As the owner of a dog who has had skin issues all his life, I know that seeing your dog scratching incessantly is heartbreaking for any pet parent. We can’t talk to our dogs and ask them what’s wrong, but we know that they’re suffering nevertheless. Those of us who love a dog with skin problems know just how frustrating that can be.
With that said, I have found a few strategies that seem to work well most of the time. The first is feeding my dog a nourishing diet with added supplements like fish oil and vitamin E. The second is regular grooming. The last, but no less important, is bathing him with the right shampoo.
Whether a dog has allergies, eczema, seborrhea, an infection or just super-sensitive skin, a good shampoo that’s designed specifically for his condition can make all the difference in the world. Conversely, the wrong shampoo can make matters far worse than they already are.
So what are the best shampoos for dogs with itchy skin? Here’s a rundown on some of my top choices and a little background on why I think they’re the “best.”
No matter how large or small your dog is, bathing him with a good shampoo for itchy skin can make his and your life much more pleasant.
Best Shampoos for Allergies
Many dog shampoos today are labeled as “hypoallergenic,” a term that leads most of us to believe that they are better than other products for dogs with skin allergies. But according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, that simply isn’t true. In fact, the term “hypoallergenic” was coined by a cosmetics company as a marketing ploy back in 1953. There are no regulatory standards that products that claim to be hypoallergenic must meet. To quote the FDA: “The term ‘hypoallergenic’ means whatever a particular company wants it to mean.”
That said, there are several excellent shampoos on the market today that contain fewer ingredients that can cause an allergy to flare and have soothing qualities as well. Some of these are marketed as hypoallergenic products, and others are not. What’s important isn’t the label that the manufacturer puts on the bottle, but what it puts inside.
So what should you look for in a shampoo for a dog with itchy skin due to allergies? While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, the best products are usually:
- Soap-free — Shampoos made from plant-based materials such as oatmeal or coconut oil are usually less irritating than soap-based shampoos. Read product labels, and avoid shampoos that contain sodium lauryl sulfate,which is a chemical term for soap.
- Fragrance-free — Even “natural” fragrance can trigger an allergic response, so the best shampoo for a dog with allergies should have no added fragrance at all.
- Dye-free — Dyes can be irritating and trigger a dog’s allergies.
- Alcohol-free — Alcohol is drying and can easily irritate an allergic dog’s skin.
- Naturally soothing — Look for ingredients like oatmeal, aloe vera, olive oil, tocopherol (vitamin E), and shea butter, which are all-natural products that soothe and moisturize itchy, irritated skin.
- Medicated — Some shampoos for dogs with allergies contain a medicine known as Pramoxine, a local anesthetic that helps to relieve itching in some dogs. Others may contain a low concentration of hydrocortisone.
There are many products on the market that fit these criteria, but here are a few that I like the best.
Rocco & Roxie “Soothe” Oatmeal Shampoo
One of three excellent shampoos made by this family-owned company, Soothe Shampoo is made from oat extract, olive oil, shea butter and chamomile, which not only smells good but also soothes irritated skin. It contains no soap, fragrance, or dyes, and it is also free of parabens, which have been linked to endocrine disturbances in humans and dogs.
Pro Pet Works All Natural Oatmeal Dog Shampoo
A soap and fragrance-free shampoo made from all-natural ingredients, Pro Pet Works Oatmeal Dog shampoo contains oatmeal, organic aloe, vitamins A, D, and E, and almond oil to clean and condition your dog’s skin and coat. It’s also dye and alcohol-free and is packaged in recycled plastic — a plus for the environment! Pro Pet is also one of only a few popular pet shampoos that is made in the United States.
Vet’s Best Hypo-Allergenic Shampoo
This great-smelling, soap-free shampoo contains aloe vera and vitamin E along with a proprietary blend of herbs that give it its signature scent. It also contains allantoin, a derivative of the horse chestnut plant that helps soothe irritated skin.
Best Shampoos for Seborrhea
Seborrhea is a disorder that results in the accumulation of a waxy substance known as sebum on the skin. Dogs with this condition typically have a distinct and decidedly unpleasant odor that is reminiscent of rancid fat. Seborrhea also causes skin cells to fall off before they fully mature, resulting in scales and flakes. If scaling is extensive, there may also be red, denuded areas on the dog’s skin.
There are two types of seborrhea: oily (seborrhea oleosa) and dry (seborrhea sicca.) As the names imply, dogs with the oily form of the disease usually have oily, greasy skin covered with waxy, yellowish scales. Dogs with the dry form of seborrhea have dry skin and smaller, whitish flakes that look like dandruff.
That said, it’s very common for dogs to have both forms of the disorder at once. For that reason, it can be quite challenging to find the right shampoo for your seborrheic dog.
Springer spaniels are one of several dog breeds that are prone to seborrhea.
Common Antiseborrheic Ingredients
There are many shampoos on the market that were developed for seborrheic dogs. Most contain substances that “degrease” the skin and remove scales, as well as emollients to hydrate the skin and keep it soft. The degreasing agent may be any one or a combination of the following:
- Coal tar
- Salicylic acid
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Selenium sulfide
- Propylene glycol
All of these products are effective at flushing pores of oil and removing scales. However, some of them, notably benzoyl peroxide, may be too irritating for dogs with sensitive or very itchy skin. What’s more, some products containing coal tar have a noxious smell. Check with your vet to learn which products are most suitable for your dog. You may also need to rely a bit on trial and error, since similar products may yield very different results.
Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Antiparasitic and Antiseborrheic Shampoo
Manufactured by Florida-based Synergy Labs, this antiseborrheic shampoo contains coal tar, salicylic acid and sulfa — three powerful ingredients that help degrease, descale and hydrate the skin. They also have antiparasitic, antibacterial and antifungal properties, which make this shampoo an excellent choice for dogs who have secondary skin infections caused by bacteria or yeast.
Made with colloidal oatmeal and coconut-based cleansers, Veterinary Formula Clinical Care shampoo is soap, dye, and alcohol-free and fortified with allantoin to hydrate and soothe your dog’s skin. Best of all, it’s available at a price point that will leave you very pleasantly surprised.
CuraBenz Benzoyl Peroxide Shampoo
Marketed by Los Angeles-based Bexley Labs, CurBenz Shampoo contains 3% benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and sulfa to provide a triple whammy against excess skin oils, flakes, scales, bacteria, and yeast. The combination of ingredients is quite effective for dogs with very oily skin and a significant amount of scaling but may be too intense for dogs with sensitive skin.
That said, all antiseborrheic products may cause a worsening of symptoms after the first few uses, so you may want to try it out for a week or two and see how your dog reacts. The company offers a money-back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied. Just return the bottle to the address shown on the label to request a full refund.
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Douxo Seborrhea Shampoo
Douxo Seborrhea Shampoo is a soap-free product that contains a number of ingredients that flush pores and degrease the skin. It is also one of the few antiseborrheic shampoos available in the United States that contains phytosphingosine, a naturally occurring substance that is an essential component of the outer layer of a dog’s skin. According to holistic veterinarian Dr. Roger Welton, it forms a transparent barrier on the skin that protects against excess dryness and environmental irritants as well as allergens, bacteria and yeast.
When your dog has seborrhea, it disrupts the skin’s ability to produce phytosphingosine, Dr. Welton explains. Thus, shampooing him with a product that contains phytosphingosine can help restore this natural protective barrier and help your dog’s skin to heal.
Best Shampoos for Hot Spots
A “hot spot” is an area of severe inflammation anywhere on a dog’s body. Also called moist dermatitis or wet eczema, the lesion develops when your dog licks, chews, rubs and/or bites an area that’s bothering her to the point that it becomes red, raw and inflamed. Sometimes these lesions are so deep that they also ooze and bleed. They are typically infected with bacteria as well.
In most cases, a hot spot develops in response to an underlying problem that causes itching, inflammation or pain. Flea bites are a very frequent trigger, but other causes include:
- Canine atopic dermatitis (canine eczema), a poorly understood condition that causes very itchy skin
- Trauma, such as an insect or spider bite, thorn, foxtail or another injury to the skin
- Anxiety or boredom
- Joint problems such as arthritis
Once a hot spot develops, it should be treated by your vet. While it may be tempting to take a “wait and see” approach, the wound will almost certainly not clear up on its own. Your vet will clip the area and clean and disinfect it. She will also probably prescribe a topical medication such as Animax, which contains anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antifungal ingredients. Oral antibiotics may also be indicated if the infection is severe.
With prompt treatment, the hot spot should clear up in 5 to 7 days.
Old dogs with joint problems are often prone to hot spots because they lie down a great deal, causing sores over bony areas like the hips and knees. The dog may also lick and chew on painful joints, which can cause a hot spot to develop very quickly.
Once your dog’s hot spot is healed, you can decrease the chances of her developing another one by taking good care of her skin and coat and minimizing her exposure to allergens and parasites. In addition, you may want to bathe her regularly with a shampoo that’s specifically formulated for hot spots, such as one of the products listed below.
Vets Best Hot Spot Itch Relief Shampoo
Another great offering from one of my favorite brands, Vets Best Hot Spot Relief shampoo contains a blend of natural ingredients that clean and soothe itchy skin and can help prevent hot spots before they start. The active ingredients include tea tree oil, which has antiseptic and antifungal properties, and aloe vera and chamomile, both of which help soothe irritated skin. This formula is also alcohol-free so it won’t burn or sting if it comes in contact with an open sore.
Jax n Daisy Don’t Let Your Dog Itch Shampoo
A small, family-owned business based in Dover, Delaware, Jax n Daisy is earning a great reputation for offering herbal products that really work to soothe itchy dogs’ skin. It’s signature Don’t Let Your Dog Itch Shampoo contains the active ingredient chlorhexidine, an antiseptic that decreases the number of bacteria on your dog’s skin and can help prevent a small wound from turning into an open sore. Almost all of the other ingredients are plant-based, including:
- Avocado, grapeseed, lemon, and hemp oil
- Herbs, such as lavender, rosemary, and sage
- Witch hazel
- Vitamin E
- Aloe vera
Thanks to all the herbs, the shampoo smells great and the company offers a full guarantee.Just contact Jax n Daisy for a full refund if you are not satisfied with the results.
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Strawfield Pets Chlorhexidine Shampoo
Most shampoos that treat skin infections and hot spots contain chlorhexidine, a widely used antiseptic that both kills and inhibits growth of bacteria and yeast. Because of its antimicrobial properties and good safety profile, it is an excellent product for treating and preventing hot spots on your dog.
That said, most dog shampoos with chlorhexidine contain a concentration of between 1 and 2 percent of the active ingredient. Strawfield Pets shampoo contains 4 percent, making it one of the strongest antiseptic shampoos available today.
Note: Strawfield farms also makes a medicated pet wipe that is a great choice for cleaning small wounds and keeping hot-spots clean. It contains 2 percent chlorhexidine, 1 percent ketoconazole (an antifungal) and aloe vera.
Best Shampoos for Yeast
Yeast infections are very common in a number of dog breeds. Most often, they are caused by the yeast Malassezia pachydermatis, an organism that is normally present on all dogs’ skin. Malassezia only becomes a problem when it multiples too rapidly and yeast overgrowth occurs. At that point, it becomes a pathogen (an organism capable of causing infection) and a condition known as Malassezia dermatitis results.
Signs and symptoms of Malassezia dermatitis include severe itching, a distinctly unpleasant odor, and red, raw lesions on the dog’s skin. The location of these lesions varies, but they are most common in and around the dog’s
- Skin folds (e,g,under the forelegs, and in the groin)
- Underside of the neck
- Lips and face
- Base of the tail
- Between the toes
With their many wrinkles and skin folds, shar-peis are extremely prone to yeast dermatitis and ringworm.
Malassezia dermatitis is usually a secondary condition. That is, it happens due to another problem such as allergies, parasites (e.g. fleas), atopic dermatitis, or an endocrine imbalance. Treatment, therefore, will be aimed at identifying the underlying cause while providing symptomatic relief. Your vet will perform various tests, including looking at skin scrapings under a microscope. She may also prescribe oral antifungal medications and recommend a medicated shampoo.
There are many shampoos currently on the market that are formulated to treat yeast. Most contain a combination of chlorhexidine and an antifungal agent such as ketoconazole, enilconazole or miconazole in concentrations of between 1 and 2 percent. Your vet will likely recommend a shampoo she prefers. But you should feel free to experiment with different products as long as the active ingredients are the same.
Here are a few products you might like to try.
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Curaseb is a medicated shampoo that contains 2% chlorhexidine and 1% miconazole. Made by U.S.-based Bexley labs, it is both soap and paraben-free and has a refreshing cucumber-melon scent. It’s available at an attractive price point and comes with a money-back guarantee.
PetHonesty Antibacterial & Fungus Treatment Shampoo
Offering the active ingredients 2% chlorhexidine and 1% ketoconazole, PetHonesty Shampoo also contains aloe, which can help to soothe your dog’s itchy, irritated skin. It is also soap and paraben-free and has a great smell that’s vaguely reminiscent of fresh strawberries. Best of all, it comes with a convenient pump dispenser that lets you lather up your dog with ease.
Arava Natural Medicated Dog Shampoo
A unique addition to the “medicated” shampoo market, Arava Natural shampoo uses dead sea minerals and a blend of 28 natural ingredients to clean and disinfect your dog’s skin while leaving his coat soft and smelling great. The ingredients include:
- Licorice root extract, which has anti-inflammatory and healing properties
- Aloe vera
- Tea tree oil, an antibacterial and antifungal agent
- Evening primrose oil, an antioxidant
- Calendula oil, an anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antibacterial
- A blend of herbs, including rosemary, sage, borage and more
If you’re looking for a natural alternative to chemical disinfectants, you may want to give it a try.
Best Shampoos for Dogs with Sensitive Skin
There are many medical conditions that can cause a dog to develop itchy, flaky, irritated skin. But sometimes itchy dogs have nothing specific “wrong” with them; they just have very sensitive skin. And while it’s comforting to know your dog is basically healthy, sensitive skin can be a challenge in and of itself.
Dogs with sensitive skin who don’t suffer from a specific skin problem don’t need to be bathed as often as dogs who do. Bathing your dog too often strips the skin of its natural protective oils, which can make sensitive skin itch even more. Frequent bathing can also change the pH of a dog’s skin, which is normally neutral. A change in pH can make your dog’s skin itchy and dry.
Keep your sensitive dog’s skin and coat health by bathing her only as often as necessary.
So how often should you bathe your dog? The answer is, “It depends.” A dog who stays indoors and doesn’t get particularly dirty may only need a bath every few months. At the same time, a dog who plays outside in the mud or spends a lot of time at the beach may have been to be bathed once a week. Just remember, the more often you bathe your dog, the gentler your shampoo should be.
Here are a few good choices for healthy dogs whose skin is more sensitive than most.
Burt’s Bees for Dogs All Natural Tearless Shampoo & Conditioner
Made with natural ingredients like oat flour and buttermilk, this non-irritating, soap-free shampoo is gentle enough for puppies but is great for any dog with sensitive skin. It’s free of sulfates, parabens, dyes and fragrance, and contains linseed oil, which conditions your dog’s skin and leaves her coat as shiny as it is clean.
Wahl Gentle Puppy Shampoo
Another very gentle shampoo with no harsh ingredients, Wahl Puppy Shampoo contains plant-based cleansers, cornflower and aloe to gently clean and soothe your dog’s sensitive skin. It’s pH balanced and alcohol free, and has a light, refreshing scent. One downside: It’s a little more watery than many similar shampoos, so you need to use a bit more than you might expect. d That said, the shampoo is quite inexpensive and comes in a 24-ounce bottle, so it still lasts quite a while. (Depending on the size of your dog, of course!)
Pet Pleasant Lavender Oatmeal Shampoo
Made by New Jersey-based Honeydew Products, Pet Pleasant Lavender and Oatmeal Shampoo is made from colloidal oatmeal and soothing lavender oil to leave your dog clean and smelling great. Pet Pleasant shampoo is soap, paraben and cruelty-free, and non-irritating to sensitive skin. It also contains jojoba oil, which is an excellent conditioner for your dog’s skin
The Bottom Line
Choosing a shampoo for your itchy dog doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many products on the market that contain high-quality ingredients that really work. That said, finding just the right product for your dog can involve a little trial and error, since products containing almost the same ingredients can perform very differently. Don’t be afraid to experiment a bit (with the approval of your vet, of course.) And, to keep your bank account healthy too, try to deal only with companies who back their products with a money-back guarantee.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.