Can I Wash My Dog with Human Shampoo?

It's funny how some dogs have a mud radar. They sniff out hidden muddy puddles and have a splash-tastic time, with disastrously dirty results. Anyone who's ever returned from a walk, planning how to get a bath running without the dog shaking mud up the walls, will have empathy with just how dirty dogs get.

But when you reach for their special doggy shampoo and the bottle is empty, what's to be done? Can you use human shampoo or is it a complete no-no? Let's find out.

Why can't I use human shampoo on my dog?

The skin of people and dogs is different. For example, human skin has a pH of around 5.5 - 5.6, which is to the acidic side of the scale. Dog skin is more neutral, with a pH of 6.2 - 7.1.  In addition, human skin has 10 to 15 layers of skin cells (think of this like layers of bricks in a wall), while dog skin is much thinner at 3 to 5 cell layers, and cats thinner still at 1 to 3 layers.

Human shampoos are altogether harsher than pet products because they are designed to work with acidic skin which can tolerate a greater stripping of oils. Also, the added thickness of human skin makes it more resilient to water loss and the scouring effect of some human shampoos. In short, what's good for people is likely to cause dryness and irritation for pets.

 In addition, dropping the natural pH of a dog's skin is akin to stripping away its natural protection and weakens its immunity. This provides an open door for the bacteria and yeasts that live on the surface of the skin to grow out of control and cause skin infections. In short, human shampoo is too drying and abrasive and sets the dog up for skin infections.

What do I look for in dog shampoo?

In a nutshell, a shampoo designed for dogs will be pretty basic and not full of fragrance. When shopping for a product to use in your dog's bath, consider these factors:

  • The shampoo should have the proper pH balance (neutral is 7)
  • Oatmeal and aloe vera shampoos are good for moisturizing the skin and soothing irritation
  • Soap-free shampoos are ideal
  • Avoid ingredients like parabens, phthalates, and other chemicals
  • An easy-to-rinse shampoo is ideal
  • Eco-friendly and not tested on animals are excellent features

A word about baby shampoo

Of all the human shampoos, baby shampoo is slightly different. Tear-free formulations, in particular, are more neutral than adult products. Their pH of 7 respects the delicate nature of an infant's skin and eyes, and this makes it less likely to have strong astringent effects on your furry companion's skin. Although not ideal, especially as these shampoos are often surprisingly full of chemicals, it may provide an emergency option as a one-off for the super dirty dog.

Suitable alternatives

Your dog indulges in a mud bath and needs a top to toe clean before walking on a cream carpet. However, you discover the dog shampoo is all used up and you forgot to re-order. What's to be done? From a practical perspective, a one-off use of tear-free baby shampoo isn't the end of the world. At least the pH of baby shampoo is sympathetic to your dog's skin and there is less risk of irritation or stripping away precious oil.

In this example, the benefits of washing away bacteria-laden mud (with the potential to cause dermatitis) are outweighed by the slight chance of skin irritation. If you are hesitant to use baby shampoo, give your dog a dry shampoo by applying baking soda. Sprinkle it on, leave for ten minutes and then thoroughly brush out making sure all of the grit is gone. Baking soda, oatmeal, and water make a nice paste-like shampoo that soothes dry skin. This natural shampoo will take a bit of rinsing, so use this if you have a patient dog that doesn't mind sitting still for a lengthy rinse.

With one-off use, the risks of using shampoo alternatives are minimal, but go and restock with your favorite doggy shampoo before their next bath. But remember, dog shampoos aren't a gimmick. They can and do make a real difference to the health of your dog's skin, so keep your shampoo for personal use and just this once don't share with your best buddy, but keep a stock of their own product.

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