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The best cat shampoo combines safe and high quality ingredients in formulations that are appropriate for your cat's hair type and age. We evaluated a variety of shampoos including liquid, dry, and no-rinse options.
Here are some tips to make bathing easier for you both.
“The ideal is of course to use a shampoo specially formulated for cats,” Dr. Jean-Pierre Lautier DVM, who specializes in the research and development of veterinary products for AB7 Group and Alzoo, told The Spruce Pets. “The main thing is to use a shampoo that does not irritate the skin and whose pH is rather neutral."
Here are the best cat shampoos.
Best Overall: Burt's Bees Hypoallergenic Cat Shampoo
Fragrance-, sulfate-, paraben- and colorant-free
Works for dry, sensitive skin
Contains phenoxyethanol which can be irritating to some
Ideal for cats who suffer from food, insect and other allergies, this gentle, hypoallergenic formula is safe for all ages. Moisturizing shea butter and honey are the key ingredients in this cat shampoo. Honey is widely known for its antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties so it balances oily skin and calms irritation. Customers remark on how soft and shiny their cat’s fur appears.
Burt's Bees has been in the business since 1984. Their products are not tested on animals and their ingredients are responsibly sourced.
Best Organic: Pawtitas Dog and Cat Shampoo and Conditioner
Made in the USA
Doesn’t lather much
Safe for cats 12 weeks and older, this cat shampoo has several natural ingredients that are Certified Organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They’re recognizable, including soothing chamomile and olive leaf. If you’re familiar with neem oil, you know that it is a natural insect repellent and antifungal that soothes itching.
What sets this shampoo apart is its combination of moringa and shea butter. Moringa comes from a tropical tree that's now being grown in the U.S. Its fatty acids, antioxidants and large amounts of vitamin C reduce inflammation and promote natural collagen production that strengthens the skin. Its antimicrobial properties also reduce inflammation and calm and heal rashes. Colloidal oatmeal relieves dry, itchy skin and shea butter deeply moisturizes the fur and skin for a healthy shine.
Best for Dry or Sensitive: Pro Pet Works Natural Oatmeal Shampoo and Conditioner
Some organic ingredients
Paraben-, alcohol-, and sulfate-free
Soap-free and hypoallergenic formula
Made in USA
Not everyone loves the scent
Cats with dry, sensitive skin need a gentle shampoo that washes dander and odors away. This soap-free shampoo and vitamin-rich conditioner is full of healing, organic aloe vera and almond oil that sooth sensitive skin. The mild coconut cleanser is safe to use regularly and de-tangles for easier brushing.
Oatmeal protein in the formula has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help relieve the itching and dryness of dermatitis and other skin conditions. It also has natural antimicrobial and antifungal properties that eliminate hot spots.
Best for Odor: Arm and Hammer 2-in-1 Dander & Odor Control Shampoo for Cats
Gently deep cleans
Safe for all ages
Contains sodium laureth sulphate and fragrance
Arm and Hammer Baking Soda company was founded in 1846. Needless to say, they have a history in the field of deodorizing. This deep cleansing shampoo uses the natural ingredient of baking soda to wash away dead skin cells and cut odor-causing skin oils. Chamomile calms irritated skin.
Customers like the lather and note visible improvement in allergic rashes after just one or two uses. Arm and Hammer also offers a popular Tearless Sweet Almond formula for kittens.
Best for Shedding: Synergy Labs Shed-X Control Shampoo for Cats
Most like the scent
Contains synthetic fragrance and artificial color
Packaging changed recently and looks completely different
Shedding is a natural process where cats lose old or damaged hair. A healthy pet will naturally shed its coat, more so at certain times of the year. Excessive shedding can be a sign of an unhealthy skin and coat. This shampoo prevents excessive shedding by DL panthenol strengthens the hair shaft. Green tea in the shampoo soothes, prevents dandruff, promotes hair growth and prevents hair loss.
Intended for cats 12 weeks and older, customers note that their cat smells great for a while after their bath.
Best for Fleas: Adams Plus Flea & Tick Foaming Shampoo for Cats
Safe for cats 12 weeks and older
Contains pyrethrin pesticide
Specifically designed to kill adult fleas and their eggs and larvae, plus ticks and lice, this flea shampoo also prevents re-infestation for up to 28 days. It also contains ingredients that remove loose dandruff, dirt and scales. Oatmeal and coconut impart a pleasant scent that leaves their coat soft, shiny and brushable. Soothing aloe, lanolin, coconut extract and oatmeal are good for sensitive and flea-bitten skin. Customers like the drip-free foaming dispenser that’s easy to use.
Because this shampoo includes a pyrethrin insecticide, it’s important to use it carefully and exactly as directed on the label. Consult your vet first if your cat has existing health issues. It is dangerous for your cat to ingest and could cause negative side effects if used incorrectly.
The manufacturers note that you might see more fleas at first after using because fleas rise to the top of your pet's fur as they die. They recommend also treating sources of new fleas such as your carpet or yard to address the problem broadly. It may take up to 30 days to break the entire flea life cycle in your home.
Best Waterless: Vet's Best Waterless Cat Bath
No parabens, dyes or sulphates
Vet’s Best has a 30-year history
Great for those who won’t tolerate water baths
"Natural fragrance" not defined
Most cats dislike the water part of a bath so a waterless bath could be a less traumatic—and less messy—way to fight odors and clean your cat's skin and fur. This no-rinse foam shampoo for cats includes soothing aloe vera, antibacterial and antifungal neem oil, and moisturizing vitamin E and oatmeal to help soothe dry skin while leaving your kitty’s fur clean and soft.
For cats 12 weeks or older, it can be used with topical flea control products. It is crafted with a calming fragrance to help prevent stress and leave your feline friend feeling relaxed. Although customers like the smell of the “natural fragrance,” its identity is not defined by the manufacturer.
Best for Kittens: TropiClean Hypoallergenic Gentle Coconut Puppy & Kitten Shampoo
Paraben- and dye-free
Made in the USA
Contains artificial fragrance
Kittens need a very gentle formula for their delicate skin and sensitive immune systems. This hypoallergenic, soap-free, coconut-based formula is appropriate for kittens 12 weeks and older and is also great for cats with allergies and sensitive skin. It gently cleanses with a coconut lather that pet parents like. Aloe vera, colloidal oatmeal and vitamin E moisturize and sooth irritated skin.
TropiClean products are cruelty-free and also offers a similar waterless version of this shampoo.
We like Burt’s Bees Hypoallergenic Cat Shampoo because of its healing honey and moisturizing shea butter in a gentle formula that’s safe for all ages. If your cat won’t tolerate water, try Vet’s Best Waterless Cat Shampoo, a fresh-scented foam that’s easy-to-use. It’s soothing ingredients leave skin and fur clean and soft.
What to Look for in a Cat Shampoo
To begin, it is best to consider whether or not your cat actually needs a bath. “Cats take great care of their fur and spend a good part of their days on it. For most cats, bathing is not really necessary,” says Dr. Lautier. “However, there are exceptions: for example, when the cat is handicapped by pain (old cats are susceptible to arthritis) and can no longer groom itself.”
Safety is also a concern when bathing your cat. “Bathing your cat can be an "athletic" or even painful experience. With very few exceptions, cats do not like water and the bathing experience is extremely stressful for them, which can trigger aggressive behavior,” adds Dr. Lautier. “In some extreme cases, it may be necessary to have your veterinarian use a mild sedation before bathing.”
Dr. Lautier notes that it is possible to get a cat used to bathing from a young age. “Some owners do this and then bathe their cats regularly without any problems,” he adds.
There are a number of ways to get your cat clean and fresh smelling. Liquid shampoos are the most common, but you’ll also find foam shampoos—some that need to be rinsed out and others that are waterless (no-rinse) and so would be brushed out after a drying period.
“The use of dry shampoos or no-rinse cleansing lotions applied with a cotton ball or absorbent cloth is an interesting alternative to having to wet the cat completely,” explains Dr. Lautier.
Most cat shampoos are only appropriate for cats 12 weeks and over, although Burt’s Bees says its appropriate for all ages. A few are designed specifically for kittens or cats suffering from allergies to food, fleas or other irritants. Check the label before you buy if your kitten is under 12 weeks.
Several brands of cat shampoo are specifically designed to control fleas and ticks. These will contain pesticide ingredients in addition to the standard shampoo elements. Be sure to carefully use these shampoos as directed to avoid accidental ingestion or eye exposure that could cause more serious side effects.
No matter what ingredients the shampoo contains, avoid contact with their eyes, nose, mouth and inner ears to avoid pain and irritation. Look for natural and organic ingredients that you recognize. Many of these contain ingredients that calm allergies and irritation, including oatmeal, chamomile, aloe vera and nourishing vitamins.
Unless a soapy lather is really important to you, avoid shampoos that contain surfactants, sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate because, although they help clean deeply, they can also be irritating and are not considered good for the aquatic environment.
Needs for Specific Breeds
“For long-haired breeds, you should use a shampoo that will prevent the formation of knots in the hair and will make brushing easier,” notes Dr. Lautier. “Hairless breeds, such as the Sphinx, often have seborrheic skin and require regular bathing. Regular bathing is also common for cats participating in competitions.”
Seborrheic dermatitis is a relatively common skin condition caused by the cat’s immune system overreacting to yeast that grows naturally on the skin. It can result in scaly patches, red skin and stubborn dandruff. Shampoos designed specifically for this type of dermatitis typically use antifungal ingredients that keep the yeast growth in check.
Can you use dog shampoo on cats?
“If shampoo designed for cats is not available, a dog shampoo will do just fine,” says Dr. Lautier. “Dog shampoos are also formulated with a neutral pH. Good quality dog shampoos use very gentle cleansing agents that respect the fragile skin of both dogs and cats.”
Can you use human shampoo on cats?
“Human shampoos should not be used on cats,” asserts Dr. Lautier. “Human skin has an acidic pH and shampoos are formulated accordingly. Besides, human skin is much more resistent and some human shampoos still use washing agents that would be too aggressive for the cat's skin.”
Why Trust The Spruce Pets?
The Spruce Pets exhaustively researches and recommends a broad range of products. We also tap a network of experts and testers to help you make smarter purchases.
This piece was researched and written by Lorraine Wilde who has been a dedicated pet lover and owner of cats and dogs for the past 35 years. When researching each product and brand, Lorraine evaluated the type and quality of each product, customer reviews, the company’s research and development and their business ethics. Lorraine also holds a Master’s degree in environmental science. She is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed and environmentally conscious choices to protect their pets and our planet.
Jean-Pierre Lautier, DVM, of the AB7 Group and Alzoo, has been working with AB7 since 1993, where he has contributed to the research and development of veterinary calming products. Throughout his career, Dr. Lautier has held a passionate interest in cat and dog behavior analysis and management. He earned his veterinary degree from the National Veterinarian School of Toulouse, France.