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Home > Dogs > Can You Use Human Shampoo on Dogs? Vet-Reviewed Facts & Tips

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Dogs? Vet-Reviewed Facts & Tips

English cocker spaniel dog taking a shower with shampoo, soap and water in a bathtub

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Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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It never fails: You see your dog standing outside the door, covered from tip to tail in mud (at least, you hope that’s mud), but when you look in your supply closet, you discover that you’re fresh out of dog shampoo.

You know that you have plenty of your shampoo in your bathroom, but is it safe to use that stuff on your dog? After all, the last thing that you want is to irritate your dog’s skin—or worse, give them much more shine and bounce than you’ve ever had.

As it turns out, you should not use human shampoo on your dog. It won’t kill them but it’s not good for them either.

Here, we walk you through whether it’s okay to substitute your Head & Shoulders for their specialty shampoo and what you can do if you absolutely must bathe your dog without any of their soap handy.

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Is Human Shampoo Safe for Dogs?

The biggest reason that you should never use your shampoo on your dog is that humans and dogs have different skin pH. The pH balance is the level of acids and bases at which your body functions best.

Skin—both ours and our dogs’—is covered by something called the acid mantle. This thin layer protects our skin from pathogens that would otherwise penetrate it and keeps our bodies hydrated by preventing moisture from evaporating.

When we bathe, we strip off much of that acid mantle. Most shampoos have ingredients in them that help regenerate the mantle, keeping your skin safe until the mantle can regrow fully. To do that, though, it must restore your pH balance to its regular state.

Here’s where things get hairy: Dogs and humans have dramatically different pH balances. Our scalp’s pH is alkaline, usually in the 5.5 range, whereas a dog’s skin pH is much more neutral (often between 6.2 and 7.4). That means a human shampoo will strip away much of a dog’s acid mantle and do little to replace it.

Changing your dog’s skin pH balance disturbs the delicate and natural acid mantle and kills the normal skin flora, making their skin more vulnerable to imbalances and issues due to bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.  The skin will likely dry out significantly, which may be uncomfortable for your dog. This leads to scaling and scratching, which can cause secondary injuries, and these can lead to more pathogenic infections. It’s a vicious cycle that usually ends poorly for your dog.

dog scratching itself

Image By: Zivica Kerkez, Shutterstock

What Should I Do If I’m Out of Dog Shampoo?

If your dog desperately needs a bath, but you don’t have any suitable shampoo in the house, don’t panic. There are several things that you can do in a pinch.

First, search your house for a suitable alternative to dog shampoo. This could be baby shampoo, cornstarch, baking soda, or a few other things. There’s a good chance that you’ll have some sort of alternative handy.

If the problem is just dirt or mud, you’ll likely be able to get away with simply rinsing your dog and drying them thoroughly. However, if the problem is odor, you’ll need something more powerful. Try bathing your dog with a mixture of baking soda and diluted pure Castille soap. While not a good resource to use regularly, a bit of diluted Dawn dish soap can do the trick.

Please note that you should only do this in emergencies, and it is not something that you want to regularly practice, since some of the ingredients are contraindicated. You can also use baking soda and a 1:4 dilution of apple cider vinegar in a pinch. The mixture is great for neutralizing odors, but the resulting aroma may not be much better. Check out this DIY dog shampoo post for more alternative ideas.

Second, simply find a way to deal with the problem until a pet store opens the next morning. This may mean keeping your dog outside or in the utility room or just wiping them down with a towel as best you can. It’s not perfect but it won’t hurt your pooch either.

woman holding baking soda
Image By: Dragon Images, Shutterstock

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I Already Used My Shampoo on My Dog; How Bad Did I Mess Up?

If you’ve already used your shampoo on your dog, don’t panic. Using your shampoo on them once isn’t likely to have much of an adverse effect, unless you really scrub them hard.

It’s repeated use that can cause issues. The more you use it, the drier your dog’s skin will become and the more susceptible it’ll be to developing dermal issues and infections.

Your dog’s breed matters too. Some pups, like Pit Bulls, are more prone to skin problems than others. If you have a dog with sensitive skin, using your shampoo on them will likely cause more damage than on a breed with a more resilient epidermis. However, a single instance is still unlikely to make much of a difference.

Just remember that the worst thing that you can do is leave your shampoo on your dog’s skin longer than absolutely necessary, as it will continue to break down the acid mantle. This means that rinsing them off is more important than sudsing them up, and it should take at least twice as long.

If your dog is already showing signs of an adverse reaction, you should try to find dog shampoos designed for sensitive skin. These will likely have colloidal oatmeal or some other sort of calming agent in them, and they can help soothe angry skin.

See Also:

Image By: Aaron_H, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

You shouldn’t use human shampoo on your dog unless you have no other option. It will strip away their skin’s natural oils, leaving it dry, flaky, and susceptible to disease. However, it’s not the end of the world if it happens once or twice. It’s only continued use that will cause serious problems.

That doesn’t give you a free pass to use it, though. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep plenty of dog-friendly shampoo on hand so you’re always ready for whatever kind of mess your dog tracks into your living room.

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Featured Image Credit: andriano.cz, Shutterstock

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