The Best Cat Shampoos: advice from a veterinarian

A light and darker grey cat in the bath with soapsuds all over its body and on top of its head. An arm can be seen in the background washing the cat.
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We’ve all heard that cats hate water. While it’s true that most felines would avoid a plunge in a lake or running through the sprinkler, they can learn to tolerate an occasional bath. 

To get your kitty to enjoy baths more, it helps to have the right tools. Among the most important is using a proper shampoo. There are so many brands available on the market that knowing which one to choose can be challenging. To help you find the perfect product for your cat, here is a list of the best cat shampoos you can buy, along with a buyer’s guide with essential information.  

1. Best Overall Shampoo: Burt’s Bees Hypoallergenic Shampoo With Shea Butter and Honey

Burt's Bees Hypoallergenic Shampoo
Self-
Made with high-quality ingredients and does not use any fragrances, sulfates, colorants, and harsh chemicals.

If you love Burt’s Bees products for yourself, chances are you’ll love their pet care line as well. This hypoallergenic shampoo is made from all-natural ingredients, like shea butter for moisturizing and honey to add a little extra shine to your cat’s haircoat. 

There are no harsh chemicals, including fragrances and dyes, that can be toxic or cause harm to your cat’s skin. The formula is pH balanced to be gentle yet cleansing for all skin types, even young kittens and older cats.

Even though Burt’s Bees Shampoo is made with natural, non-toxic ingredients, it can still get the job done, leaving your cat’s hair soft, shiny, and free from mats. It will also leave their skin moisturized without irritation. This product isn’t scented, so you won’t have to worry about being overwhelmed by a strong perfumey fragrance.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something with a fresh scent, you won’t get it with this product. It also doesn’t produce a lot of lather, making it easy to use too much. This also makes it harder to tell if you’ve completely rinsed the product out of your cat’s fur.

Pros

  • All-natural ingredients
  • Includes shea butter to moisturize skin and hair
  • Includes honey for some extra shine

Cons

  • Doesn’t lather well
  • No added fragrance 

2. Best Detangling Shampoo: Earth Bath Mango Tango 2-in-1 Pet Conditioning Shampoo

Earthbath Mango Tango 2-in-1 Pet Conditioning Shampoo
Does not contain any soap, gluten, DEA, parabens, synthetic dyes, sulfates, or phthalates, and is animal cruelty free.
Safe to use on all animals over 6 weeks old.

Another all-natural product from Earth Bath is their Mango Tango 2 in 1 Conditioning Shampoo. This is a good choice for long-haired cats or those prone to tangles and mats. The gentle cleansing and conditioning leaves hair shiny and smooth to prevent and help remove nasty snarls and knots. It’s also free from harsh chemicals, like parabens and sulfates, so that it won’t over-dry your kitty’s skin.

The combination of shampoo and conditioner in this product will cut down on a step in the bathing process, getting your kitty out of the tub sooner while still leaving their hair and skin soft and moisturized. When used regularly, this product can help reduce the number of mats and tangles in your cat’s haircoat, especially when combined with regular brushing.

The mango tango in this product’s name is due to the fragrance, so if you’re not into strong scents on your kitty, this product isn’t for you. Not only can that added fragrance be irritating to your nose, but it can also be irritating to cats with sensitive skin, causing rashes. Use with caution in kitties with previous skin sensitivities.

Pros

  • All-natural ingredients
  • Helps to detangle and prevent mats and snarls
  • Gentle and conditioning

Cons

  • Scent can be overwhelming
  • May cause irritation in cats with sensitive skin

3. Best for Shampoo for Sensitive Skin: Pro Pet Works All Natural & Organic Oatmeal Shampoo + Conditioner-

Pro Pet Works All Natural & Organic Oatmeal Shampoo + Conditioner
Hypoallergenic soap-free blend for pets with allergies & sensitive skin.
Does not contain any soap, detergent, sulfate, alcohol, or parabens & is cruelty free.

This product, formulated for both dogs and cats, has everything you’ll need to clean your cat’s sensitive skin and haircoat without being over-drying or causing irritation. It is soap, alcohol, detergent, and sulfate-free.  

It does contain ingredients like aloe and almond oil to moisturize and prevent itchy skin. The addition of oatmeal also makes it soothing for kitties that already have a case of the itchies. Along with all of those ingredients, there are vitamins to help boost haircoat health as well.

This product is gentle enough to use frequently without causing excessive dryness, yet can remove dirt, extra oils, and loose hair. It’s 2-in-1 formulation provides a cleanser with a conditioner to cut down on the amount of tub time for your cat without skipping the all-important conditioning step that will leave hair soft, shiny, and tangle-free.

The natural cherry scent in this product can be overwhelming for some people and cat noses alike. It’s also essential to thoroughly rinse this product from the hair and skin as leaving it on can lead to dry skin and irritation.

Pros

  • Gentle and chemical-free for sensitive skin
  • Added conditioner to moisturize
  • Soap, detergent, sulfate, paraben, & alcohol-free

Cons

  • Scent can be overwhelming
  • Thoroughly rinse to prevent over-drying

4. Best Shampoo for Shedding: Top Performance Shed Patrol De-Shedding Shampoo

Top Performance Shed Patrol De-Shedding Dog and Cat Shampoo
Formulated with aloe vera, wheat germ oil, and vitamins to reduce unwanted shedding.
Enhances the shine and revitalizes your pet's coat.

To prevent shedding, a cat shampoo has to be deep conditioning. This prevents breakage and damage. Top Performance Shed Patrol De-Shedding Shampoo does just that, using omega fatty acids found in wheat germ and moisturizing with aloe vera. It also provides essential vitamins to make hair healthier and stronger so that your cat will shed less in between baths. Deep conditioning has the added benefit of leaving your cat’s hair soft, shiny, and smooth.

If your kitty is a heavy shedder, de-shedding shampoos like this one from Top Performance can cut down on the amount of hair left on your couch, carpets, and clothes. Providing deep conditioning will also help improve and moisturize your kitty’s skin, helping to decrease irritation. This product is also sold as a concentrate, meaning that one little bottle will make plenty of shampoo to keep your kitty clean and soft through many, many baths.

Any time you bathe your cat, they’re going to shed more right off the bat because you’re pulling those dead and loose hairs from their haircoat. A de-shedding shampoo is no different, so don’t be surprised if you see more shedding immediately following a bath. 

However, with regular use and grooming, the amount of hair that is shed should decrease over time. Deep conditioning shampoo also isn’t great for kitties that produce a lot of natural skin oils as the extra moisturizing can lead to a greasier haircoat.

Pros

  • Can decrease the amount of shedding between baths
  • Highly moisturizing and conditioning for optimal skin and haircoat health

Cons

  • May cause a greasier haircoat in some cats
  • Will increase shedding immediately following a bath

5. Best Waterless Shampoo: Wahl Pet-Friendly Shampoo

Wahl Pet Friendly Waterless No Rinse Shampoo
No rinsing necessary: Just dry with a towel and brush your pet's coat.
The pH balanced formula is, alcohol, paraben, and PEG-80 free.
Calming formula cleans, conditions, detangles, and moisturizes.

If your kitty just can’t be persuaded to take a traditional bath, or if you’re pressed for time, a waterless shampoo may be the way to go. Waterless shampoos are sprayed on and then patted dry to gently clean and condition without having to put your cat in the sink. 

Wahl Waterless Shampoo is an excellent choice because it is alcohol and paraben-free and pH balanced for all skin types. This gentle formula will clean, condition, detangle, and moisturize without getting your kitty overly wet.

Another bonus is the use of lavender and chamomile as natural, plant-derived calming ingredients. This may help keep those nervous kitties calm and comfortable during the entire bathing process, even though you aren’t immersing them in water like a traditional bath.

The lavender scent can be overpowering, especially since you don’t rinse it out. If you find it too strong, you can consider using less of the product more frequently to achieve the level of cleanliness without the overwhelming smell. Also, since this is a leave-in product, you don’t want to use too much to prevent your kitty from getting sick when self-grooming.

Pros

  • Waterless formula-no bathtubs required!
  • Gentle and effective
  • Can be calming for nervous kitties

Cons

  • The scent may be overwhelming
  • Can make cats sick if they lick it off immediately

Best Cat Shampoos Buying Guide

A young, blonde woman holding and inquisitively looking at a bottle that looks like pet shampoo. She is in a store and in front a shelf with a row of products in front of her.

The grooming supplies market for cats has recently exploded, which may seem weird since cats tend to do most of it themselves. However, even the most fastidious self-groomers can use a little assistance sometimes. For those kitties, having a great shampoo on hand can really help you out.

Why Do Cats Need Baths?

A grey cat with black stripes being washed by someone. It has soapsuds on its head and body.

Before we get into shampoos, it’s important to understand why cats need baths in the first place. After all, most cats spend 90% of their time awake bathing themselves, so why do they need your help? The truth is, the cat tongue is a great bath and comb all in one, but the occasional bath with shampoo can boost your cat’s skin and hair health. Baths are especially important for several reasons.

  1. Detangling: Long-haired cats are especially prone to mats and tangles. Regular baths with a moisturizing shampoo can help prevent and remove tangles and mats. They work by leaving hair slick and smooth, making it harder to form knots.
  2. Shedding: Shedding is a natural process where old hair is replaced with new hair. However, some cats may shed more than others because their hair is dry and brittle, leading to increased breakage and damage. Deep conditioning cat shampoos provide extra moisture to hair to decrease the amount they lose on your clothes and carpet.
  3. Degreasing: The skin produces natural oils that help to moisture the hair to keep it healthy and shiny. Some kitties produce more oils than others, causing a greasy haircoat. Shampooing can gently remove some of that excess oil to promote a shiny coat without the greasy feel.
  4. Cleansing: While it’s less likely than dogs, cats are capable of getting into “stuff.” Sometimes things can leave your cat’s haircoat so dirty that they can’t clean it off themselves. They may even contact things that could be harmful for them to clean off, making a bath from you an important step.
  5. Fleas or Other Parasites: Some flea and other parasite treatments come in the form of a shampoo. These products will help remove the adult fleas and eggs to treat the infestation and prevent it from spreading to other animals.

How to Choose the Best Cat Shampoo

A grey cat with black stripes lying on a pink towel which is on top of a countertop. There are bubbles floating in the air, and one bubble is directly in front of the cat's face. We see that cat's face through this transparent floating bubble.

Once you’ve decided to undertake bathing your cat, it’s important to have a shampoo that will work with you. Understanding your cat’s needs from a shampoo product will help you choose the one that’s right for you.

Safety: First and foremost, you want a product that is safe to use on your kitty. This means a shampoo that is free from parabens, alcohol, and phosphates. You’ll also want to find something free from fragrances and dyes if your cat has sensitive skin or a sensitive respiratory tract. Always try the product on a small patch of skin before covering your entire cat to ensure it won’t cause irritation.

  1. Conditioning: Each cat shampoo product offers different degrees of conditioning. Depending on your cat’s skin and haircoat type, you should choose one that will provide more or less conditioning. Dry skin and hair should have more conditioning, while greasy hair and skin should have less. 
  2. Skin Sensitivity: Some kitties will get irritation seemingly from the sight of shampoo, so it’s vital to use hypoallergenic or a sensitive skin formulation for them. These products are usually free from fragrances, dyes, and other chemicals. They may also contain skin soothers, like oatmeal and aloe vera, to keep your cat’s skin healthy. Again, always try a new shampoo on a small area of skin to test for irritation before using it all over their body.
  3. Hair Type:   Long-haired kitties have different needs than short-haired kitties. The same goes for thick versus thin haircoats. Be sure to use a shampoo with plenty of moisturizers for long-hair to prevent tangles in long or thick-coated critters. You may also want to look for a shampoo that helps cut down on shedding if your feline friend is especially prone. 
  4. Your Preference: Most kitties aren’t going to care what scent their shampoo is, as long as it’s not irritating. They also aren’t going to care if it lathers well or not. Those preferences are up to you. You may also have a preference over using a concentrated formula versus one that’s ready-to-use. And, of course, pricing is also part of it. You’ll want to find a product that is safe, effective, and affordable.

Conclusion

A smiling cat with a shower cap on, lying in a small bathtub with bubbles and a rubber duckie toy. There is a blue curtain drawn halfway covering the right half of the bathtub.

Whether you’re a cat bathing veteran or this is your first go, it’s crucial to have the right tools. Not only does it make a possibly complicated process more manageable, but it’s also imperative that you have a product that is safe and effective for your kitty. 

Hopefully, this list of the best cat shampoos will help you find a product that will leave your cat clean, soft, shiny, and content without a lot of fuss or grumpiness.

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