Can you use human shampoo on dogs?

Golden retriever with stick in leaves

There’s nothing worse than coming home with a severely mucky pup after a long walk out. Whether he’s rolled in something that’s left him with an unsavoury odour or treated himself to a mud spa and facial, you’re inevitably going to want to give him an emergency bath once you get home. If he usually goes to the groomers and you’re faced with the tricky situation of an emergency bath, it’s always tempting to use human shampoo on your dog. But just how safe is it to do so? At Groomers, we’ve rounded up all of the pros and cons so you can make the right decisions to keep your furry friend safe when it comes to doggy bath time.

Can you wash a dog with human shampoo?

Dog with shampoo on his head

There is much debate within the pet community as to whether human shampoo should be used on dogs. Even though human shampoo will clean your dog, this doesn’t necessarily make it a safe option. Although your dog’s fur may appear soft and shiny, its skin could really suffer as a result. 

The pH balance, the acid mantle and a dog’s skin

The top layer of skin, called the stratum corneum, is protected by a thin layer known as the acid mantle, which prevents the skin from coming into contact with viruses, bacteria and contaminants. The acid mantle is also responsible for keeping the body hydrated by absorbing water and reducing evaporation. As bathing and washing strips the skin of its acid mantle, most shampoos and soaps contain ingredients that moisturise and protect the skin until the acid mantle renews itself. For the acid mantle to work efficiently, there needs to be a proper balance between acidity and alkalinity, known as the pH balance.

Dogs and humans have very differing Ph balances. The normal skin balance for humans on the pH scale is 5.5 to 5.6 which leans to the acidic side, whereas dogs have a normal balance of 6.2 to 7.4 which is more neutral. As human shampoo is tailored to a more acidic acid mantle, using it on dogs can disrupt theirs, leaving their skin dry and flaky and more seriously, vulnerable to parasites, bacteria and viruses. The irritation can encourage scratching too which can lead to abrasions and wounds forming and an increased chance of bacteria taking hold. So, whilst it might seem like a good idea to use human shampoo on your dog, it can actually be very damaging to their skin.

What is the best shampoo for dogs? 

It should go without saying, but dog shampoo should always be your number one choice when bathing your dog. You want what’s best for your dog, so treat them to a shampoo specifically made for them. Dog shampoos are specially designed for both the coat and skin of your furry friend and with a vast array of options available to suit their breed and coat type, whether they need detangling shampoo or medicated dog shampoo, they’re the perfect pick for your pooch. Plus, dog shampoos are designed to lather more easily than human shampoo, meaning you’ll need to use much more human shampoo for a similar wash!

What can I use as a substitute for dog shampoo?

Dog in the bath

If an emergency bath is essential, you’re out of pet shampoo and clean warm water isn’t working, use regular human shampoo as a very last resort. Where possible, look out for pH levels and try to choose a shampoo with a neutral pH range as close to 7 as possible. Human shampoo won’t harm your dog as a one-off but is definitely not recommended as a long term bathing solution. Keep away from human shampoos with added fragrance or colour, as these will be particularly harsh on your pet’s skin. 

Can I use baby shampoo on my dog?

Baby shampoo is generally a better option than regular shampoo as it is clear, odourless and gentle. If your dog has particularly sensitive skin, baby shampoo can be a good choice to combat this as it contains milder ingredients than regular shampoos. Most baby shampoos are water-based and only contain glycerin for smoothness, potassium acrylates copolymer as a thickening agent and sodium trideceth sulfate, as a mild, low-irritation cleansing agent. Most importantly, baby shampoo has a Ph level of around 7, the perfect number for dogs. Baby shampoo is a safe, one-off substitute for dog shampoo, but to keep your furry friend happy and healthy long term it’s best to make a conscious effort to have their favourite dog shampoo stocked up at all times.

Can I spray my dog with vinegar and water?

If you search the internet, there are many home remedies offering alternative solutions for when you’ve run out of dog shampoo. However, we’d suggest that you always consult your vet or dog groomer before using anything unusual on your dog’s skin to avoid upsetting its pH levels or worse, causing a lasting injury to your dog.

Now we’ve looked at all of the facts, it’s clear to see that whilst using human shampoo on your dog as a one-off is technically safe in that it won’t cause instant harm, it shouldn’t be a long term solution. Human shampoo will upset the pH balance of your dog’s coat, dry out their skin and lead to skin problems, so why put your four-legged friend at risk? Avoid any suggested home remedies that you’re not sure of too and if in doubt, always consult a vet before putting anything new onto your dog’s coat and skin.

The best way to avoid using human shampoo on your dog is to keep your dog shampoo collection stocked up for emergencies! Find the perfect option for you and your pooch, by exploring the full range of dog shampoo and conditioner at Groomers. With options to suit oily coats, knotted coats and even specialised shampoos for anxious dogs, you’re sure to discover your new bath-time go-to from our extensive range.

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