Can You Use Human Shampoo on Dogs?

Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
By Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
Updated: 6/4/20242-4 minutes
Dog owner bathes Labrador Retriever in tub

Maybe it's happened to you a time or two. You have every good intention of giving your dog a bath only to find out you’re out of dog shampoo. You might start thinking, Can you use human shampoo on dogs? With no dog shampoo, what can I use? Before you resort to various alternatives around your house, there are a few things to think about before you reach for human shampoo. This article will give you helpful information about what’s acceptable and what to avoid when it comes to safe dog shampoos.

Dog Shampoo vs. Human Shampoo

If you’ve discovered you’re out of dog shampoo, your mind might wander to the possibility of using your own shampoo. But human shampoo on dogs is not recommended for the following reasons.

1. Dogs Need a Gentle Cleansing Shampoo

Remember that dogs’ skin is different from human skin. The manufacturers behind dog shampoos bear this in mind when formulating dog shampoos to ensure that they’re gentle and won’t harm or irritate your dog’s skin. So when it comes to considering dog shampoo substitutes, keep in mind that gentle is best. 

2. Dog Skin Has a Different pH Than Human Skin

As much as we love our dogs and constantly recognize the similarities between us, we should always remember that their bodies are different than ours. In the case of our skin, human skin is more acidic than dog skin, so shampoo manufacturers formulate their products with a human pH of 5.4 to 5.9. On the other hand, dogs’ pH typically falls between 6.2 to 7.4. This difference in pH is an important factor when considering dog shampoo vs. human shampoo.

3. Skin and Coat Issues May Arise From Human Shampoos

If you wash a dog with human shampoo, issues can arise with overbathing and drying out your dog’s skin. When you shampoo a dog with human shampoo, it can start to wash away your dog’s acid mantle. The mantle is a layer of their skin that works as an important barrier that wards off viruses and bacteria. If this layer is stripped away, it can actually create an unwelcome scent. This often sends dog owners into a cycle of overbathing to rid the new smell which can ultimately result in dry, itchy and irritated skin for the dog. It also exposes their skin to bacteria as the protective layer diminishes. Therefore, to keep your dog’s skin safe, human shampoo for dogs should be avoided.

When it comes to the question of Can dogs use human shampoo?, it’s best to leave it to the humans. Always choose a shampoo that’s specifically formulated for dogs.

What’s the Best Shampoo for Your Dog?

The best shampoo for dogs is one that is specifically formulated for their skin and coat. It should also be gentle with no harsh chemicals. Two ingredients, in particular, are ones to look for in a dog shampoo – taurate and sodium laureth sulfate. If the ingredient list doesn’t contain both of these ingredients, that’s okay. One of them will do just fine. But both are effective in cleansing without damaging your dog’s skin.

If your dog has especially itchy or sensitive skin, it’s best to consult your vet to determine the best shampoo for your dog. They may recommend a homemade dog shampoo that you can create at home, or they may prescribe a medicinal shampoo to combat any itchy or dry skin issues your dog may be experiencing.

Dog Shampoo Alternatives (For When You’re Out)

We’ve addressed the question of, Can you use regular shampoo on dogs? But if you’ve found yourself without dog shampoo, there are common dog shampoo alternatives that you may be considering. The internet is chock full of ideas for alternatives, but they’re not all guaranteed to be safe. And when it comes to the health of your dog and maintaining their skin and coat, you don’t want to take any chances.

The Q&A-style chart below outlines a few dog shampoo alternatives with important safety considerations for each. 

QuestionAnswer
Can you use baby shampoo on dogs?You may be able to find a baby shampoo with neutral pH levels that won’t dry or irritate the skin, but once again, baby shampoo is formulated for human skin – not dog skin. It’s best to avoid baby shampoo on dogs despite claims about being gentle.
Can you use baby wipes on dogs?While baby wipes are often associated with being gentle for a baby’s skin, they are still not formulated for dogs. For the same reasons mentioned previously about the difference in human pH vs. dog pH, baby wipes should also be avoided.
Can you use dish soap on dogs?Contrary to popular belief, dish soap should not be used on dogs. Dish soap is designed to cut through grease and grime, and this is not an approach that should be taken when cleansing your dog’s delicate skin.
Can you use homemade dog shampoo on dogs?Homemade shampoos can give you the peace of mind of knowing what’s in your dog’s shampoo. However, it’s best to consult your veterinarian as there are many homemade recipes across the internet that may or may not be beneficial to your dog. Your vet is best suited to assess your dog’s skin and coat needs and recommend whether a homemade shampoo is a potential solution for you and your dog.

Can you wash a dog with human shampoo? Based on the information in this article, your safest bet is to stick with dog-specific shampoos. And when considering other alternatives, know that your dog’s skin has unique needs that are different from what our human skin needs. Skin and coat health is an important part of your dog’s everyday health and well-being, and it isn’t worth the risk of irritating or harming their skin for the convenience and quick fix that comes with using human shampoo.

When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian – especially if you suspect your dog is having skin issues that might require more care and attention than regular bathing and cleansing.

For more expert tips on grooming your dog, explore our other dog routine care articles

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