Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Dogs? Maintaining Your Dog's Skin pH


The Best Shampoo for Your Dog is Not Your Human Shampoo!


The dog needs a bath, it's after 6 p.m. on a weekday, and you don't have any dog shampoo on hand. Let's concede that human shampoo will clean your dog, but the question is, is it good for your dog? This may seem like a quibbling question, but it can actually have far-reaching consequences.


We'll start with the how's of people skin and dog skin. A highly important component of skin is what is called the acid mantle. This is a lightly acidic layer that covers the skin, serving as a barrier to protect the porous topmost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, from environmental contaminants such as bacteria and viruses. The stratum corneum is responsible for keeping the outer body well hydrated, by absorbing water and not allowing excessive evaporation to occur. When we bathe, using soaps and shampoos, we wash away this layer of acidic oil. This is why most human shampoos and soaps are formulated with moisturizers to replace the protective layer that has been scrubbed away, at least until the skin is able to replenish itself around 12 hours later. If the stratum corneum is left stripped and unprotected, it is open to a host of microorganisms, which may present as dry, flaky skin, irritated, peeling skin, or as a rash of itchy bumps.


The acid mantle can also be defined as the relative pH balance of the skin. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with levels less than 6.4 considered high acidity, and levels more than 6.4 considered high alkalinity. The normal range of skin pH levels for humans is 5.2 to 6.2, which means it tends to be on the acidic side, and shampoos and skin products are formulated specifically to maintain this balance.


Now consider the relative pH balance for dogs. Depending on breed, gender, climate, and the anatomical size on the dog, the pH levels range from 5.5 to 7.5, tending toward a more alkaline concentration. Therefore, if a shampoo that is formulated for human skin is used on a dog, the dog's acid mantle will be disrupted, creating an environment where bacteria, parasites, and viruses can run rampant. Unknowingly, many pet owners will repeat washings of their dogs because of the smell caused by a proliferation of bacteria, making the problem worse as the skin's acid mantle/pH level becomes more imbalanced. Additionally, if the shampoo makes the skin feel dry, your dog will scratch at its skin, creating abrasions for bacteria to invade. It quickly becomes a vicious cycle.


What Can I Wash My Dog With?


Just as you would look for a shampoo that helps maintain the pH balance of your own scalp, you should also concentrate on finding a shampoo with a pH balance that is specifically balanced for a dog's skin. Dog shampoos should be in the neutral range, around 7. Many shampoo manufacturers will include the pH level on the label, but at the very least, they will clearly state that the shampoo is pH-balanced for dogs.


Do read the labels, making sure that there are no artificial fragrances or colors added to the shampoo. Your dog may be a big strong guy and still have sensitive skin. Look for natural skin moisturizers like vitamin E, aloe vera, honey, and tea tree oil. Fragrances to look for should be natural; chamomile, lavender, eucalyptus, and citrus are some examples of clean, pleasant fragrances, some of which also do double duty as insect repellents. If you can find organic or natural dog shampoos, even better, but don't rely on the front label alone. Again, read the ingredients list.


Your dog doesn't need to be washed with shampoo on a regular basis. A good cleaning every few months is all your dog needs (you can give water baths in between), so you can splurge a little on a shampoo with quality ingredients when you weigh the overall time you will be using it. One bottle can last a year, even if you only shampoo your dog once a month. So go for the good stuff, and you won't mind when your dog places his paws on your lap for a friendly hug.


Image: kudrashka-a / Shutterstock

Comments  6

Leave Comment
  • Balm for dry / itchy skin
    02/16/2013 08:17pm

    Is it okay to use an all-purpose balm for itchy skin? The ingredients are 0.3% Hydroxquinoline Sulfate in a base containing petrolatum, lanoling, cetyhl alcohol and purified water.

  • 05/14/2013 10:48pm

    Are you referring to Bag Balm? That product was formulated for cow udders and your vet will probably give the OK for use on small scrapes.. I personally use Organic Coconut Oil, which is antibacterial, antiparasitic, and if your pet licks it off it is non-toxic. If your dog absorbs it, it won't hurt him (unless you are globbing it on constantly and he constantly licks it off)

  • I've made mistakes
    05/03/2013 12:42am

    I was told by a vet that it was OK to use human dandruff shampoo for dogs with itchy skin...Boy was I misinformed and I can see where it caused unnecessary problems for my dog

  • Wrong! Tea tree oil toxic
    08/12/2014 03:41am

    Tea Tree Oil Toxicity for Pets http://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/ken-tudor/2014/january/tea-tree-oil-safe-pets-31282

    Tea tree oil contains various types of chemicals called terpenes. These are the chemicals that make the oil effective against bacteria and fungi. They are also the toxic agent. Terpenes are rapidly absorbed into the body whether taken orally or on the skin. This means topical application of concentrated oil can result in the same toxicity as accidental oral ingestion. Given the tendency of pets to groom, especially cats, the toxicity risk of topical applications is amplified.

    Symptoms of toxicity vary depending on the dose of terpenes ingested. Minor symptoms like drooling or vomiting may be found with mild doses of oil. Animals with moderate illness may appear weak, have difficulty walking, or seem partially paralyzed. Severely ill animals have life-threating symptoms like tremors, seizures, greatly reduced level of consciousness, or coma. Symptoms follow 2 to 12 hours after exposure.

  • This is a myth
    08/22/2014 08:24pm

    This is a myth. According to studies by Matousek, Campbell, Kakoma, and Schaeffer, they concluded that...

    "There is no scientific evidence that shampoo having a pH of 5.0-­‐6.0 is harmful to pet skin. In fact, many pet shampoos share that pH range with human shampoos. There are, however, good reasons to use a good pet shampoo on dogs: Shampoos formulated for canine hair are designed to clean well and are often geared toward specific jobs or coat types. Human shampoos are designed for daily or weekly use and may not clean a dirty dog well. They are also mostly formulated to soften hair, which may not be desirable when scissoring a Bichon or maintaining a terrier coat. Human hair shampoos are less likely to have ingredients for whitening, promoting deshedding, or serious deodorizing."

    In short, it's ok to use human shampoo. I've tested this myself with ph strips and the ph range has a lot of overlap. My sample was small though.

  • Bath Fear
    09/08/2014 12:27pm

    Hello, i adopted a girl mini pincher dog a year ago. She is about 3 years old. but she afraid water, and i don't know how to make her love it. I taking her in a grooming centers but she is never enjoying it, actually after bath she so scared and trembling. i wanna help her to enjoying her bath.. I also tried to make her a bath and playing with her but nothing.. if you know how to solve it i would appreciate your help. really!!!