Head and Shoulders For Dogs, Is It SAFE?

by Sonya | Last Updated:   March 21, 2021
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Just like humans who use Head and Shoulders shampoo for their dry, itchy scalp, dogs can experience dry skin and an itchy coat.

Not only is this uncomfortable and annoying for the dog, but it can also lead to issues with irritated and dry skin. Over time, this can lead to more serious skin issues if left untreated.

It isn’t unheard of for a dog with severely dry and itchy skin to find something they can rub themselves against to relieve the itch. The problem is, they can even do this to the point of making themselves bleed and creating an open wound.

An open wound on a dog that goes outside and rolls around in who knows what is just asking for an infection, which can lead to a wide range of other health issues.

If you notice your dog itching or dealing with dry skin issues, you are likely looking for ways to help your dog find relief. We’ve all experienced a dry, itchy scalp or dry, irritated skin, which can be painful and uncomfortable, so it is natural that we want to help our dog seek relief.

french bulldog takes a bath and uses dog shampoo

Can You Use Head and Shoulders On a Dog?

Since humans and dogs are quite different physiologically, it isn’t usually recommended that you use products that are made for humans on dogs, such as Head and Shoulders. They often have special needs which are different from us and so need specially formulated products. However, in the case of Head and Shoulders, there is an exception.

While you shouldn’t use it every time you bathe your dog, it is safe to use Head and Shoulders on your dog in small doses. This shampoo is well known for being highly effective at treating dandruff, dry skin, and irritation, so it is helpful for dogs who are dealing with excessively itchy skin.

The main active ingredient in Head and Shoulders is zinc pyrithione, often referred to as ZPT. This is a water-soluble substance that is used to treat skin issues associated with excessive dryness such as dandruff or irritated skin.

The shampoo is incredibly effective on both humans and dogs and with the shampoo only containing 1% zinc pyrithione, it is low enough in concentration to be safe for use on your dog on occasion.

A dog’s skin is a lot more sensitive than our skin is and since they have different needs, you don’t want to overdo it with the Head and Shoulders. It shouldn’t be used every time the dog takes a bath. It should be reserved for times when the dog has irritated or overly dry skin.

Where a human has 15 layers of cells making up our skin, a dog only has 3-5, so it is easy to see why they are so much more sensitive to chemicals and irritants than we are. The pH levels in their skin are also a lot higher than ours, making for different needs than a human.

Human shampoo tends to have a pH of around 5.5, whereas a dog really needs something between 6.5-7.5. This is the formula used in most shampoos specifically designed for dogs.

Why Use Head and Shoulders On Your Dog?

With all of this in mind, why would you choose to use Head and Shoulders on your dog as opposed to something made especially for dogs? First and foremost, these products are not necessarily widely available. Head and Shoulders can be found at most standard grocery stores and mass retailers, whereas specialty dog shampoos might not be as readily available.

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has specialized products for dogs, chances are they are going to be a lot more expensive than purchasing Head and Shoulders would be. If this is just an occasional problem that doesn’t require regular treatment, you can give your dog relief without breaking the bank by using Head and Shoulders on them instead of an expensive specialty shampoo.

Cheaper dandruff shampoos made for humans or dogs may use coal tar instead of ZPT for relief. This can be effective, but it isn’t even close to as effective as ZPT and will provide much more short-term relief. If you are looking for something that is safe and effective and will provide long-lasting relief for your dog without breaking the bank, Head and Shoulders is a great idea.

Which Skin Conditions Respond Well to Head and Shoulders?

Not all dry skin conditions are the same and may require different treatments for effective management. Seborrhea, which is similar to dandruff, is a common skin issue that many dogs experience. It can cause dry and itchy skin and you may even notice that your dog’s skin is red or irritated.

The dry skin will keep oil from being removed from the skin and coat, leading to a greasy looking and feeling coat, which can, over time, even start to smell bad.

With the active ingredient ZPT, Head and Shoulders are highly effective at removing skin flakes and soothing skin.

The ZPT in Head and Shoulders is also effective at killing bacteria and fungi which may grow on your dog’s skin or in their coat. Excessive yeast can become an issue, particularly around the paw and ears and the shampoo is well suited for treating this condition as well. ZPT acts as an antibacterial and antifungal agent.

Head and Shoulders can also be used as flea treatment. The ZPT immobilizes the fleas after about five minutes and this will allow you to comb them out of your dog and wash them down the drain. It is a sensible flea treatment. It is a nice alternative to typical flea shampoos and isn’t as dangerous as some of the more traditional products often used to treat fleas.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the skin conditions that can be treated with Head and Shoulders, but it covers the most common uses. This is an affordable, safe, and effective way to manage a range of different skin and coat conditions your dog may suffer from.

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In Closing

Just like people, dogs can experience a wide range of skin issues that may require treatment. If you have noticed your dog dealing with dry and itchy skin, or it has gotten so bad that the skin is inflamed and irritated, chances are you are looking for a safe and effective solution to the issue.

Head and Shoulders is best known as a dandruff shampoo for humans, but it can also be used on dogs to treat a number of different conditions.

In most cases, dogs and humans shouldn’t use the same products, but Head and Shoulders, when used in moderation, is one exception. The shampoo has ZPT as its active ingredient, in a low enough concentration that it is safe for use with dogs. The active ingredient is well suited for treating dry or irritated skin.

The shampoo is safe and effective for use against seborrhea, which is akin to dandruff in humans. It is also an effective antifungal and antibacterial agent, so it will keep these down in the skin and coat of your dog.

Some also swear by it as a safer alternative for treating fleas as it will render the fleas unable to move and they can be rinsed down the drain without the need for harsh chemicals.

Head and Shoulders is safe and effective for moderate use on dogs and works incredibly well on the conditions described in this piece. Many people love it as it is readily available and since it is a basic shampoo, it is a lot cheaper than specialty products designed explicitly for dogs.

Sonya is a software engineer by day and recently earned her MBA degree, but she also loves spending her free time writing about her favourite passion, dogs! Click here to read more.