Greenwashing in the Pet-Care Industry

The words "natural" and "green" have become buzzwords over the past few years as consumers become more eco-conscious and businesses are rebranding to meet those needs. But the reality is that these terms are still widely unregulated and, unfortunately, are being misused in the labelling of products to make them seem more natural and environmentally friendly than they actually are. This is called greenwashing, and it's prevalent in just about every industry on earth.

Some greenwashing is more obvious than others, such as McDonalds switching to paper straws when it's still creating upwards of 2 million tonnes of packaging waste each year. But other companies are harder to see through. And in the pet-care industry, the number of companies using greenwashing tactics to boost profits and product sellability is growing every day. Love for pets and love for the environment often go hand in hand, so the fact that pet-care brands are using false claims to manipulate consumers is even more disheartening. But there are many fantastic earth-friendly products that stand by their claims and are good for your pet and the environment; you just need to know what to look for.

greenwashing in the petcare industry

Greenwashing is a growing problem in the pet care industry. Let's dive into it!

In this article, we will examine greenwashing in the pet care industry, how to identify it, and how to ensure you're purchasing eco-friendly pet care products from quality and trustworthy brands.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a term used to describe the practice of making misleading or false claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company. This form of marketing aims to deceive consumers into believing that a company is more eco-friendly than it actually is. As more consumers become conscious about sustainability and the environment, companies seek ways to make their products appeal to the market.

The love of animals and the love of the environment often go hand in hand, so greenwashing is becoming increasingly prevalent in the pet care industry. While you'd assume that pet care companies have the best interests of your pets, the environment and wildlife in mind, the reality is that for many, it's just another business opportunity. Greenwashing in the pet care industry can occur in many different ways, from saying their dog shampoo is sustainable when packaged in plastic or promoting their biodegradable poop bags but failing to mention that they are manufactured on the other side of the world. As the pet care industry is still highly unregulated when it comes to validating claims and enforcing transparency, greenwashing is very common and can be hard to identify.

Un-regulated terms to watch out for

In the pet care industry, regulations have a long way to go to catch up to products for humans. Certain terms that may seem legitimate actually don't hold much merit when it comes to actual requirements and regulations. And because of the lack of regulation, you'll notice these terms on tons of products.

unregulated terms greenwashing

The pet care industry is still largely unregulated when it comes to these terms.


The term hypoallergenic is thrown around a lot in the pet care world. With many pets being susceptible to allergic reactions, hypoallergenic shampoos and conditioners aim to limit irritation by avoiding ingredients that are common irritants. And while they might be avoiding the biggest offenders, that doesn't mean they are completely free of irritants (this is nearly impossible). Hypoallergenic does not mean allergy-proof. Pet products are not regulated by the FDA, nor are there any mandatory EU regulations, so they are often labelled hypoallergenic even when they contain ingredients that may irritate your dogs' skin. If you see a dog shampoo marketed as hypoallergenic, then it's a red flag that the brands' other practices are likely less than 'green' or ethical. The reality is that there are no federal standards to define the term hypoallergenic, so it can mean whatever a brand wants it to mean. They don't actually need to prove it won't cause an allegic reaction. 


You may remember tear-free shampoos from when you were a kid, but what does tear-free actually mean? The term implies that the formula won't cause you to tear up if it gets in your eyes, and it's now being used on dog shampoos. Tearless is a marketing term to specify a more gentle product in terms of ingredients that are less likely to cause an eye-burning sensation. Always look at the ingredients label first to actually understand the product. Shampoos that cause burning to the eyes contain eye irritating chemicals. And in our opinion those should never be used on pets at all! Plus, any shampoos that irritate the eyes can irritate the skin too


Manufacturers must use some form of fragrance in their formulas to cover the base smell and neutralize the odour (because the formulas naturally smell unpleasant). Even "scentless" would be a more appropriate term than "scent-free", but it could still be misleading to consumers that assume it means zero fragrance. There is a difference between unscented and fragrance-free products. But there are no universal definitions for what these terms mean in the pet care industry. If a product is unscented it may not smell like anything, but that is because the smell of the ingredients has been neutralized using other ingredients. And if a product is fragrance-free than no ingredients have been added simply for the purpose of creating a scent. But the ingredients may still have a distinct smell. Again, keep an eye on the ingredients label. 26 fragrances have been identified by the EU as potential allergens, and these need to be listed on the ingredients labels if they are over a specified level. You can view the entire list here


Similar to hypoallergenic, no product can be guaranteed 'itch-free'. Every dog has a unique skin microbiome with different sensitivities. Any product has the potential to cause a reaction, no matter how pure and natural the ingredients actually are. Dry, itchy skin is incredibly common in dogs, and when a company makes a blanket statement like 'itch-free,' there is no possible way they can back up these claims.

Natural plant/flower extracts

When natural plant or flower extracts are used in cosmetics, they need to be distilled in order to be extracted from the source. The heat from the distillation process causes the compounds to chemically break down, eliminating a lot of the natural scent. If a product uses something like rose extract, often they will market it as a rose-enriched shampoo or conditioner. Consumers will expect it to smell like roses, so manufacturers will end up adding artificial rose fragrance to the product to make it smell like roses, even though the smell is not coming from real roses. This is the case for many pet-care products that use plant and flower extracts.

These terms are used purely for marketing purposes, as products that truly fit these standards don't exist. Honesty and transparency are always the best policy, rather than misleading customers with exaggerated claims. This ultimately shows a lack of integrity by the company and will lead to distrust.

"While Doglyness technically meets all the above standards, we don't like to use particular unregulated terms and marketing phrases when describing our products. Instead we prefer to explain and teach you about how you can recognize GOOD INGREDIENTS from the BAD and understand the difference." - Anka Hana Sladoljev (founder of Doglyness)

Beyond the ingredients

Greenwashing in the pet-care industry extends beyond the ingredients you find in the products themselves. Sustainability has many layers, including how and where a company sources ingredients, where they manufacture their products, and what the products are packaged in. If a company is sourcing ingredients in Mexico, manufacturing its products in China and selling its products to Europeans, you need to consider the product journey. Ingredients are harvested, processed and shipped to the manufacturer. The manufacturer produces the product and sends it to the company. The company then ships the products directly to the customer or to a retailer. Then the customer drives to the retailer to purchase the product. This all leads to a considerable volume of carbon emissions. Not exactly sustainable, right?

where plastic waste ends up greenwashing

Even if plastic packaging says it's recyclable, most doesn't get recycled.

Another common form of greenwashing in the pet care industry concerns environmentally friendly or sustainable packaging. All products, regardless of the industry, require packaging. Since consumers only want the products inside the packaging, the packaging becomes waste. But some forms of packaging are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than others. Pet care brands often use greenwashing buzzwords like "recyclable" and "made from recycled materials" to make their packaging seem eco-friendly. But if a product is packaged in plastic, you can almost guarantee it's not recyclable, regardless of the claims. Plastic that has ANY form of residue on it is not recyclable, and the process of manufacturing plastic packaging is devastating to the environment. From fracking for fossil fuels to the carbon dioxide created during production, any pet products packaged in plastic are not sustainable, no matter what it says on the label.

Glass and aluminium are more widely recyclable, and cardboard/paper packaging is biodegradable but also not appropriate for packaging liquids. And you need to be careful that cardboard packaging isn't also lined with plastic. Now, with so many innovations in bio-plastic (plastics made from plants like sugarcane, corn or seaweed), if a brand truly wants to go green, there are options for packaging liquids or cream in compostable bio-plastic containers.

How to identify trustworthy natural pet products?

While there is still a long way to go when it comes to regulations in the pet industry, there are some certifications you can look out for that will help you identify quality natural pet products. Ecogea is our go-to third-party certification board for organic and vegan ingredients. They certify cosmetics, cleansing products, fragrances and essential oils to validate that they are organic, natural and safe based on their strict standards. If you spot the Ecogea symbol on product labels, you can trust that the ingredients are proven to be of natural origin.

doglyness certified organic and vegan dog shampoo

Look for products that are certified organic and vegan by a third-party board.

The reality is that sourcing local ingredients and manufacturing locally is going to cost much more than outsourcing to another country with lower production costs. And as plastic is the cheapest of all packaging materials, the cost increases substantially for seeking plastic-free alternatives. This all contributes to the overall price of the pet care product. So, if you want quality natural products that are truly sustainable, you can expect to pay a premium. If you see a really cheap product with the label touting sustainability claims, or natural ingredients, you can almost assure these are false.

Although reading ingredient labels can seem tedious, it's one of the best ways to identify a less-than-green product. And once you've picked out some high-quality, natural products, you won't have to worry about reading those labels again! And we know that cosmetic ingredient labels are like reading a different language, but knowing the top offenders when it comes to nasty and toxic ingredients will be enough for you to identify which products to avoid. We have a great resource on the most toxic ingredients in dog shampoo and how to avoid them. You can also check out our complete guide to nasty chemicals in pet products, which is basically an encyclopedia of all ingredients you want to avoid.

Doglyness is fighting back against greenwashing

Until more strict regulations are in place, greenwashing will always be present in the pet care industry. With many products, you can't even see the full INCI list of ingredients, so greenwashing terms are used to attract customers. And that is very misleading in our opinion. As demand for eco-friendly and natural products keeps skyrocketing, companies will continue exaggerating sustainability claims to mislead consumers. Making the switch to more sustainable and eco-friendly practices comes with a higher cost, and the reality is that for many companies, profits come before ethics. But there are fantastic pet card brands that take their corporate responsibility seriously and genuinely care about the health and well-being of both pets and the environment. And those are the companies we need to support! By increasing demand for transparency, authenticity and truly sustainable and natural products, we can help to fight back against greenwashing and make an impactful shift in the industry.