There are various ways of eliminating fleas and flea eggs on a dog; bathing is the easiest and most practical method. It's part of a weekly flea elimination regimen and must not be thought of as a singular do-all solution. Regular dog shampoos will not kill these parasites, but specially designed flea shampoo for dogs. However, some products are safer than others.
Dangers of Some Flea Control Products
Dog flea treatment products are regulated and approved by either FDA or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, certain commercial dog flea shampoo and flea control products still contain toxic chemicals. While these chemicals may be effective at killing fleas, they can also leech into a dog's body through skin, causing health problems over time.
In 2009, EPA noticed an increase in health problems among dogs after the use of spot-on flea treatments, including shampoos. The Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) have also published reports, showing how health issues related to common pesticides have increased by almost 300% in the last 10 years.
Further studies from U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC) show increase in illnesses associated with the use of some dog flea shampoos. One of the ingredients mentioned very often in these reports are pyrethrins; however, while cats are more sensitive to this compound, pyrethrins, pyrethrin based shampoos and pyrethroids are completely safe for dogs and will not cause any toxicity.
Avoid These Ingredients in Regular and Flea Dog Shampoos
Some ingredients found in pet shampoos have been directly linked to health hazards in dogs. Here's what to avoid with your next purchase:
- Anise oil
- Boric acid
- Benzene hexacholoride
- Benzethonium chloride
- Dimethyl phthalate
- Pine tar
- Sodium arsenite
- Sodium cresylate
It's clear that even with FDA and EPA attempt to control that only pet-friendly and safe products are available for purchase, some dangerous items still manage to reach the shelves. Be vigilant about what you buy; use a flea shampoo for dogs that contains non-harmful ingredients safe for the dog and for you, while also effective at killing fleas.
Tips for a Safe Use of Flea Shampoo for Dogs
Read labels. Picking a safe dog flea shampoo is like picking healthy dog food – look at the ingredients. When you're not sure about something, do some research or ask your veterinarian. Remember that manufacturer's can sometimes change the formula, so even if you bought the shampoo before, always double check the label.
Note: Manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on dog shampoo labels. If you don't see ingredients listed, this is a red flag – avoid that product.
Follow directions. Some shampoos can only be used once a week at most, so do not use them daily. If you need to do daily bathing, you have to pick a shampoo specifically for that; otherwise, you risk irritating a dog's skin.
Dog's health condition. Most dog flea shampoos are designed for healthy adult pets. If you have an a very old or very young dog, or they're sick, medicated, pregnant, nursing or currently being treated for some health conditions – talk to your veterinarian before using a flea shampoo. Some can affect the dog's current health condition.
Supervise the dog. After the first few times of using a flea shampoo, observe your dog during and after bathing. Pay attention if there's a sign of any side effects. Stop its use if you notice anything out of the ordinary, and immediately bathe your dog using a mild soap and plenty of water to remove any chemicals left from the flea shampoo.
The below list of best flea shampoo for dogs products contains only those brands without the harmful ingredients, that are safe for dogs and effective at killing fleas as long as you keep up with the bathing schedule.
The Safest Best Flea Shampoo for Dogs
1UltraGuard Rid Flea & Tick Shampoo
The first on our list of best flea shampoo for dogs products is a popular brand, Hartz. Its active ingredient is phenothrin which is a synthetic pyrethroid. It’s effective in killing adult fleas, ticks, mites, and a host of other bugs and pests. The shampoo’s inactive ingredient is oatmeal which soothes the skin and hastens healing. It is safe for dogs at least 6 months old.
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Oatmeal is one of the ingredients, and it has been shown in studies to be gentle and beneficial to a dog's skin. We've been using other brands that were equally effective as the Hartz UltraGuard Dog Shampoo, but many were not as gentle to our hands (and likely to the dog) as the Hartz one. Some of them caused them tiny rashes after the first bathing session, but nothing of the sort was noticed with Hartz.
This shampoo is generally more fast-acting, require less weekly baths (depending on the infestation). It also won't hurt a dog’s eyes while most synthetically-formulated shampoos have a sting when the suds get near the eye area. The main issue is that many anti-flea products have an intoxicating smell, and this one is one of the worst we've tried – it truly does smell bad.
2Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor
Many different flea dog shampoos get rid of adult fleas, but only a handful really actively target their eggs and pre-adult fleas. Adams Plus contains pyrethin and piperonyl butoxide that have been observed in studies to effectively work together to kill adult fleas. It's not a natural shampoo as some of the below listed best dog flea shampoo products, but we found it to be more effective at its job.
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Adams Plus shampoo contains Precor which targets pre-adult fleas so that they don’t develop into full-grown fleas. It inhibits their growth, and therefore effectively controls the increase in flea population. Continued use is recommended to completely eliminate fleas and ticks, but discuss this with your veterinarian beforehand. Other ingredients include aloe, coconut extract, lanolin, and oatmeal to help clean and condition your pet’s skin and coat.
It's less gentle than Hartz, but slightly more effective due to the use of pyrethin. When used with a good flea comb during and after each bath, this removes fleas by the hundreds at one sitting. Not only did Adams Plus dog flea shampoo obviously (and visibly) left fleas dead, but it can also take care of the tick problem, according to others' reports. Reduction in scratching and itching in the dog could be attributed to the combination of other cleansing and moisturizing ingredients. But again, the scent could be better (though it's not as bad as Hartz).
3Natural Flea Shampoo for Dogs
- Find it on Amazon ($6.99)
- Unavailable on Chewy
For anybody looking for an all-natural product, this was the winner for us. When it comes to flea shampoo for dogs that is mild and natural, Wahl’s Rosemary and Mint Natural is very potent against fleas and ticks, yet gentle and safe for both dogs and owners. It does not contain PEG-80, a cleansing agent often found in unsafe dog flea shampoos and known to produce long-term adverse effects.
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The Wahl shampoo is doubly advantageous for sensitive dogs, such as those allergic to certain chemicals, puppies too young to be exposed to pesticides, and ailing and geriatric dogs that couldn’t handle chemical-based flea dog shampoos because of other conditions or medications. Since the ingredients of this brand are mostly natural herbs, plant extracts, oils and essences, and only FDA-approved fragrance and colors, this will be a safe and natural choice for small and mild infestations.
This one felt like it lathers and rinses much better, and unlike other best flea shampoo for dogs listed here, it's far less likely to cause our dog's skin to dry. Fleas will drop to the drain upon rinsing, and you can more confidently apply this on your dog’s head, near the face, and behind their ears which are haunts for fleas. It’s gentle enough to not irritate a dog's eyes, nose or skin. It also smells much better than the above two brands.
4Ovitrol Plus Dog Flea Shampoo
- Find it on Amazon ($21.80)
- Unavailable on Chewy
Made by a popular health brand, this is the strongest dog flea shampoo on the list, because some infestations simply require something more effective (and to be used upon vet's consultation only). Ovitrol Plus from Vet-Kem contains pyrethrin and piperonyl butoxide as active ingredients in less than 2% combined concentrations. These components are usually found in anti-lice and anti-flea shampoos, and have been proven to be the most effective at killing fleas.
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Other than that, about 98% of the formulation is made up of natural ingredients like aloe, coconut extract, lanolin and oatmeal. This top rated flea shampoo for dogs has a rich lather that cleans and a mild fragrance that refreshes. It's highly concentrated, and also has hydrating and conditioning properties to prevent flaky skin, dandruff, and itching in dogs.
Its ingredients are effective at interrupting the life cycle of fleas at the pre-adult stages, and while also killing flea eggs, larvae and dormant pupae. This prevents reemergence of new generation of fleas and provides control for up to about a month. Among both non-natural and natural best flea shampoos for dogs, this one also had the best smell.
5Flea and Tick Shampoo with Oatmeal
The Sentry dog flea shampoo targets both fleas and ticks, killing fleas immediately after bathing, and ticks after approximately a day or two after bath. Its potency, however, peaks 7-10 days after the first use. It must be used weekly until all the parasites have been eliminated. Like the above brand, this is also a strong treatment.
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It contains permethrin, which is both a medication and insecticide, in safe concentration. It has piperonyl butoxide which acts in tandem with permethrin to effectively eliminate fleas and ticks. This is one of the best dog flea shampoos that are effective and safe because it also contains oatmeal for soothing a dog's skin.
We've observed how after using this shampoo and allowing it to sit about five minutes, fleas drop dead after rinsing. Ticks will usually follow suit a few days after. For really problematic dogs with heavy infestation you may need to bathe them at least three times a week with this flea shampoo for approx. a month, but this is up to your veterinarian.
Most flea shampoos for dogs are very thin, and the Sentry one in comparison actually has a very thick consistency and works up a really good lather. A little goes a long way making it a very cost-effective solution or at least part of a solution. Our dogs also loved the massage that goes with each bath using Sentry shampoo. Finally, it also has a somewhat pleasant smell.