Can I Use Human Shampoo On My Dog?

Here's why it can actually be dangerous.

Human shampoo for dogs

You might have experienced this before: Your dog was rolling around in your muddy backyard after an afternoon rain. And just as you’re about to turn on the water for a much-needed bath, you realize you’re out of dog shampoo.

Your pup is covered in mud, and you’re eyeing the Olaplex on your shelf, wondering, “Can I use human shampoo on dogs?”

“In general, it is not advised to use human shampoo on dogs, at least not routinely,” Dr. Justin Lamb, a veterinarian at City Veterinary Care in New York City, told The Dodo.

So, why is human shampoo so bad for dogs, and what can be used instead in case of an emergency? Here’s what Dr. Lamb said.

Why human shampoo is bad for your dog

“Human hair products are formulated to handle the specific characteristics of human skin,” Dr. Lamb said, like pH level and oil composition.

Since a dog’s skin is so different from a human’s, using human hair products on a dog won’t produce the same effect that they do for a human. In fact, they can be pretty harmful for him.

And while using human shampoo might make your dog’s coat appear clean and shiny at first, it’s actually doing more harm than good in the long-run.

It can damage his skin

“[Human shampoo tends] to be very drying to dogs’ skin and, in some cases, be irritating or lead to contact dermatitis,” Dr. Lamb said. “Dog shampoos tend to be more mild and leave more of the naturally occurring oil on the skin.”

That’s because a dog has a different pH than a human does. Dogs have a skin pH balance of 6.2–7.4 (neutral), and humans have a skin pH balance of 5.5–5.6 (acidic).

When you use a shampoo that’s intended for more acidic skin on skin that’s more neutral, it can damage what’s known as the skin’s acid mantle. The acid mantle keeps the skin hydrated and protected.

A damaged acid mantle can leave a dog’s skin dry, flaky and irritated.

It can make your dog sick

Your dog’s acid mantle protects his skin from parasites, viruses and bacteria. Without a healthy skin acid mantle, your dog is left vulnerable to infections and disease.

And if your dog is scratching his skin because it’s so dry, he could easily create an open wound, which will only make the problem worse.

What to use instead of human shampoo

If it's an emergency and you're actually totally out of dog shampoo, you might have an alternative around your house.

“For situations that require urgent decontamination of the skin and/or coat, I would actually use Dawn dish soap and warm water,” Dr. Lamb said. “Dawn is also great for treating pets or wildlife affected by oil spills.”

Be sure to rinse the soap out thoroughly to avoid irritation later on from too much soap buildup.

Baby shampoo is also another option in a pinch because the ingredients are so gentle.

“For dogs that have been sprayed by a skunk, I recommend a combination of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and a dishwashing soap like Dawn. (Not tomato sauce or juice!)” he said.

What is the best shampoo for dogs?

Of course, the best option is always going to be a shampoo formulated specifically for dogs — which is why it's important to keep some handy at all times.

There are many types of dog shampoos available, and the best one for your dog depends on his individual needs.

If you need a medicated shampoo, or if your dog has a skin condition that needs medical treatment (like allergies, skin infections or severely dry or flaky skin), you can ask your vet for a shampoo recommendation to treat his specific problem.

But if you’re just looking for an everyday wash to have on hand, look for one that’s gentle and free of harsh chemicals.

The Dodo team loves the Fur Wash from Rowan, which we tested on our own dogs and granted our Paw of Approval. It contains both coconut and argan oils, so it’s extra soothing and hydrating (and it’s basically the closest you’ll get to Olaplex for your dog).

Try The Fur Wash for short-haired dogs from Rowan for $25

So if you’re really in a pinch and need to clean off a super dirty dog without any dog shampoo, opt for Dawn dish soap over that bottle of human shampoo.

But make sure you do have a reliable dog shampoo on hand so you don’t end up in that situation — and so your dog’s skin and coat stays clean and healthy without any unpleasant side effects.

Sponsored by Rowan.

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