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Home > Cats > Is Dawn Dish Soap Safe for Cats? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Is Dawn Dish Soap Safe for Cats? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Girl washes cat in the bath

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Tabitha Henson

Veterinarian, DVM

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

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Although bathing a cat is not something that usually has to be done, there are certain instances when it may be necessary. But because it’s not that common to bathe your cat yourself, you may not have shampoo specifically for cats on hand, and you likely already know that human shampoo isn’t a great substitute due to improper pH levels for animals.

We’ve all seen the commercials of Dawn soap being used to clean animals after oil spills, but can you use Dawn dish soap to clean your cat? Is it safe and effective? The most natural versions of Dawn dish soap are generally safe and effective for cats as long as it’s only used occasionally. In this article, we’ll explore more about using Dawn to clean your cat and how to do so safely.

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Is It Safe to Wash Your Cat with Dawn?

Dawn dish soap is safe to use for cats as long as you use Dawn Original or Dawn Free & Clear. Other scented versions of Dawn contain artificial fragrances and dyes that can irritate your cat’s skin or respiratory system, especially in cats that already have skin or medical conditions.

These fragrances and dyes are the same that are used in many air fresheners, candles, and other cleaning products and they are made with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). With that being said, even Dawn Original soap contains artificial fragrance, but it contains fewer chemical ingredients than scented versions.

The safest option for bathing cats if you want to avoid potential irritation is Dawn Free & Clear dish soap. This version still contains similar ingredients to other versions of Dawn, including artificial fragrance. However, it is free of artificial dye, so your cat is exposed to fewer chemicals if you use the Free & Clear version.

persian cat bathing
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

Is Dawn Effective for Cleaning Your Cat?

Not only is Dawn dish soap safe to use on cats, but it’s also very effective. Whether your cat has gotten into some mud or grease, or just has a general odor and needs to be scrubbed down, Dawn will fix your cat right up. As long as you can get him to cooperate with getting a bath, that is.

The soap is designed to break down oil and grease from food residue and it contains cleaning agents called surfactants. Since oil and water don’t mix, surfactants help to reduce the surface tension of the oil which makes it easier to remove with water. Because of this cleaning ability, Dawn dish soap is commonly used to help clean up animals that have been affected by oil spills, and it will work for cleaning your cat for the same reason.

When you're grooming your own pet, choosing the right pet shampoo is half the battle. We recommend Hepper's Colloidal Oatmeal Pet Shampoo line because the all-natural, pet-safe formula does a great job of cleaning and moisturizing while avoiding irritation and itching. These soothing shampoos feature oatmeal and aloe vera and neither of them contain sulfates, phthalates, dyes, or soaps. Your pet will love this shampoo as much as you do! Now you just have to choose which one your pet will love best. Here’s a quick guide to help you choose the right option for your pet’s next bath!

Hepper Colloidal Oatmeal Pet Shampoo (Aloe and Cucumber Scent) Hepper No Rinse Shampoo
Hepper Colloidal Oatmeal Pet Shampoo Hepper Waterless No Rinse Pet Shampoo
Natural Ingredients
Natural Ingredients:
Natural Ingredients:
Made in USA
Made in USA:
Made in USA:
Safe for cats & dogs
Safe for cats & dogs:
Safe for cats & dogs:
Soothes dry skin
Soothes dry skin:
Soothes dry skin:
Waterless, no rinsing required
Waterless, no rinsing required:
Waterless, no rinsing required:

At Pet Keen, we've admired Hepper for many years, and decided to take a controlling ownership interest so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!

Is Dawn Good for Your Cat’s Skin?

Even though Dawn is safe to use on your cat and effective for cleaning, you’ll want to avoid using it. The reason is that although it is effective at cleaning your cat, it’s not necessarily good for the cat’s skin. Using Dawn too often can cause the skin to become dry, itchy, and irritated.

The reason why Dawn dries out your cat’s skin is because of the surfactants and the way they interact with your cat’s skin. A cat’s skin produces a natural oil called sebum which can be found in higher concentrations near your cat’s face, neck, paws, rump, and tail.

In the areas where sebum is the most highly concentrated, it also contains pheromones which your cat uses as part of his scent-marking system by rubbing the oil onto different surfaces. But, sebum also helps to keep your cat’s skin moisturized as well.

Since the job of surfactants is to reduce the surface tension of oily substances and make them easier to remove, they can also strip the sebum away from your cat’s skin. Your cat’s skin won’t be as moisturized, leading it to dry out and become itchy. If the skin dries out too much, it can lead to excessive scratching and irritation.

But, stripping the sebum away from your cat’s skin can also interfere with his scent-marking ability. Dawn may also further irritate your cat’s skin if he has a skin condition by drying out the skin even more.

So, if you must use Dawn to clean your cat, it should be used only occasionally and not on a regular basis. And definitely avoid using it at all if your cat has some kind of skin condition or medical issue. You don’t want to potentially irritate or inflame the skin even more.

Dawn Free & Clear Dishwashing Liquid Dish Soap

Will Dawn Dish Soap Kill Fleas?

Dawn dish soap will not kill fleas, but it can be used to give your cat some temporary relief. If nothing else, Dawn will wash some of the fleas off of your cat’s body. However, it’s not going to actually kill the fleas, their larva, or their eggs.

Dawn should not be used as a flea treatment since it does very little other than wash them away. You’d have to use it regularly to see any significant results. But we just explained why it’s not a good idea to use Dawn regularly since it can dry out your cat’s skin.

If your cat does have fleas, it’s better to use a medicated flea shampoo that can actually kill and prevent fleas. Flea shampoos often contain other ingredients as well that are designed to moisturize and soothe your cat’s skin so that it doesn’t become dry.

But, using shampoo alone is often not enough to prevent your cat from getting fleas, so you may have to use multiple flea prevention methods. Whatever the case may be, Dawn is not the be-all, end-all solution for treating fleas in cats. Prescription medications from your veterinarian is the best way to treat and prevent fleas.

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How to Bathe Your Cat With Dawn in 4 Steps

If your cat is messy enough to require a bath and all you have is Dawn, it’s okay to use it. But, bathing a cat can be difficult no matter what type of shampoo you use. Here are some tips that can make bathing your cat easier and ensure that you use Dawn safely and correctly to prevent your cat’s skin from drying out.

1. Prepare the Water

It’s best to bathe your cat in a kitchen sink or bathtub that has a gentle sprayer or showerhead to make rinsing your cat easier. The water doesn’t need to be super deep, but just enough to get your cat’s paws and parts of his legs wet (a few inches of water will do). Make sure the water is warm but not warm enough so that it burns your cat.


2. Add Another Pair of Arms

When bathing a cat, it helps to have a helper. You will likely need to hold your cat to prevent him from jumping out, so it’s best to have one person holding the cat and another shampooing. Use a rag or a sprayer to wet your cat, avoiding his face.


3. Apply Dawn Dish Soap

Apply a dime-sized amount of Dawn to your cat’s fur, preferably on his back. Dawn dish soap can get really sudsy, so you don’t need to use a lot. The less you use, the less likely his skin will be to dry out. Work the soap through your cat’s fur, being careful not to scrub or use too much abrasion because this can cause the skin to dry out, too.


4. Rinse Off Your Cat

Rinse the soap off your cat with the sprayer, a rag, or a cup of water (whatever your cat is most comfortable with). Use a soft towel to dry off your cat, but you don’t have to get the cat completely dry. If the bath stressed your cat out, leave him alone for a while to give him time to calm down.

Black Persian Cat Having a Bath
Image Credit: Bussakorn Ewesakul, Shutterstock

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What Soap Is Best for Cats?

Remember that Dawn should only be used to clean cats occasionally. If you plan on bathing your cat regularly or you want to have soap on hand just in case, it’s best to buy a dedicated pet shampoo. Many pet shampoos work for both dogs and cats, so you could even use dog shampoo if you have it.

Pet shampoos are designed to clean your cat’s skin without drying it out since they often contain moisturizing ingredients. Many of them have other benefits as well, including making your cat’s coat shiny and silky.

If your cat has fleas or a skin condition, he may require a specific kind of medicated shampoo. Talk to your vet about which soaps or shampoos are best for your cat if he has a need for a medicated shampoo.

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Final Thoughts

When used occasionally, Dawn dish soap is safe and effective for cleaning cats, although it is not recommended. However, avoid using scented Dawn products. Dawn Original and Dawn Free & Clear are best as they are less likely to irritate your cat’s skin. Avoid using Dawn too often, or else it may dry out your cat’s skin. Finally, remember that pet shampoos are always the best and safest choice for bathing cats, especially if your cat has a skin condition.

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Featured Image Credit: Olleg, Shutterstock

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