It’s tempting to reach for your own shampoo when you’ve run out of doggy shampoo and your dog has rolled in something stinky. But can you use human shampoo on dogs?
Dogs need specialized shampoos because human shampoos can harm their coats and health. Human shampoo is less than ideal for dogs because human skin has a higher pH and is less sensitive. Using it on dogs can dry out their skin, cause flaking, and lead to repeated scratching.
We are often advised to follow shampoo up with conditioner to reverse the dryness it may have caused. If human shampoo can dry out hair it was explicitly meant for, imagine the damage it can do to dog coats. This article covers the reasons experts advise against using human shampoos on dogs.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Human Shampoos on Dogs
Dogs are man’s best friend, but they’re significantly from ours, which is why they should not use human shampoo. Human shampoo will leave your pup’s skin looking visibly clean, but not without major damage in the process. It may seem like what products you use on your pup is a quibbling argument, but wrong products can do some harm.
Some human salon products contain ingredients that could harm your pooch, such as paraben and formaldehyde preservatives. Watch out for natural ingredients like aloe Vera, oatmeal, vitamins, herbs, and citrus extracts. The PawSafe Dog Shampoo with oatmeal is an excellent natural option for a clean and healthy coat.
Dogs’ Skin Acidity Level
The skin of humans and dogs has several layers, with the stratum corneum being the outermost layer. The acid mantle covers and protects the porous stratum corneum from environmental contaminants like bacteria. This protective film can undergo significant damage after exposure to chemicals with different acidity levels.
Dogs and humans have skins that vary in acidity, with dogs’ skins being more alkaline. On average, Dogs have skin with a higher pH of 6.2 to 7.4. On the other hand, human skin is much more acidic, with a pH of 5.5 to 5.6. Human shampoos cater to our skin’s acidity levels and not that of dogs.
When bathing your dog, the acid mantle experiences some damage that should resolve after some time. Using a human shampoo for your pooch interferes with the acid mantle’s natural healing process, leaving the stratum corneum exposed to nature’s elements.
As we mentioned, the stratum corneum is a porous layer of skin. Without the acid mantle, your pup remains vulnerable to parasites, bacteria, and viruses that cause skin problems. Skin infections cause an offensive odor, and your efforts to eliminate the smell can only worsen the situation due to overbathing.
Most dog shampoos are neutral, with a pH of around 7, which is close to that of dogs’ skin. The proximity in pH of dog shampoos and the acid mantles allows for the film’s restoration after baths. Additionally, these shampoos contain moisturizers that the canine skin can easily absorb.
Skin composition and sensitivity
The skin of humans and dogs varies not just in acidity but also in composition. Whereas humans have 10 to 15 layers of skin cells, dogs have only 3 to 5, about half our number. This means that dogs have skins that are twice as sensitive as ours are. Products that are okay for humans may be detrimental to dogs due to the increased sensitivity.
Increased sensitivity influences other factors besides the type of products for dog use. It’s best to use lukewarm water during your pup’s baths because of the reduced skin layers that make the skin sensitive. Harsh shampoos like those for humans and hot water can dry out your pup’s skin leading to discomfort.
Shampooing frequently with the wrong products can strip your pup’s coat of its natural oils. These oils protect the dog’s skin from damage and keep the coat looking shiny and healthy. Excessive production of sebum by the sebaceous gland can lead to smelliness that doesn’t go away easily, even with baths.
A frustrating cycle of bathing and stinking occurs when you use harsh shampoos. Products like human shampoo dry out the skin, causing your dog to scratch vigorously. The scratching causes abrasions which could result in smelly skin infections. Infection odor and the stench from excessive sebum are effects of overbathing your dog with human shampoo.
Allergies and skin infections
Dogs suffering from skin problems and allergies need special attention to their coats. Studies show that allergic dogs and those with dermal issues have an altered skin structure. This makes them prone to skin damage, so their bathing regimens differ from those of dogs without these issues.
The shampoo you choose to wash your allergic dog determines the coat’s hydration and fatty acid levels. Human shampoo is harmful enough for healthy dogs, and the situation worsens when the pup suffers from skin infections. Hypoallergenic and antibacterial dog shampoos are the best options for dogs with visible skin problems.
Your vet will advise you on the frequency of baths for dogs with skin issues because they need more washes than normal dogs. Bathing your pup for skin allergies is most effective when you do it weekly or even bi-weekly to eliminate the environmental allergens that could be the culprits.
Be sure to dry your dog thoroughly after these increased washes. This minimizes moisture accumulation which could lead to even more infections. You can read our article on how to wash your dog to learn the correct way to shampoo, rinse, and dry your pooch.
Dogs with dermatitis or allergies have dry, itchy skin that your dog can’t help but scratch. Vigorous scratching results in wounds and abscesses that can easily lead to secondary yeast or bacterial infections. Ear infections, a dull coat, and excessive paw licking are other signs of allergies in dogs.
You need to use shampoo more frequently on dogs with dermatitis or allergies. If you’re using the wrong shampoos, such as those made for people, you risk further damaging an already unhealthy coat. Your vet can advise you on the best shampoos for dogs experiencing skin issues.
Can You Use Human Shampoo in Emergency Situations?
Your dog may have taken a spin into some rotten matter or mud. You desperately need to scrub them down, but dog shampoo is nowhere in sight; can you use a shampoo made for people? If this is the case, human shampoo should be your very last resort and not every time.
Human shampoo won’t harm your dog on the spot, but that doesn’t mean it’s free of risks. You’d actually be better off rinsing your muddy dog with warm water if dog shampoo isn’t available. That said, using people’s shampoo as a one-off won’t cause instant harm, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Baby shampoo is safer and gentler on your dog’s skin in case you’ve run short of dog shampoo. This kind of shampoo contains few chemicals because babies have sensitive skin. Most baby shampoos are water-based, containing glycerin for slip and other mild ingredients that are easy on your pup’s coat.
More importantly, most baby shampoos have a pH of about 7, which is close to your pup’s skin pH. Dog shampoos may seem extravagant and a bit extra, but they are the best long-term dog cleaning products. Baby shampoos can be a safe short-term solution until your next pet store visit. To be safe, stock a couple of dog shampoo bottles, or at least ensure you always have an extra one.
Some home remedies help combat recurrent bouts of horrid dog odors. Such products include apple cider mixed with water and baking soda. These staple household products are potent natural deodorizers that eliminate bad dog smell without needing a full-body bath.
Before using any DIY solutions on your pup’s skin, test on a small area before using liberally. This ensures that your dog isn’t allergic to any ingredients in the solutions. Also, consult your vet if your dog is under medication to ensure that none of the DIY treatments react with the medicine.
Dogs have distinct skins from humans in pH levels and skin compositions. Dogs have a more alkaline skin that’s 6.2 to 7.4 in acidity, while that of humans is more acidic at 5.5 to 5.6 on the acidic scale. Human shampoos are meant for more acidic skin and can dry your dog’s coat and skin.
Human shampoos don’t cause immediate harm but have long-term effects on your pup’s coat. It’s best to wash your dog every month or so with a natural dog shampoo. Dogs with skin conditions benefit from more frequent washes, so the correct shampoo choice is essential.
How to Give Your Dog a Bath
Washing your fur baby is part of being a dog parent, so you must know how to do it correctly. Dogs don’t need as many baths as we do because they have more sensitive skin. Most dogs need baths every 4 to 6 weeks, with some breeds needing more or fewer baths.
There isn’t a textbook right or wrong way to bathe your dog, but there are more effective ways to do it. Some dogs loathe baths making the process hectic, while others seem to enjoy them. This article dives into how to bathe your dog, so you have an easier time when your pup has to hit the shower next.
What Do I Use When Giving a Dog a Bath
Whether your pooch likes it or not, regular bathing is essential for coat and overall health. Your dog may have rolled in decaying matter or mud and is now dirty and needing a bath. Even if your pup is an indoor dog with minimal chances of getting dirty, monthly baths are crucial to their bathing hygiene.
When it comes to bathing your dog, you don’t have to come loaded with equipment like professional groomers. Some products need to be dog-specific because those made for humans can harm your canine friend. The basics of dog bathing supplies are as follows:
Brands specifically designed for dog use clean your pup the best with minimal skin irritation and damage. The PawSafe dog shampoo is an excellent example of a dog-friendly cleaning product. This shampoo for dogs conditions and moisturizes your dog’s skin for a healthier coat.
Some pet owners can get away without using conditioner, but its pros are undeniable. Conditioner smooths the hair shaft by closing the hair cuticles, leaving your pup’s coat feeling soft. It’s essential to buy a conditioner for dogs because human conditioners have different formulas not meant for dogs.
While the location isn’t an item, it’s an essential component of a successful doggy wash. Dogs are creatures of habit, and choosing a specific washing place helps to accustom your pup to baths. The bathing location heavily depends on your pup’s size. You can bathe small dogs in the sink, while large breeds need a larger area like the yard or tub.
You need to be mindful of the temperature and pressure of the water you’ll use to bathe your dog. Cold water is not only uncomfortable for your pup, but it also won’t clean as well as warm water. Hot water can burn your pup and even damage the coat. A pleasant lukewarm temperature is ideal.
Cotton balls and ear cleaning solution
You can use cotton balls to ensure water doesn’t get into your pup’s ears. Water promotes the overgrowth of bacteria and yeast in the ears. Cleaning the ears with a vet-approved ear cleaning solution keeps off ear infections that leave dogs stinky.
Drying products like towels and dog dryers
Once your dog is all clean and showered, you should give them a thorough pat-down. Air drying your dog until completely dry isn’t the best approach because it will take forever. To avoid the “wet dog” smell, use an absorbent towel and a high-velocity dryer (optional) to speed up drying.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.