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Updated November 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for best dog conditioners

Maintaining a healthy coat is necessary for a dog to live a happy and healthy life. Just like humans, dogs require cleaning and bathing, which may call for shampoo as well as conditioner. Dogs deserve a clean, soft coat as well as moisturized and protected skin — it’ll also make cuddling with them much enjoyable for dog owners.

Depending on the breed, size, and lifestyle of your dog, you may wish to seek a specific formula to achieve the best results. Though shampoo and conditioner often go hand in hand, this buying guide focuses on dog conditioner. In it, we explore the different types of dog conditioner available and when you should use it on your dog. We also provide useful tips for making bathtime easy and comfortable for both of you.

If you’d like recommendations for our favorite dog conditioners on today’s market, be sure to check those out as well.

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You and your dog may be served well by tending to other grooming needs at the same time as the bath, like nail trimming. Baths are also a good time to inspect your dog's coat and skin for potential problems.

Key considerations

Which dogs need conditioner?

Not every breed of dog necessarily needs conditioner after dog shampoo. Shampoo is used to remove dirt and to cleanse, while the conditioner invigorates the hair afterward.

On average, most dogs should be bathed once every one or two months, though dogs with more active lifestyles or thicker coats will likely need more frequent baths. Less-adventurous dogs and those with thinner hair can typically go longer without a proper bath.

  • If you shampoo your dog often, conditioner can help improve the coat, locking in moisture and promoting health and shine.
  • Dogs with thicker coats who are prone to mats and tangles can be well-served by conditioner, which makes brushing easier.
  • To prevent dry skin, conditioner is useful for dogs who live in cool, dry environments, especially when they are bathed during the winter months.
  • If your dog suffers from itchy or dry skin, conditioner may help relieve or eliminate the issue.

Specific skin issues

While there are plenty of generic conditioner options that cater to all dogs, there are also focused options that address specific issues. For example, you will find conditioners designed to relieve itchiness, combat shedding, fight bacteria or fungal infections, relieve allergies, or act as a calming agent for anxious dogs.

In most cases, these features are meant to target mild cases of such ailments. For example, minor itching and shedding may be relieved by a proper shampoo and conditioner, but excessive amounts of either should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian. In such a circumstance, medically formulated shampoo and conditioner may be recommended.

Ingredients

Dog conditioner is designed to moisturize, nourish, and comfort. As such, popular ingredients include aloe vera, oatmeal, shea butter, coconut oil, calming lavender, soothing oatmeal, and vitamins including A, B, D and E.

Parabens, dyes, soap, and alcohol are uncommon in shampoos and conditioners but can lead to irritated skin if present. Bear in mind that many companies advertise their ingredients as “natural,” but that term can be open to interpretation. Some conscientious dog owners prefer options made exclusively from plant-based ingredients.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Water temperature and pressure are important factors to a successful bath. Keep the water lukewarm so your dog stays comfortable, and avoid direct and forceful streams to the skin or coat, as these can push down bacteria and make dogs distressed.
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Features

2-in-1

Some options combine shampoo and conditioner for a two-in-one product that saves time and energy. These are particularly useful for dogs who aren’t in love with bathtime as well as larger dogs who require more coverage to get through bathtime quickly and effectively.

Fragrance

Some conditioners include oils or other ingredients that leave a pleasant scent. Whether or not you want a scent, and whether your dog will like it, is up to you and your pet. In some cases, added fragrance can lead to an allergic reaction in dogs or humans. Popular scents for dog conditioner include lavender, mint, vanilla, and lemon.

Similarly, some formulas are intended to combat odors, removing foul scents and replacing them with a more inviting aroma. For dogs who roll around in things they shouldn’t, this is an option.

Leave-in conditioner

For dogs who really dislike bath time, owners may want to consider a leave-in conditioner that requires no rinsing. The conditioner can be applied after the bath via a spray and left in.

Puppy-specific conditioner

Puppies shouldn’t be frequently bathed, especially when they’re quite young. Before your pup reaches adulthood, though, you may want to use bathing supplies that are extra gentle. Similar to baby shampoo and conditioner, these options are sensitive and tear-free, protecting young ones from potential negative effects. This is especially important when introducing a puppy to the bathing ritual.

After conditioner has been applied and thoroughly rinsed, be sure your dog is completely dry, particularly if the air is cold. Some dogs may tolerate a mechanical dryer; others do best with a comprehensive towel dry.

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Accessories

Dog shampoo: Burt’s Bees Oatmeal Shampoo
Before applying conditioner, you'll need to clean your dog with shampoo. We’re fans of this option by Burt’s Bees featuring colloidal oatmeal to prevent dryness and itchy skin.

Dog dryer: Flying Pig Grooming High-Velocity Dog Dryer
After your dog is rinsed, dry them thoroughly. For larger breeds with thicker coats, we recommend this powerful yet gentle dog dryer by Flying Pig Grooming.

Dog conditioner prices

Inexpensive: Inexpensive dog conditioners cost less than $8, though you will want to look up the brand and ingredients to verify quality.

Mid-range: Most dog conditioners cost between $8 and $16. Some of these are 2-in-1 products, and some target specific skin issues.

Expensive: Larger quantities of dog conditioner, as well as those targeting specific issues, cost $16 and up.

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DID YOU KNOW?
If your dog is on topical flea and tick treatment, look carefully at application instructions on the conditioner. Some options don’t interfere with treatments, while others require extra caution or lengthier application times.
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Tips

  • Brush first. Brushing should be done both before and after bath time. Doing it prior will make the bath easier and more efficient, while brushing afterward promotes a healthy coat.
  • Reward bathtime. Create a comfortable and rewarding bath experience for your dog so they don’t grow to dread it. Offer treats during and after, and provide extensive praise throughout. If the weather is warm, a walk may be a prized reward too.
  • Rinse thoroughly. Your dog should be rinsed thoroughly to remove shampoo and conditioner before exiting the bath. Leftover traces could cause itchiness, upending the positive effects of bath time.
  • Monitor your dog after bathing. Anytime you incorporate a new shampoo or conditioner into your dog’s routine, monitor them closely in the days following. Excessive shedding or itching may mean they are not compatible.
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As with any dog-related concerns or questions, your veterinarian is a useful and invaluable resource. They will likely be able to guide you in the right direction.

FAQ

Q. Can dogs use human conditioner?

A. It’s not recommended for dogs to use human shampoo or conditioner. The pH level of a dog's skin is slightly higher than that of human skin, which means shampoo and conditioner formulated for humans would not have a positive effect on canine skin, causing itchiness and distress. If you’re desperate to clean a dirty dog, it may be better than nothing, but your dog should be monitored, and proper shampoo and conditioner should be applied as soon as possible.

Q. How often should I bathe my dog?

A. The frequency of baths is determined by your dog’s coat and lifestyle. Active dogs with thicker, longer coats may require more frequent bathing, anywhere from once every four to six weeks. Those with shorter hair and who are less prone to outdoor excursions may only need a bath once every few months. Dogs with double coats that keep them insulated from colder weather are better served by infrequent baths during winter months. That’s because frequent baths can remove important oils and barriers from the skin that help them stay healthy and comfortable during dry, frigid months.

Q. Are there any negative side effects of dog conditioner?

A. Dog conditioners with inferior ingredients, including artificial components, may fail to adequately nourish and protect the skin and coat. Dogs with skin sensitivities may not take well to all conditioners and may instead require a targeted formula. Like shampoo, exercise caution around the face when applying conditioner. It’s recommended to start lathering and massaging from the tail up to the face, then rinse from the face back down to the tail so the most sensitive areas have the least amount of time with shampoo and conditioner near them. Keep the dog’s head raised so nothing seeps into the eyes.

 

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