Is Human Shampoo Ok To Use On Dogs?

by Stuart | Last Updated:   August 28, 2019

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It’s a scenario every pet parent has found themselves in at one point or another. They run out of dog shampoo and keep putting off or forgetting to get more. Before long they find themselves out on a perfect walk with their doggie deep in the outdoors.

Their doggie runs off somewhere, or it begins to rain heavily, and before they know it, their doggie comes running back completely drenched in dirt, mud and something else that is undetectable.

They head back home only to realize there is no dog shampoo available and it’s Sunday evening, so no store is open either.

Can you use human shampoo on dogs? No, you should not use human shampoo on dogs. Once in a blue moon is probably fine, but frequently using human shampoo on your dog can cause complications for your dog’s coat, skin and overall health. 

Now that’s not to say there aren’t human shampoos that would be acceptable to use on a dog, but these are often more specialty products containing limited and all-natural ingredients. 

Dog being washed with human shampoo in bath

Is Human Shampoo Safe For Dogs?

In case you’re in a rush and you want to skip the boring “sciency” stuff, here are a few common household items that will be safer to use as dog shampoo when compared to regular human shampoo:

  • Water (½ cup) & Vinegar (¼ cup) Mixture
  • Baking soda (½ cup),  Corn Starch (½ cup)
  • Baby Shampoo

With the water-vinegar mixture, it would be ideal to put it in a spray bottle to make application easier. With the dry mixture of baking soda and corn starch, simply massage the mixture into your doggie’s fur.

These are just some options for washing a dog without dog shampoo. But if you’re worried about the human shampoo you do have and are dealing with a wet and muddy dog, these options should do the trick.

Baby shampoo is included as it’s a common household item but I want to make it clear that it’s still not ideal. While baby shampoo is often more gentle than regular human shampoo, it can still negatively affect your doggie’s skin pH balance. Keep reading to find out why.

Homemade Moisturizing Dog Shampoo

What Happens When You Use Human Shampoo on Dogs?

If you have experience with the situation described at the beginning of this post then you have probably wondered whether you can use people shampoo on dogs. And if you’ve done any searching on the internet, you have probably become confused at one point or another.

All pet parents find themselves, at one point or another, without their doggie specific products—shampoo included. 

Human shampoo is meant for, well, humans! Believe it or not, the skin on dogs is more sensitive than the skin on humans. Dogs are more prone to suffering from conditions like flaky skin, rashes, dryness and itching.

Humans and dogs have a different amount of layers of skin cells:

  • Humans: 10-15
  • Dogs: 3-5

Skin layers act as “protection”, and with fewer layers, a dog’s skin is more vulnerable to becoming irritated.

There’s also the skin’s pH balance to consider. In case you’re as confused as I used to be, here’s a definition of pH by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., from thoughtco.com:

“pH is a measure of hydrogen ion concentration, a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The pH scale usually ranges from 0 to 14. Aqueous solutions at 25°C with a pH less than 7 are acidic, while those with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline. A pH level of 7.0 at 25°C is defined as “neutral” because the concentration of H3O+ equals the concentration of OH− in pure water. Very strong acids might have a negative pH, while very strong bases might have a pH greater than 14.”

Maintaining the pH balance of the skin is important in helping ward off infections or irritations. Notice how our skin starts to get a little dryer with age? That’s because our acid mantle starts to diminish and our skin becomes less acidic which in turn makes our skin more prone to dryness.

What does all of this have to do with shampoo and dogs?

Well, in people and dogs, the shampoo we use affects our skin pH balance by temporarily diminishing the acid mantle. It’s not a big deal for people because a good shampoo will have ingredients in it that help protects the skin until the acid mantle is replenished.

Think of it as a cost/benefit scenario: we get the benefit of extra cleanliness but with the cost of disrupting the skin mantle temporarily.

Since a dog’s skin has fewer layers, they can’t afford to lose as much acid mantle.

If you wash dogs with the human shampoo you run the risk of breaking them completely, disrupting their skin’s pH balance and destroying their acid mantle. The more natural your human shampoo is, the less damaging it will likely be. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the common and frequently asked questions we get about dog’s and human shampoo.

Can you use dish soap on dogs?

If you’ve been reading the post up until now then hopefully you know the answer. It is best to avoid using dish soap on dogs. Dish soap and dish detergents can be extremely harsh for a dog’s skin, even using what we think of as moisturizing soaps like dove soap on your dog should be avoided.

You may have heard, however, that dish soaps like Dawn are a great product for getting rid of the smell for dog’s that have been sprayed by skunks. While this is true and often recommended, dish soap is not meant to be used regularly.

Again, it isn’t “the end of the world” if you’ve been using dish soap on your doggie. Some dogs are more receptive to harshness than others.

If you are going to use something like Dawn dish soap for an extremely dirty or smelly doggie, then try to use somewhere around a teaspoon, no need to go overboard.

Can baby shampoos be used on dogs?

This is a case of just because it’s safer doesn’t mean it’s “safe”.

There’s a lot of posts online stating that baby shampoo is perfectly fine for dogs. But really, baby shampoo is just a better human shampoo option when compared to regular human shampoos.

While baby shampoo is a more gentle option it’s still a human shampoo meant for human skin with particular pH levels.

If you’re using it here and there (i.e., once every few months) then it shouldn’t be a big deal. But why would you purposefully do that when dog shampoos are available and inexpensive?

Can you use Head & Shoulders on dogs?

No! Well, you could, but you would be taking an unnecessary risk using dandruff shampoo on dogs.

Dandruff shampoo for humans often contains harsh chemicals that can really irritate your dog’s skin. 

The ingredients in Head & Shoulders are as follows:

Water, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Glycol Distearate, Dimethicone, Zinc Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Xylenesulfonate, Zinc Pyrithione, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Parfum, Sodium Benzoate, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Hydrochloric Acid, Hexyl Cinnamal, Linalool, Magnesium Carbonate Hydroxide, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Ci 42090, Methylisothiazolinone, Ci 17200.

Some of these ingredients can be harsh for humans who have sensitive skin. So a dog with sensitive skin could have some pretty serious reactions to such a product.

If your dog has bad dandruff there is likely an underlying cause that should be explored by your veterinarian. Dandruff in dogs is typically caused by a secondary condition like:

  • allergies
  • skin problems
  • genetic disorders
  • immune-mediated diseases
  • endocrine disorders

A lot of times dogs with dandruff are experiencing very dry skin.

A shampoo like Head & Shoulder’s is going to dry out their skin even more and is not formulated to help the pH balance of a dog’s skin.

Instead of risking your dog’s skin with Head & Shoulder’s shampoo, consider trying out some safer ways of helping their dandruff, such as:

  • regular grooming
  • increase omega-3 fatty acids
  • use a humidifier in your home
  • improve your dog’s diet
  • try dandruff shampoo’s specific to dogs

But of course, consult your veterinarian about your dog’s dandruff as they will be able to investigate the causes and advise on treatments.

Can You Use Human Conditioner on Dogs?

No! (again).

I’ll take a firm stance on this one. I can’t think of a situation where conditioner for your doggie is needed so badly that you should consider using human conditioner.

Drive to your local pet store or pick look online for a dog-specific conditioner. It’s not a “necessity” and so there should be no compromise here.

Continue Reading:

  1. Best Dog Clippers for Thick Fur Grooming
  2. Best Dog Dryers for At Home Use
  3. Best Dog Shampoo for Dry & Itchy Skin
  4. Burt’s Bees Dog Shampoo Reviews
  5. Bike Baskets for Dogs Buyer’s Guide

Final Thoughts

While some blogger’s tout that you should always use 100% natural, raw and organic shampoo for your dog, the truth is that dogs are pretty resilient.

The purpose of this post was to help guide pet parents who are “in a pinch”. If you’re dealing with an extremely dirty and/or smelly dog, it’s ok to use something other than human shampoo.

Sure there are options that are better than others, and hopefully, this post helped you consider some of them. 

But using something other than gentle dog shampoo once in a while will be ok, just don’t make a habit of it.

Stuart loves blogging about his hobbies and passions. Sir Doggie is a place for him to share what he learns while being a pet parent. Click here to read more.
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