Why Holistic Vets Do NOT Use Oatmeal Dog Conditioners + 3 Organic Alternatives

As a new veterinarian practicing small animal medicine, I used to recommend oatmeal-based shampoos and conditioners. The science made sense in my brain, and some pet parents swore by it for dry skin. Then one day I came across a very disturbing magazine article and learned about an extra-special toxic way that some farmers harvest oatmeal. 

In this article I’m going to go over if you actually need a coat conditioner for your dog if you can use human products, and, how to select the best organic and oatmeal-free dog conditioner for your pup. I’ll also share some important reminders about ingredients and I’ll tell you why most holistic veterinarians do NOT recommend oatmeal-based conditioners (or shampoos).

Do Dogs Even Need A Conditioner?

You may see a bottle at the pet store, or a groomer may mention it, but is it necessary to use a dog conditioner? Dog conditioner is not needed for most dogs that have normal skin and a healthy coat. However, there are some dogs who can really benefit from a properly selected conditioner.

Unfortunately, many of us pet owners, have watched the intensity of skin disease rise over the past ten years. It can range from a little spot of itching to a whole cascade of scabs, flakes, infections, and hair loss. Not to mention the complicated phases of itching, and the introduction of “new” toxic medications to manage your dog’s itchiness.

skin support standard process dogs

As a holistic veterinarian, skin issues are something that I help my clients with every day. These are usually complicated diseases and we have to ultimately find the underlying cause of skin and hair dysfunction. However, after we correct the issues and start to build better skin health, sometimes a conditioner can be helpful.

Dog conditioner helps your dog’s hair feel softer and look shinier. It can protect fragile skin layers and protect your dog’s natural oils. Conditioners can also help prevent mats, knots, and tangles, especially on dogs with thick and long coats.

Can I Use Human Conditioner On My Dog?

I am sure you are wondering if it would be fine to use a human conditioner on your dog instead of buying a separate dog conditioner. It’s a good question, but it’s not a good idea to use your regular human hair products on your dog.

Most products for human hair are chock full of chemicals that can become toxic (to both us and our dogs). These include petroleum products, drying agents, detergents, artificial preservatives, plastics, hormone inhibitors, sulfates, and parabens, just to name a few. Human conditioner is made for human skin and hair. It should have a pH ideal for human skin rather than dog’s skin. Using a human conditioner on your dog can strip away the natural oils on the dog’s skin, causing irritation and dryness.

How to Select the Best Dog Conditioner

Selecting the best dog conditioner can be challenging especially if you are buying a dog conditioner for the first time. There are several things that you need to consider when shopping for the best dog conditioner. You’ll want to research ingredients and understand how these ingredients can affect your dog’s skin.

Conditioner Ingredients

The ingredients used to make the dog conditioner should be safe for your dog. This means non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, and ideally not harmful for the environment either. I usually recommend organic conditioners, because I want the ingredients to be as natural as possible. I look for dog conditioners with ingredients that help soothe and moisturize your dog’s skin. Relieving some of the itching and burning goes a long way to letting those sensitive skin areas heal without the constant assault of nails and teeth. It is especially important for you to ensure that the ingredients will not make a dry skin situation worse.

Fragrances And Scent

Most dog owners love when their dogs smell good. But smelling like cucumber melon can be irritating to your dog. Some pet parents use doggie conditioners to make their pal smell better. But ideally, a dog’s healthy skin and coat should not stink. We also have to remember that our dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times more sensitive than our noses. So something that may just seem like a beautiful hint of peppermint, can annoy your pup. I recommend choosing a conditioner without added scents and fragrances so as to not irritate your dog’s nose.

Eco-friendly Conditioner Considerations

If you are cautious about keeping the environment clean and safe, you may want to look for an eco-friendly dog conditioner. Some dog conditioners contain harsh chemicals that carry a risk of harming the environment. Refrain from a dog conditioner that contains weird chemicals and opt for a dog conditioner made from natural ingredients.

oatmeal-free dog conditioner

Why Most Holistic Veterinarians Do NOT Recommend Oatmeal-Based Conditioners

Oatmeal-based conditioners have been used for pets and people for hundreds of years. But 100 years ago, recommending hair products with oatmeal in it was a good idea. Today, the situation revolving around oatmeal colloids and skin health has changed.

Originally, veterinarians recommended oatmeal-based shampoos and conditioners as a way to keep your pets’ skin and coat well hydrated. The proteins in oatmeal can lock in moisture in the first layers of your dog’s skin.

However, today, most holistic vets don’t recommend oatmeal-based products because of 2 main reasons:

1. Many Dogs Have Developed Allergies To Grains Like Oatmeal

Gut health and allergies play a critical role in today’s battle of the itch. People and dogs are becoming allergic to all kinds of stuff these days. Food sensitivities are common as food ingredients are not as clean as they used to be. In commercial dog food, scientists have found heavy metals, antibiotics, pesticides, and herbicides. These all contribute to poor gut health and lead directly to leaky gut. Leaky gut can cause foods to become “allergens” in our pets’ bodies.

When this happens, your dog’s immune system creates antibodies against these foreign food particles. This can create disease reactions in your dog’s GI tract, bloodstream, and SKIN. It doesn’t make sense to rub oatmeal on your dog’s skin….if your dog is allergic or sensitive to oats.

oatmeal-free dog conditioner

2. Most Oatmeal Grown In The US Today Is Sprayed Multiple Times With Glyphosate (Aka. RoundUp)

This chemical is sprayed on the plant while the oats are growing, and then it is also sprayed again right before harvest. Industrial farmers use this extra “bonus” application of chemicals to help dry out the crop and collect as much of the valuable oats during harvest. This practice is usually called “desiccation” which just means drying. But using toxic chemicals to speed up drying is not benefiting the people who eat these oats nor does it belong on our dog’s skin and coat. I also wrote another article covering the topic of some topical meds that should NOT be used on your dog’s skin and you can read it here. .

Although this pre-harvest process still occurs in the Midwest US, other countries and some international companies are no longer allowing this operation. For the sake of our dogs and our food supply, hopefully, this procedure will be phased out by 2025.

Okay, now let’s find some better alternatives for your special pup!

Top 3 Best Organic Dog Conditioners

There are seemingly millions of pet shampoo and conditioner products. It can be challenging to identify a high-quality dog conditioner and some marketing is confusing. I’ve picked out the best organic conditioners and collected some notes about which one could be best for your dog’s skin and coat health.

1. kin+kind Natural Dog & Cat Moisturizer & Conditioner

Best for dogs with seasonal dry skin. In some pets, minor cycles of dry skin occur naturally as the seasons change. For example, I live in Colorado where it is pretty darn dry in the wintertime. A few of my dogs will get some dustiness, basic dry dandruff, or super static flare in October.

This should be a short-term change if your dog is getting the proper healthy fats in her diet. It shouldn’t smell, and should not be associated with major itchiness. Usually, a bath and one application of this conditioner will solve the problem. But note that you do want to use a significant amount when applying it on your dog. These ingredients will work best when it is applied deep under the hair coat on the skin.

This conditioner is also great for long-haired or double-coated pets. And as a bonus to this effective recipe, the conditioner is even vegan, GMO-free, and, cruelty-free.

2. Shed Defender Silky Smooth Aloe & Shea Butter Dog & Cat Conditioner

Best for our canine pals that have chronically dry skin. This product is great for pets that get bathed a lot. Bathing removes natural healthy oils from your dog’s skin and can make skin dry and itchy. I have seen many cases where a client thought that their dog had allergies. They would complain about their dog itching all the time, but when I looked at their skin I didn’t find much evidence of poor skin health. Sometimes as this dry itchy skin got worse…the owner gave them even more baths!

I understand though, I have family members who give their dogs a bath at least once a month. This is because two of the kids are sensitive to dog dander. In this case, it is much better to prevent a lot of dander from building up so that the kids don’t get sick. Some of my personal dogs, on the other hand, may get a bath every 6 months or so and that’s it. The “correct” number of baths that your dog needs depends on many health factors, every dog is different.

3. Nature’s Specialties Aloe Re-Moisturizer Dog Conditioner

This is a sort of deep conditioner that can be really helpful for certain dogs. Great for itchy dogs and dogs with occasional hot spots. ( If your dog has hot spots often, this is an external sign of something going on, make sure to address the underlying cause with your holistic vet. )

Nature’s Specialties is also a great match for dogs that are recovering from parasites such as fleas. Those little buggars can leave behind some serious skin damage and it may take a few months to recover after you have eliminated the parasites. Great for recovering from mange mites, but make sure that there are no secondary infections. I would also not recommend this product if your pet is dealing with yeasty issues. This product does have a light scent but I have found that it dissipates rather quickly.

There you have it, three great products that are all-natural and do not contain oatmeal ingredients. Many dog parents have found that their dogs do better without oatmeal, and I have seen the same in a few of my own dogs. If you have tried these products but have had undesirable effects please let us know. And if you have a product that is the ultimate of the ultimates- send us a sample and we will review it. In my house, I usually have a rescue around somewhere that has skin issues and I’ll give it a try. Good luck, happy grooming and check out the articles below for more holistic pet care!

~Dr. Candy

Dr. Candy Akers, DVM

Holistic Veterinarian, Veterinary Clinic Owner, Veterinary Medical Supervisory Board Leader, Certified Raw Dog Food Nutrition Specialist, and Author Dr. Candy completed her undergraduate studies at The University of Delaware and graduated veterinary school in 2009 from Oklahoma State University. In high school, she was drawn to wildlife rehabilitation. Wildlife rehab gave her unparalleled experience in animal healing in a field that has limited resources and a wide variety of conditions to treat. Before vet school, Dr. Akers spent two years working full time providing oil spill response for wildlife all over the country. Since graduating with her Degree of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 2009, Dr. Candy has specialized in companion animal nutrition. Extensive education in nutrition has made her a firm believer in species specific-biologically appropriate diets. One of her passions is educating pet parents about the natural alternatives that actually work. She brings the best of holistic health and conventional medicine together in a unique approach to pet health. This approach is often applied to chronic diseases, allergies, and autoimmune conditions. She started her own veterinary practice 9 years ago in Colorado. Overall, she has dedicated her entire life to improving the health and happiness of animals everywhere.

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