when it comes to knowing what’s in your pup’s shampoo.

    Sulfates: A chemical that causes your shampoo to lather and bubble! There are many forms of sulfates, such as Sodium Lauryl and Laureth Sulfate. Sulfate is activated by Dioxane (see above) which, in turn, makes Sulfates carcinogenic and toxic. Not only that, but this natural irritant strips your dog's skin of natural oils and can cause allergic reactions in some pups. Remember - just because a shampoo suds up, doesn’t mean it’s making your dog any cleaner! Suds does not = clean.

    MEA/TEA/DEA: These are ethanolamine compounds that stand for triethanolamine (TEA), Diethanolamine (DEA), and monoethanolamine (MEA) which are used to make your dog’s shampoo rich and creamy to appeal to the consumer! However, they have high levels of toxicity that can specifically affect the organs. Other countries, such as Europe, actually prohibit the use of these chemicals in cosmetics to reduce carcinogenic nitrosamines which are absorbed through the skin. Bottom line: cancer-causing chemicals + your dog’s skin = absorption of these chemicals. Dogs’ skin can be a lot more sensitive than ours, so we really need to keep an eye on what they are absorbing into their skin.

    Artificial Fragrance: This is another ingredient used to appeal to the consumer, we love everything that smells good, right? While fragrances are appealing to our noses, they can sometimes be irritating to your dog’s skin and even their incredibly sensitive olfactory senses. Artificial fragrances have so many chemicals in them, there isn’t just “one” to list. Usually, on your label it will be listed as just “fragrance”.

    Let’s look at a popular company’s shampoo bottle. From first glance, you might not see anything wrong.

    See those tiny words near the bottom of the bottle? You really have to zoom in to see the ingredients list, but you will find “fragrance” listed as an ingredient.

    The Huffington Post had a wonderful article regarding synthetic fragrances that states:

    “In the U.S., manufacturers can legally hide hundreds of synthetic chemicals in one word—“fragrance”—without revealing what those ingredients are. It’s referred to as a “trade secret” in the industry. But really, it’s simply a loophole big enough to drive a fuel truck though. This excuse to not label fragrance ingredients was initiated in an era when the major fragrance houses lobbied to protect their secret formulas made from flowers and oils. But those days are long gone. What the government is protecting now are manufacturers who have a license to poison the American public with more than 3,000 chemicals that are being absorbed, inhaled, and ingested daily.”

    Human skin absorbs topicals very easily. What is placed on our skin gets absorbed into our bloodstream and the same is true for dogs!

    “Congress has banned some phthalates in toys, but as the recent study above suggests, others have been substituted in their place. Many countries have banned phthalates (EU, Canada, South Korea, Japan, even China). But the U.S. government demands such a high level of proof of harm that many agree it is simply impossible to reach—and our government is slow to respond, banning only a few chemicals in its history.”

    Sadly, this is even worse with pet products. We have such little regulation when it comes to our animals, let alone products for people in this country. As you know, few regulations exist for processed dog food companies; you can only imagine the lack of consideration that goes into their grooming products.

    So what is a dog owner to do?

    • Check the labels. If you come across any of the ingredients mentioned here, steer clear.

    • Search for organic products since synthetic tend to cause irritation.

    • If you take your dog to a professional groomer - don’t be afraid to ask what products they are using and research them yourself! Be your own dog’s advocate. If you are concerned about their products, bring your own!

    One of my favorite companies for grooming products is 4-Legger. Melissa Boland, the founder, has a personal story about why she started the company, rooting from her cancer diagnosis and having to bathe her dogs frequently. This led to dry and itchy skin and her realizing that even though her shampoo bottle said “all natural”, it, in fact, contained the same ingredients as those that weren’t “all natural” at all.

    Generally, I prefer ingredients that are plant friendly, cruelty free, and certified USDA organic. Some of these ingredients include: aloe vera anti inflammatory/anti bacterial), organic beeswax (a natural humectant/Vitamina A), coconut oil, and more.

    • Aloe Vera is an anti inflammatory and anti bacterial agent. It’s very soothing to your dog’s skin (and yours!)

    • Organic Beeswax is a natural humectant and full of Vitamin A, which is needed to keep your dog’s skin healthy.

    • According to Dr. Bruce Fife, Coconut Oil is a natural moisturizer for your dog’s skin. Not only that, but it’s good enough to eat!

    Remember, what goes into their coat goes into their skin and sometimes into their mouth!!