Are you at all concerned about the ingredients in your Pet Shampoo? If not, you really should be.

While talking about scary, toxic ingredients in pet shampoo may seem trivial to some of you, especially if you only bath your dog once a year or so; there are still many pet owners out there that are oblivious to the fact that the majority of pet shampoos on the market contain quite scary, toxic ingredients.

Think About This:

The skin is the largest eliminative organ of the body and over 70% of what is put on the skin is absorbed directly into the body.   Many of us don’t stop to think about our dog’s being barefoot and  also absorbing toxins through the pads/skin of their feet. In fact, IT ONLY TAKES 26 SECONDS FOR ANYTHING PUT ON THE SKIN TO ENTER INTO THE BLOOD STREAM and then or course, into the vital organs and every cell in the body.

Scary stuff right?

I totally understand just how challenging it can be to find and choose a safe and natural shampoo for your best friend, especially when both pet shampoo and human shampoo are so full of scary, toxic chemical ingredients with names on the label you may not be able to pronounce, let alone fully understand what they do to the body.


Below are some common and scary toxic ingredients you should avoid in your dog’s shampoo. (or conditioner, etc.)

Artificial Colors

Did you know that most artificial colors are synthesized from petroleum and have been linked to organ damage, cancer and allergic reactions in dogs. Artificial colors really are a rainbow of toxicities when it comes to your furry family member!

Synthetic Fragrances

Typically, when we open up a bottle of shampoo we are greeted with a fresh scent that is most people think is appealing, but in reality this pleasant smell is really a warning sign!

As their name suggests, synthetic or artificial fragrances are an attempt to duplicate a specific smell with artificial, man-made chemicals – like coconut or flowers.  Be aware that most often the manufactures do not have to say anything more than “fragrance”, the label will not always say it is a synthetic or artificial fragrance.

Some will state that the fragrance is from essential oils – while this is a little bit safer, you still need to be aware that not all essential oils are created equally!

The known toxins and synthesizers in synthetic fragrances have been found to cause organ toxicity, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and hormone disruption.

The fragrances and some of the essential oils used in most shampoos may contain thousands of chemicals, some of which are phthalates and may be linked to conditions such as attention-deficit disorder, breast cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, reduced IQ levels, neurodevelopmental issues, behavior issues, autism spectrum disorders, as well as altered reproductive issues in men, women and of course pets and children. Yikes!

Many of the “fragrances” used in shampoos and other pet and people beauty products are endocrine disruptors and can alter the natural hormonal state you or your pet is in, triggering weight gain and other diseases if exposure is continual and constant.  Dog groomers – beware!

Diethanolamine (DEA)

Is it a coincidence that the first three letters of this chemical are ‘DIE’? Hmmm. This really is no laughing matter though.

This ingredient is used to help create a greater lather from the shampoo and while it may not be that harmful all by itself, when mixed with other toxic chemicals, can cause carcinogenic effects.

As it starts to mix with the other ingredients, it becomes a chemical called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA), which absorbs directly into the skin!

Remember that as you shampoo your dog (or your own hair for that matter), that the shampoo isn’t just being rubbed into the hair but also into the skin and scalp. As you rinse the hair, it naturally runs down the rest of the body, putting all areas of the skin at risk!

BE WARNED! This ingredient actually hides under a number of different names, so you’ll need to be a bit of a sleuth to figure out if your dog’s shampoo, in fact contains it.

Avoid any shampoos that contain these imposters of diethanolamine:

  • Cocamide (DEA)
  • DEA Lauryl Sulfate
  • Lauramide DEA
  • Linoleamide DEA
  • Oleamide DEA
  • Triethanolamine

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)

Many of you may have already heard that you should avoid all sulphates in shampoo simply for the reason that it can really dry out the hair and leave it feeling brittle and damaged.

You see, Sulphates are a man-made, so-called – cleaning agent that actually attracts dirt and oil!

SLS also creates the lathering foam that we all love. In fact, some people still think they do not get their dog sufficiently clean without the lather/foam, though that is NOT the case at all.

SLS is also a component in many common household products, like laundry soap, body wash, toothpaste and of course cleaning products. SLS has mutagenic properties and other toxic effects on the body.

New research is showing that sulphates are now being linked to Nitrosamines, which is another carcinogen. When this toxin is present in the body, it can cause the excess retention of nitrates, which would normally, otherwise be excreted. High levels of nitrates are very unsafe and often have a direct link to cancer formation.

Dogs and young children are naturally more vulnerable to this toxic threat and tend to be more reactive to smaller amounts of substance. However, in recent studies with children, Sodium Laureth Sulphate has been linked to eye irritation and poor eye development. It is highly possible that it is easily linked to eye irritation and poor eye development in our dogs as well.

Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES)

The risk of this particular scary, toxic chemical is dependent on the manufacturing process being used to create the shampoo in question. When Sodium Laureth Sulphate gets mixed in with Dioxane,is when bad problems begin to occur. A process called ethoxylation occurs and now you have a real carcinogen on your hands (and on/in the body)

Dioxane is a compound that taxes the vital organs in the body just to attempt to properly metabolize and remove from the system as waste material. Therefore it resides for lengthy periods of time and accumulates. This is what then increases your risk for cancer development.

It’s also important to note that Sodium Laureth Sulphate isn’t just found in shampoo! You can find it in other personal hygiene products including toothpastes, mouthwashes, body wash, some soaps and of course shampoos.

Apart from the carcinogenic effects of this compound, many people often find that it irritates the skin as well. So if you find that your dog (or yourself) has dry, itchy scalp or possibly you are even noticing symptoms of dandruff, this could be irritation due to the Sodium Laureth Sulphate in your dog’s shampoo or your own.

Propylene Glycol

Next up on the hit list of scary, toxic ingredients to be on the lookout for is one of the most popular toxic ingredients around: Propylene Glycol.

Believe it or not, this toxin is used to create of all things; anti-freeze, which could obviously kill your dog if he/she were to lick too much or drink it.

Sadly, it’s also being used in many health and beauty care products as well. You’ll find it in hand sanitizers, moisturizers, conditioners, shampoos, and even pet and baby products.

Guess where else you find Propylene Glycol?  In a large number of processed pet foods (processed people foods too).  If you have not yet begun to feed your dog and/or cat a raw, species specific diet, NOW is the time – Propylene Glycol is just one deadly ingredients in pet food which is yet another reason to avoid feeding processed foods all together!

Now, obviously the dose your dog is getting from using shampoo or even from the food containing this toxic chemical is lower than they’d ever get in licking up spilled anti-freeze, make no mistake about it… this is a toxic chemical and is easily absorbed through the skin and it accumulates in the liver. With accumulation, the doses of it can and most often do get high enough to do liver and kidney damage.

Benzalkonium Chloride and Benzethonium Chloride

Next up on the toxic shampoo ingredient list we have two different types of Chlorides, Benzalkonium Chloride and Benzethonium Chloride.

These are chemicals that serve the purpose to act as an antimicrobial and a surfactant in various shampoo products. These chemicals are often referred to as “Quats”, which have been around for over 70 years. The biggest issue today is that the mass production of these toxins has climbed to dangerous levels and it is becoming nearly impossible to eliminate them from the environment.

On a human scale, they have been found to present some serious issues health related issues and disease so you can just imagine the issues they are presenting for our companion animals.

Some side effects to exposure include serious skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, “allergic” reactions, etc.

It’s also believed that these chemicals could be linked to the development or worsening of asthma, as well as chronic dermatitis when exposed for long enough.

In addition to these toxins being found in shampoo, they’re also found in other common places as well such as antibacterial hand products, soaps, wipes, antiseptic creams, anti itch ointments, rash cream, cleansers, various types of make up and sunscreen products.  So when you are petting your dog or your dog licks your skin after you have used any products containing these chemicals – they ingest them!


If it sounds like a scary name it’s because it is…

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas that is used in resins when manufacturing composite wood, building materials, household glues, paints, lacquers, and varnishes.

If you’ve ever smelled this poisonous gas, you would instantly cringe. It’s not something you’d ever dream of putting in your body, let alone your canine companion’s body but you very well may be doing so without even realizing it.

It’s used as a preservative in some medicines and cosmetics, as well as in dishwashing liquids, and yes, it’s also found frequently in many shampoos, for both pets and people.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, it was determined that Formaldehyde is a KNOWN human and animal carcinogen in 2011.  

When the body is exposed to formaldehyde, it leads to irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat, it has neurological effects, causes changes in lung function, eczema.  It was also observed to cause gastrointestinal ulcers, liver and kidney damage when exposure via breathing and orally was excessive or had been occurring on a fairly regular basis. In fact, when exposure levels are high enough for a prolonged period of time, exposure is also being linked to some types of cancers.

When we are applying it right to the scalp or skin in the shampoo, it is being absorbed directly into the body which can be significantly more harmful than the normal, natural amounts breathed in through the air.

Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB)

Cocamidoproply Betaine is a surfactant, which by definition is a substance that tends to reduce the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved. It’s primarily used as an antistatic agent, in hair and coat conditioners as well as many shampoos, skin conditioners and creams, as a foam booster in cleaning agents, and as a viscosity increasing agent.

CAPB was named Allergen of the year in 2004.

CAPB may cause allergic contact dermatitis either due to the actual compound itself or because of the impurities present within it.

This particular compound is ranked much closer to a moderate risk than low risk on the EWG’s Skin Deep database and is noted for having the potential to cause allergies and immuno-toxicity. Research has also shown it can cause organ toxicity. Another study published in the Dermatitis Journal noted that the use of this compound in cosmetics and personal hygiene products (including shampoo) has been on the rise, increasing exposure and risk.

The EWG Skin Deep reference guide claims there is sufficient data available on this particular compound so the reasons for its health threat is quite reliable.


While it might be impossible to pronounce, methylchloroisothiazolinone is another toxic threat to look out for in shampoo.

Some of the known negative side-effects from this toxin are: allergies, immuno-toxicity, irritation to the skin, eyes, and lungs. On the EWG’s Skin Deep database, it’s ranked even higher than CAPB in terms of its risk factor!  It has been found that it may also be linked to cancer.

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)

Another major, toxic chemical you need to be aware of that should immediately be banned from use on your pet OR yourself,  is methylisothiazolinone, otherwise known as MIT for short.

This is a powerful biocide designed to help control or kill harmful microorganisms and also works as a preservative in many shampoos and other body care products.If you are a breeder, please aware that

If you are pregnant or a dog breeder, you need to be especially mindful about this particular compound as it may put your developing baby and/or the developing puppies in a pregnant bitch at risk for abnormal brain development!

This scary toxic chemical still allowed in shampoos by the FDA, has been found to cause harmful effects by reducing the speed of the networking neurons so the body is essentially not as effective with translating information from the brain to the body tissues!  Lab tests show that being exposed to this toxin for only 10 minutes can elicit a damaging effect.

In addition to that, if you are exposed, it may put you and your pet at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease along with other disorders of the nervous system!   So I would say that if you see MIT as an ingredient in ANY product, I sure wouldn’t  buy it!

Manufacturers of most shampoos claim that because the total volume of Methylisothiazolinone in their products is so low, that it’s not something to be of concern…However, do you really think they have you or your pet’s best interests in mind?  You be the judge.



It is time to become a label  reader and now you know the names of several of the more toxic ingredients in pet shampoos.   Be sure to bring your reading glasses with you to read labels though, most companies intentionally use the smallest font legally possible to deter you from seeing all the man-made toxic chemicals found inside their products.

The good news is that there are a few all-natural and organic alternatives to use instead. Yes, they typically cost more and may not lather up as much as you may be used to, but you can’t put a price tag on your pets, family and your own health and longevity!


A few pet shampoos that The Whole Dog has found to be toxic chemical free can be found HERE



Song, Peng, Lei Wu, and Wenxian Guan. “Dietary nitrates, nitrites, and nitrosamines intake and the risk of gastric cancer: a meta-analysis.” Nutrients7.12 (2015): 9872-9895.

Agner, Tove, Peter Damm, and Sven O. Skouby. “Menstrual cycle and skin reactivity.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 24.4 (1991): 566-570.

Zar, Tausif, Charles Graeber, and Mark A. Perazella. “Reviews: recognition, treatment, and prevention of propylene glycol toxicity.” Seminars in dialysis. Vol. 20. No. 3. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007.

Groot, Anton C., Henk B. Walle, and J. Willem Weyland. “Contact allergy to cocamidopropyl betaine.” Contact Dermatitis 33.6 (1995): 419-422. WnMR2-g-dz8


Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you I will earn a commission if you click-through and make a purchase.

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