Which is the Best Dog Shampoo for Odor and Bad Smells?

Written By: Gemma Johnstone | Last Updated: September 10, 2020

Rolling in smelly things, a dirty coat, and health problems can all cause your dog to be pongy. Here’s a complete guide to the best dog shampoo for odor – plus tips for when you should see a vet.

A guide to the best shampoos for odor control
Okay, let’s face it – most dogs don’t have a naturally delightful smell. They often have a distinct ‘doggy’ aroma (some worse than others!)

Assuming the bad odor isn’t caused by a health issue, it probably won’t bother your dog. It can be unpleasant for us though, which is why odor eliminating shampoos are useful.

Of course, you shouldn’t go overboard. Too many baths, heavily scented shampoos, and formulas not designed for dogs can cause problems for your dog’s coat and skin. Dogs also don’t like the same smells as we do, so it’s unfair to perfume your pet with a scent he doesn’t enjoy.

The occasional wash with an odor control shampoo can neutralise the worst smells without causing irritated skin though. In this article, I’ll explain what causes bad smells from your dog, how shampoos can help, and when you may want to seek medical attention. I’ve also listed five of the best dog shampoos for bad smells that leave your pooch smelling great.

Note: This article hasn’t been written by a veterinary professional or qualified groomer. If you have any concerns about your dog’s health, contact a vet immediately.

Our #1 Pick

Nature's Miracle Supreme Odor Control

Nature's Miracle Supreme Odor Control

Effective shampoo for odor that neutralises bad smells

My top pick for an odor-fighting dog shampoo is the Nature’s Miracle Supreme Odor Control. It’s an effective shampoo for neutralising bad smells, plus it contains colloidal oatmeal for its moisturising and cleansing properties.

Why Does My Dog Have a Strong Odor?

There are lots of reasons why your dog might smell worse than normal. Some are medical, while others are natural side effects of a dog’s breed or activities.

As a general rule, odor control shampoos are great if your dog is smelly due to:

  • Excessive oil buildup (although the underlying reason for this could still need veterinary treatment)
  • Dirt, grime and debris buildup in the coat
  • Rolling in something smelly

Shampoos for odor aren’t suitable for treating medical conditions though, as they just cover up a symptom. Failing to treat the problem could allow it to become more serious.

Of course, there’s also that “wet dog” smell that happens when your dog has been swimming or in the rain. Make sure you dry your pet thoroughly and ensure he’s warm enough to fully dry as quickly as possible.

Natural Oil Secretions

Unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat through their skin. They cool themselves primarily through panting, and only sweat via the pads on their paws.

They do, however, produce oils on their skin to maintain coat and skin health. These oils produce an odor, and, depending on the breed, this can vary in strength and proliferation.

Some breeds have more oily coats than others. Labradors, or other breeds with thick-double coats designed for their water-resistant and insulating properties, are good examples.

You don’t want to over-bathe your dog and rid them of these beneficial oils, but an occasional bath can help to temper the excessive smells these oils can create. Odor control shampoos can also help reduce oil buildup.

Dirt Buildup

If your dog has gone a long time between baths, or is a mud magnet who loves to jump in smelly ponds and sludgy puddles, they’ll start to gather dirt and debris in their coat. Over time, this becomes the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which causes your dog to smell.

Bathing with a good shampoo for bad odors removes the dirt and can also control bacterial growth.

Rolled in Something Smelly

Many dogs like to roll in the smelliest things possible on their walks. You might have found your dog trying to roll on a dead bird in the park, for example, or a rotting fish on the beach. Other common attractions for dogs include fox poop, dog poop and smelly water.

It’s thought rolling could be an instinctual behaviour that allows dogs to mask their scent. It may also be linked to social identification.

Getting rid of these smells isn’t always easy, so an odor control shampoo is essential. Fox poop, for example, can be strong, and you may need a specific shampoo designed to neutralize odors to get rid of the smell.

Keep in mind that dogs shouldn’t be shampooed more frequently than every 3-4 weeks, as this can cause their skin to become dry. 

If your dog frequently rolls in badly smelling things on walks, then you may need to work on their recall or try a different route. Keeping them on a leash in areas with lots of tempting opportunities can also help. 

You could also consider using wipes or a dry dog shampoo if the rolling is isolated to a specific patch of your dog’s fur. Waterless shampoos (also known as no-rinse shampoos) aren’t as effective at cleaning, but can still deodorize and neutralise a dog odor.

Health Issues

Bad odors from a dog’s coat can often be a symptom of a health condition.

If your dog’s pongy smell is accompanied by other symptoms, or the smell returns quickly after bathing, don’t just keep shampooing in the hope this will solve the problem. Make sure you consult with your vet to establish if there’s an underlying problem that needs treatment.

Some of the more common health conditions that can result in your dog being more smelly than normal include:

  • Seborrhea. This is a relatively common condition that results in new skin cells proliferating at a faster rate than normal. It comes in an oily and a dry variety, and it can lead to a greasy coat, strong pet odor and sometimes flaky dandruff. Treatment depends on what might be causing the seborrhea in the first place. Sometimes a specific anti-dandruff shampoo can also be beneficial. 
  • Skin Yeast Infections. Fungal infections are more common in dogs with allergies, certain breeds, or dogs prone to a buildup of oils. These types of infection often generate a sweet and unpleasant smell. In some cases, using an antifungal shampoo may be beneficial, but check with your vet first.
  • Poor Diet. Low-quality foods that don’t contain enough beneficial fatty acids, and other ingredients that promote skin health, can cause dry skin and a musty odor. Over-shampooing your dog to get rid of these odors could actually dry the skin out more. If you’re unsure about the quality of your dog’s food you could speak to a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist.
  • Food or Seasonal Allergies (Atopy). If your pet has skin problems caused by allergies, this can cause a stinky dog problem. It’s important to discover the underlying cause of allergies and, in conjunction with your vet, you may need to go through a process of exclusion to work this out. Managing an allergy may require changing your pet’s diet or limiting his exposure to an environmental allergen.
  • Ear Infections. Bacterial and yeast ear infections are another common cause of bad odors. Breeds like Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds, with long pendulous ears, are more prone to developing this problem. Ear infections can be a particular issue if your dog likes to swim – especially if the ears aren’t dried out or cleaned properly afterwards.
  • Impacted Anal Sacs. If you notice your dog licking their back end a lot or scooting their bottom across the ground, this could be a sign that their anal glands have become blocked. It’s often accompanied by an unpleasant “fishy” odor due to secretions escaping from their rear end. Having your dog’s anal glands expressed can often solve the issue, while changing to a higher fibre diet may also help. You should consult a vet if it becomes a recurring problem though.
  • Poor Dental Health. If your dog has a buildup of tartar and plaque, this can lead to bad breath and gum disease. Periodontal disease is one of the most common conditions in dogs seen by vets, and it can lead to bone loss, infections and destruction of the tissue in the mouth. Adopting good oral hygiene practices with your dog is the best way to prevent this disease from occurring. Regular tooth brushing is important.

How Can Dog Shampoos Help?

Any high-quality dog shampoo will remove excessive oil and dirt from your pet’s coat. Some shampoos contain specific ingredients that help to neutralize odors though, making them more effective against the worst smells. They may also include ingredients that have a mild antibacterial effect.

You shouldn’t bathe your dog too frequently though. Once every 4-5 weeks is more than enough for your average dog, as washing too often can strip healthy oils from the coat. If this happens, your dog can develop problems with dry skin.

Of course, if your dog has a specific skin condition, more frequent bathing with a specially formulated medicated antibacterial shampoo (or similar) may be a necessity.

What to Look for in a Dog Shampoo for Odor

When selecting a good shampoo to tackle a pongy dog, look for one that can remove excess oils, has odor neutralizing properties, and leaves a (mild) pleasant smell. At the same time, it shouldn’t have any harsh ingredients.

Natural Fragrances

A dog shampoo for bad odors should have a gentle, pleasant and natural fragrance (lavender, oatmeal and vanilla are good examples). Artificial fragrances can be overpowering for your dog, and may contain chemical ingredients that are harsh on the coat and skin.

Don’t ignore fragrance-free dog shampoos either. These can be gentler, especially if your dog has sensitive skin, and still cleanse the coat of offending odors.

On a related note, be careful with using essential oils in diffusers around dogs. While some are safe for dogs, others can be uncomfortable or even dangerous for canines.

Gentle and Natural Cleaning Ingredients

The best dog shampoos contain gentle ingredients that are safe for canines and effective at cleansing the coat. Common examples include coconut oil, oatmeal, shea butter, aloe vera and olive oil. Some shampoos also contain baking soda to neutralise an unpleasant scent.

Harsh chemical-based cleansers, such synthetic sulfates, can aggravate the skin. Avoid these ingredients, along with alcohol and parabens

Avoid Artificial Colors and Preservatives

Try to avoid harsh and potentially dangerous artificial colors and preservatives when buying a deodorizing dog shampoo. These can cause dry and itchy skin, yet don’t provide any real benefit when cleaning your dog.

As a general rule, the fewer ingredients in a dog shampoo, the better. This is especially important if your pet suffers from skin allergies.

Why You Shouldn't Use Human Shampoos on Dogs

There’s nothing worse than running out of dog shampoo after your pet rolls in something stinky. 

While using your own shampoo as a one-off is unlikely to cause major problems, human shampoos could contain harsh chemicals that are fine for humans but potentially toxic for dogs.

Dogs also have a more alkaline skin pH level when compared with humans. Your shampoo could disrupt your dog’s skin pH balance and natural protective barrier called the ‘acid mantle’, resulting in skin irritation and dryness.

5 Best Dog Shampoos for Stinky Canines

Listed below are five of the best dog shampoos for bad odors. Make sure you read each shampoo review carefully, as the right option for bath time may vary depending on your dog’s skin and coat requirements.

1. Nature’s Miracle Supreme Odor Control Shampoo and Conditioner (Best Odor Shampoo)

Nature's Miracle shampoo conditioner - probably the best option VIEW PRICE

This soap-free shampoo from Nature’s Miracle is one of the best options for an odor shampoo. It contains ingredients to neutralize and absorb odors, rather than just masking them, making it a great choice for a smelly dog.

Nature’s Miracle Supreme Odor Control formula contains colloidal oatmeal, which has cleansing, anti-inflammatory and moisturizing benefits. If you need a shampoo that removes odors without causing irritation, colloidal oatmeal is an excellent option.

The shampoo also contains D-Panthenol, a naturally occurring form of Vitamin B5. This can help to strengthen the hair and give it a natural shine. The chamomile extract in the shampoo also has strengthening and soothing properties.  

Most importantly for this article, the formula is designed to relieve stubborn smells. The synthetic, but safe, Polyacrylate Polymer has effective odor control properties. This will help to get rid of any bad smells, rather than just cover them up. The same is true of the soya-derived Soyethyl Mopholinium Ethosulfate, which is also used in a number of deodorants and air freshener products.

It’s a shame that the brand only refers to the honey-sage scent as ‘fragrance’ in the ingredient list. Although the formula doesn’t contain artificial dyes or preservatives like parabens, it isn’t clear what has been used to create the scent and whether it’s naturally-derived. This could be a problem for dogs with sensitive skin or allergies.

Even so, the Nature’s Miracle Shampoo and Conditioner is probably the best dog shampoo for odor available at the moment. It’ll leave your dog smelling much fresher after bath time and get rid of stubborn odors.

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2. Earthbath All Natural Oatmeal Pet Shampoo (Best Natural Option)

Earthbath All Natural with aloe vera VIEW PRICE

I’m a big fan of Earthbath products, as their shampoos contain 100% natural ingredients. The All Natural Oatmeal Pet Shampoo formula is also minimal and doesn’t contain harsh chemicals, so it’s one of the best choices for a dog with sensitive skin and allergies.

Along with the primary ingredient of colloidal oatmeal, this dog shampoo from Earthbath uses natural coconut-based cleansers. Although there aren’t many studies yet to show the benefits of coconut on the skin and coat, it’s thought to have excellent anti-inflammatory and moisturizing benefits.

Earthbath has also included aloe vera in this dog shampoo, which can soothe irritation, help itchy skin and may have antibacterial and antifungal benefits. This could be helpful if your dog has a mild yeast infection that is causing them to smell.

Other ingredients in this shampoo for dogs include Vitamin E, which moisturizes the skin, and glycerin. The latter ingredient may help to minimize the absorption of odors, as it can improve the skin’s natural barrier. Like the allantoin found in this shampoo, glycerin also hydrates and promotes healing.

The scent is derived from vanilla and almond extract, and these are both ingredients often used for their deodorizing properties. Vanilla and almond oils can also promote hair growth and encourage a healthy shine. 

While it’s reassuring that the ingredient list is all naturally-derived, it would be better if Earthbath could detail all the ingredients, rather than just list ‘preservative.’ This isn’t helpful for dogs with allergies.

There’s no doubt that the Earthbath All Natural Pet Shampoo is one of the best options for gently cleansing odors though.

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3. Burt’s Bees for Dogs All Natural Deodorizing Shampoo

Burt's Bees dog shampoo for odor VIEW PRICE

The Burt’s Bees All Natural Deodorizing Shampoo contains gentle and (mainly) natural ingredients. It also has a mild and refreshing scent derived from apple and rosemary oil extract.

The gentle, coconut-based cleansers in this dog shampoo will help to get rid of any unwanted odors without being too harsh. The shampoo still shouldn’t be used too frequently, but it’s less drying than lower quality options.

Honey also has great hydrating properties, and can help to boost shine and strengthen the hair. It has been shown to be an effective deodorizer when treating wounds, and this may make it a good choice if your dog is prone to smelly yeast/bacterial infections.

Burt’s Bees are another company that uses glycerin to help provide your dog’s skin with a protective and moisturizing barrier, and the beeswax helps on this front too. This ingredient means it’s not suitable for vegan dog owners though.

If you’re looking for 100% natural, you may be better opting for the Earthbath dog shampoo. Burt’s Bees products are 99.7% natural though, so you don’t have to worry about them using lots of chemical ingredients. 

The scent of this dog shampoo is extremely mild. This makes it a perfect choice if you have a dog that is particularly sensitive to strong smells, but it might not be for those of you wanting your dog to come out of their bath smelling particularly fresh.

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4. 4-Legger Organic Hypoallergenic Dog Shampoo

4Legger Dog Shampoo with natural ingredients VIEW PRICE

If you have a dog with known allergies or particularly sensitive skin, then this dog shampoo from 4-legger is one of the best options. It’s certified organic, cruelty-free, and the formula doesn’t contain any harsh chemical ingredients.

With a formula containing just five natural ingredients, bathing your dog with 4-Legger shampoo is less likely to cause a negative reaction compared with shampoos containing many ingredients.

The coconut oil will help to moisturize your dog’s coat and skin. Because it has antibacterial properties, this could also help to control odor problems that relate to skin infections. The same could be said for the antifungal properties that can be found in aloe vera.

Additionally, jojoba oil is known to be a gentle anti-irritant ingredient that has healing and moisturizing properties for a dog’s skin and coat. While it might not reduce odors directly, it contributes to a healthy coat.

I also like that this version of 4-Legger Dog Shampoo is unscented. It still removes odors, but won’t leave your dog smelling like perfume. The lack of chemical thickening agents means it’s runnier and has less of a lather than other dog shampoos though.

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5. Earthbath Ultra-Mild Puppy Shampoo

Earthbath Ultra Mild puppy shampoo VIEW PRICE

If you have a puppy who loves to roll in fox poo or run through mud, this extra gentle puppy shampoo from Earthbath could be a good choice for eliminating odors.

Puppies have more sensitive skin and a delicate coat compared to mature dogs. That’s why using a specially formulated shampoo for puppies can be kinder on their skin – and the Earthbath is a great example in this category.

Like Earthbath’s Oatmeal Shampoo, this product contains gentle coconut-based cleansers. The soothing and antibacterial properties of the aloe vera will also be a comfort if your pup is prone to allergies or skin infections. 

Despite the gentle formula, the Earthbath Ultra-Mild Shampoo is still effective for neutralising odors. The mild, natural cherry fragrance shouldn’t be too overpowering for your young pup’s nose, and a little goes a long way with this shampoo.

If you do have a pup with allergies, it’s slightly frustrating that Earthbath lists ‘gentle conditioner & detangler’ and ‘preservative’ on their ingredients list rather than the exact constituents used. It’s great that the shampoo contains 100% natural, biodegradable, vegan-friendly ingredients – it would just be nice to know exactly what they are.

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What About a Dog Conditioner?

In general, a natural dog shampoo for bad odors should provide enough cleansing and odor neutralising properties without using a conditioner. Conditioners can still be useful in some situations, however, and provide a host of other benefits.

If your dog suffers from general dry skin, a conditioner can moisturize your pup and soothe irritation. This can be helpful if dry skin is causing bad odors or contributing to other skin problems.

Conditioners can also increase the manageability of your dog’s coat, boost shine, and protect against damage to your dog’s skin and hair.

You may want to avoid conditioners on dogs with naturally oil coats though. Using one may weigh down the coat and make it feel greasier. This could potentially cause your pet to start smelling like that “dog smell” more quickly.

Summary

Odor control shampoo for dogs can be a great option if your dog is naturally whiffy or loves to roll in smelly things.

My top pick for a “stinky dog shampoo” is Nature's Miracle Supreme Odor Control. It contains odor absorbing ingredients that neutralize smells rather than just cover them. The inclusion of natural moisturizing and soothing ingredients, like oatmeal, also makes it an appealing choice.

It’s important not to bathe your pooch too frequently though. You should also always seek veterinary advice to establish if there’s an underlying condition causing your dog to be more smelly than normal.

If your home retains a “doggie” odor even when your pet is clean, the bad smells may have seeped into carpets, furniture, and other parts of the house. Read our guide to getting rid of dog smells to help solve this issue.

I hope this article has helped you choose the best dog shampoo for odor. If you have any feedback or further queries, please let me know in the comments section below.

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About The Author: Gemma Johnstone

Gemma is a freelance writer and official dog nut. With 15 years of experience in the pet industry, she is a passionate animal welfare advocate. She has worked for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ran her own specialist dog shop for ten years, has volunteered for her local rescue shelter, and is studying towards completing an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour. Gemma is currently travelling around Europe with her wonderful rescue dog, Annie.