Is Your Natural Dog Shampoo Safe?

Dog in bath tub

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on the same day my beloved toy poodle Henry Clay succumbed to his third battle with cancer. During my illness, my family and I began to take a closer look at the food and products we put in and on our bodies.

What we found was that many products labeled “natural” contained ingredients that were anything but natural.

This was especially true of pet products, which are not regulated with regard to ingredient and labeling requirements.

Let’s look at two practices that are commonly used in product marketing today.


Greenwashing describes the practice of marketing products as natural or organic when they are not. Manufacturers use this so they can charge a higher price for their product. 


Greenmarketing means marketing a green (natural or organic) product to highlight its features or benefits and show the consumer that your product is better than another and worth more money than the competition.

Learning about these common practices in the pet products market focused me on a new life mission: to educate pet owners about product ingredients and help them choose the best options for their dogs.

Pet Marketing Is Big

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that 37 to 47 percent of all US households have a dog – that means 70 to 80 million dogs! The Canadian Pet Market Outlook June 2014 report stated that 32 percent of Canadian households (7.5 million) own a dog.

The Canadian report also stated that pet owners gravitate towards products that offer natural formulations and enhanced health benefits. Dog owners in particular are 21 percent more likely to pay more for natural products if they’re available.

This is most apparent in the dog food industry. The number of US pet owners buying pet foods labeled “natural” has soared to $7.3 billion in 2014.

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry, cited a study from market research publisher Packaged Facts, saying that US sales of natural pet foods has increased at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.2 percent from 2010 to 2014, and are projected to grow at 14.6 percent CAGR from 2014 to 2019.

Pet owners are concerned about food safety and feel that dog food retailers should do more to ensure the safety of the foods they sell.

Natural Is A Marketing Term

Manufacturers of dog shampoo have learned by watching the pet food industry that “natural” equals sales.

The lack of a legal or regulatory definition for the word “natural” has led to the word being reduced to a marketing gimmick, making it confusing for consumers.

Manufacturers who make truly natural products are screaming “false advertising” and are fighting an uphill battle to educate the public on what “natural” really means.

Even the word “organic” isn’t safe from marketing subterfuge. Some manufacturers combine a few organic ingredients with non-organic ingredients and label the product “All Natural and Organic.” Another alarming trend includes sneaking “organic” into the title of the brand implying that the product is organic when it’s not.

Bottom line: It’s time for pet owners to learn how to look beyond the marketing claims and become label smart.

Why This Is important

The statistics are staggering … five percent of all cancer cases in dogs are hereditary and the remaining 95 percent are caused by environmental factors.

Cancer is the primary cause of death in dogs over the age of two years. Minimizing our dogs’ exposure to harmful environmental factors is critical.

Dog owners are beginning to understand the importance of feeding a natural, whole foods based diet; they are also waking up to the dangers of vaccines as well as flea and tick treatments and other pesticides like heartworm drugs. But grooming products are equally important.

Why Should We Focus on Dog Grooming Products?

Did you know that your dog’s largest organ is his skin and that it’s responsible for protecting your dog’s body against injury, disease, and damage?

Would you be surprised to learn that your dog’s skin is a lot thinner and more sensitive than yours?

It’s true. Your dog’s epidermis (skin) is three to five cells thick while a human’s is at least 10 to 15 cells thick. Choosing a safe and non-toxic product is vital. Unfortunately, manufacturers are making it hard!

In this series of articles, we’ll give you 4 simple lessons for selecting a safe and truly natural dog shampoo.

Here’s Lesson 1:  Artificial Colors and Fragrances

Trust your senses and let your inner bloodhound help you sniff out a truly natural dog shampoo!

Look at the Label: Are the ingredients listed?

Rule number one: if the ingredients aren’t listed on the bottle or the contents are vague – like “proprietary blend” or “naturally derived” – it doesn’t go in your shopping cart!


What does it look like?

Is it viscous (thick)?  If yes, it likely has a synthetic thickening agent in it and you should avoid it.

Guar gum is a vegetable based thickener that organic manufacturers can use to make a product more viscous; but when you add it to the ingredients, the product doesn’t lather. So, it’s a trade-off: thin and lather or thick and no lather!

What color is it?

Is it bright pink or does it look like windshield washer fluid (bright blue)? A true natural dog shampoo looks like vegetable cooking oil so it’s very easy to tell the difference!

Use extreme caution if you select a dog shampoo with color, as it will likely contain synthetic color. Keep in mind that a manufacturer who adds artificial color probably uses other ingredients that you want to avoid as well.

Artificial Colors

While it may look really glamorous to have a hot pink or sky blue dog shampoo, the fashion color comes at a high cost … your dog’s health.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are some natural colorants that are approved for human food and cosmetics, but they’re rarely used in dog shampoos. They’re more expensive, not as bright, weaker in strength, very sensitive to light, pH, temperature, presence of oxygen and water, and they can be unstable resulting in a short shelf life.

What you do see in shampoos are the FD&C (food, drug, cosmetics grade) or D&C (drug and cosmetics grade) synthetic colors.

These dyes, originally synthesized from coal tar and now petroleum, have a long history of being controversial, with many dyes being phased out over the years due to health concerns. Many of the dyes currently approved for use raise health concerns that range from organ damage, cancer, birth defects, and allergic reactions.

Many environmental groups are petitioning the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of artificial colors in human products.

Another problem is that dyes are not pure chemicals and they may contain impurities from the manufacturing process. In other words, you’re subjecting your pet to a rainbow of toxicities if you use products with synthetic colors.

What To Look For On The Label

The color followed by a number

Example: “Blue #1” or “FD&C Red #4”


Does it have a strong fragrance that can’t be attributed to an essential oil? If the ingredients list “lemongrass essential oil” but the shampoo smells like a coconut, there’s something wrong! Don’t let it slip past your nose!

Artificial Fragrances

Synthetic fragrances can originate from hundreds to thousands of separate ingredients. There is no way to know what’s in the formulation as the ingredients don’t have to be listed on the product label. Often the manufacturer of a fragrance will say it’s a trade secret so the ingredients aren’t disclosed.

Research has established that fragrances in human skin care products are among the most common causes of sensitization and allergic reactions. Some synthetic ingredients have also been linked to serious health problems such as cancer and reproductive and developmental toxicity.

If you use a product with an artificial fragrance and you don’t see an immediate change in your dog’s skin, you might shrug it off.


You won’t see the skin losing its battle to protect the body or heal itself until your dog starts to scratch or has an obvious infection.

Bottom line … your dog wasn’t meant to smell like a coconut or a bowl of cherries. If he stinks so that you need to bathe him, find a high quality organic dog shampoo with essential oils and give him a proper bath!

What To Look For On The Label

Look for the words “Fragrance” or “Fragrances”

Go Certified Organic!

The easiest approach is to buy a product that’s Certified Organic. Look for the USDA Organic label. Pet products that are USDA Certified Organic to food standards are not allowed to contain artificial colors and fragrances. The ingredients are fully disclosed and must meet national standards to receive organic certification.

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