Can I Use Dog Shampoo To Bathe My Cat?

Here's why dog and cat shampoo aren't interchangeable.

If you’ve ever been faced with a situation where you thought bathing your cat was necessary, you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can I use dog shampoo on my cat?”

It may be tempting to grab your dog’s shampoo to get the job done because, well, how different could the formula really be from cat shampoo?

It turns out that dog shampoo and cat shampoo are not one in the same, and using a dog shampoo on your cat can actually put your cat’s health at risk.

The Dodo talked to veterinarian Dr. Megan Conrad about whether or not it’s safe to use shampoo for dogs when bathing your cat, and, according to her, the answer is plain and simple: no!

Here’s why you should only be using a shampoo meant for cats when bath time is unavoidable.

Why you shouldn't use dog shampoo on cats

“If you own dogs that you bathe regularly and you find your cat needing its first bath, you are probably wondering if your dog’s shampoo is safe to use,” Dr. Conrad told the Dodo. “The answer is no,” and that’s because some shampoos made specifically for dogs contain ingredients that are incredibly harmful to cats.

Dogs and cats have different skin pHs.

Power up your science brain for this one: pH is a measurement of how acidic or basic something is. Human skin, for example, typically has a pH range of 4.5 to 6.0, whereas canine skin has a more neutral pH range of 5.5 to 7.2, according to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Because dogs’ skin is significantly more alkaline than human skin, human shampoo would be too acidic for a dog. And, with a range of 7.0 to 9.0, as one study found, cats’ pH is even more alkaline than dogs’, meaning both human and dog shampoos are damaging to cats’ skin.

Using a shampoo formulated for more acidic pHs can strip your cat’s skin and fur of protective oils, leaving behind dryness and irritation — so it’s crucial that every member of the family has their own pH-balanced shampoo to keep their skin, hair and coat at its healthiest.

Dog shampoo could actually be toxic for cats.

“Because cats process some things differently than dogs, they are unable to detoxify some dog-friendly ingredients, giving dog shampoo the potential to be toxic to cats,” Dr. Conrad said, noting that the two biggest threats to look out for in shampoos being essential oils and permethrin.
“Permethrin is used to kill fleas in dogs, but is very dangerous for your cat,” she explained. “Even though over-the-counter flea and tick shampoos are sold and labeled as safe, it is very easy to overdose cats on the chemicals in these sprays, collars, shampoos and drops. It is best to avoid all of them.”

And essential oils can be too harsh on your cat’s skin, so steer clear of shampoos that contain essential-oil-based fragrances. Fragrance-free products are the gentlest.

How to find the best shampoo for your cat

Now that you know dog and cat shampoos are not interchangeable, you’re probably wondering what you should be looking for when shopping for a cat-specific shampoo. But first, you should ask yourself if you really need to be buying cat shampoo in the first place.

According to Dr. Conrad, healthy cats don’t actually need to be bathed at all — they do just fine keeping themselves clean.

“However, there are certain cats that may need help,” Dr. Conrad said. “These include cats that are unable to reach their hind end or any other areas due to age and/or obesity.” But that doesn’t mean shampoo necessarily needs to enter the scene. “In this situation,” she continued, “cleaning the affected area with a warm washcloth will help keep them clean and comfortable!”

But if your cat has gotten into a substance that could potentially be dangerous for her to ingest, she’ll need to be bathed as soon as possible. Furthermore, Dr. Conrad said that “cats who are covered in excrement, skunk spray or fleas should also receive a proper bath,” as should cats who contract a fungal or bacterial skin infection. Your vet can help you choose the right products and bathing frequency in these more extreme cases.

“[And] unlike your typical furry feline, hairless cats need a bath periodically due to their excess oil production,” Dr. Conrad added. Again, your vet can give you tips on a bathing routine for your hairless BFF.

If and when shampoo is necessary, you should pick one that’s labeled specifically for cats — some cat-specific shampoos even come in waterless formulas.

Try Vet’s Best Waterless Cat Bath on Amazon for $7.49

There are some pet shampoos out there that are suitable for both dogs and cats, and these shampoos are usually hypoallergenic and made with natural ingredients that are safe for multiple skin types. But even so, make sure the label says “safe for dogs and cats” or “safe for all pets” before making an assumption.

And never be afraid to ask your veterinarian for advice or recommendations if you’re still feeling unsure.

So, no, you can’t use dog shampoo on your cat — she deserves (and will thank you for buying) her very own formula perfectly suited for her skin and coat.