Can You Use Your Human Shampoo On Dogs? What Science Says

Written by Amber LaRock
Updated: August 24, 2023
© WilleeCole Photography/
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No matter how much we love our dogs, there is no denying that they grow smelly from time to time. Out of convenience, some pet parents wonder if they can simply reach for their human shampoo when it is time to bathe their pup. Human shampoo is safe for our hair and skin, so is it safe for dogs as well?

In this article, we dive into the details of why you should never use human shampoo on your dog. We also review the potential complications that come along with bathing your dog with a human hair care product.

Here we go!

Dandruff shampoo for dogs
You should never use human shampoo on your dog.


Dog Skin & Human Skin Are Very Different

It’s important to understand the differences between human and dog skin. These differences make it important to only use dog approved products on your pup. Dogs have a delicate balance of pH and natural oils that is unique to them.

While people have 18-20 cell layers that make up their epidermis, dogs only have 8-10. This means their skin is much more sensitive and at risk of irritation if protective skin oils are disrupted. Additionally, dogs have an entirely difference pH on the surface of their skin.

Both dogs and humans have a skin layer called the acid mantle. The acid mantle refers to the thin layer of oil that covers the surface of the skin. It essentially serves as a skin barrier. The pH of the acid mantle on humans is typically very acidic (around 5.6). The dog’s acid mantle pH is more neutral (6.2-7.3). Human hair care products are designed for acidic acid mantles only.

When you use a human shampoo on your dog, it can severely disrupt the natural pH balance on the surface of the skin. Because their acid mantle serves as a protective barrier, any damage to this barrier can put them at risk of skin infections and skin parasites. It can also lead to irritating dryness and skin cracking.

why do dogs lick themselves
Using human shampoo can lead to irritating dryness and skin cracking.

©Rattanapon Ninlapoom/

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Dogs?

No, we do not recommend using any kind of human shampoo on dogs. The only shampoo or skin care products you should use on your pup are ones specifically designed for dogs. Any other products can cause severe skin irritation and damage. No matter how gentle a human hair care product claims to be, you should never use it on your dog.

Dangers Of Using Human Shampoo on Dogs

Complications can occur when using human shampoo on your dog. Ranging from skin irritation to skin infections, we break down the risks below.

Immediate Skin Irritation

Human shampoos contain fragrances. This means that some dogs develop immediate skin irritation after their bath, while some may even be allergic to certain human shampoos. Human shampoo in dogs can cause skin redness, itchy skin, skin rashes, hives, and even fur loss in some cases.

Severe Skin Dryness

Human shampoo will strip your dog of his natural skin oils. These natural oils not only offer the dog’s skin protection, but they also help to hydrate the skin and coat. The loss of these natural oils quickly leads to dry skin, itching, and even cracked skin. Not only is this irritating for your dog, but it will cause them to scratch, which only further traumatizes the skin. Constantly scratching and biting also increases the risk of infection.

dog with flaky skin
Human shampoos can put a dog at risk of bacterial or viral skin infections.

©natnaree sangkaew/

Bacterial Or Viral Skin Infections

Because the oils on the outer layer of skin serve as protection, compromising this layer can allow bacteria and viruses to attack.

Scratching and biting at dry skin can lead to minor injuries that compromise the skin surface. This offers bacteria and viruses a point of entry into the skin layers, which in turn can lead to infection.

Skin Mites

Skin mites like to take advantage of your pup’s compromised skin too. A healthy pup typically fights off these critters when skin oils are in balance. But when natural protection is disturbed, skin mites can lead to patches of fur loss, itching, skin infections, sores, and even systemic infections in severe cases.

A pug scratching on a white background
Bacteria, viruses, and skin mites can make a home out of your dog’s skin when it is compromised.


Will One Bath with Human Shampoo Harm My Dog?

If you have no other option, is it okay to use human shampoo just once?

In most situations, one use of human shampoo is okay. Most of these complications arise with repeated use of human shampoo, so a one-time bathing emergency won’t likely cause any serious harm to your pup. However, some dogs have allergic reactions to human shampoos, even after a single use. We suggest keeping an eye out for any skin irritation in the 12-72 hours that follow.

The best way to prepare for a smelly dog emergency is to have a bottle of dog shampoo in your home at all times. You can find a quality dog shampoo at any pet store, and even at your local supermarket in some cases. A dog shampoo with soothing agents like oatmeal or aloe are typically best.

Should I Use Baby Shampoo on My Dog?

If it ever comes down to using human shampoo or baby shampoo in a smelly dog emergency, we suggest going for the baby shampoo. This shampoo is not for regular use, but it will be less harsh than adult shampoos and will likely decrease the risk of skin irritation. Again, this is only when you are in a pinch and don’t have a dog shampoo on hand, because it is still not ideal for our canine friends.

Muddy Dog
Between human shampoo or baby shampoo in a smelly emergency, we suggest the baby shampoo.

©Cindy Hughes/

Final Thoughts

Human shampoo is not a suitable bathing option for the beloved dogs in our life. We suggest keeping a dog shampoo in your home at all times, so you will always have a way to clean your furry friend.

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The Featured Image

A dogue de bordeaux puppy getting a bath on white background
A well-made dog bathtub should be durable, easy to clean, and safe for your pet.
© WilleeCole Photography/

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About the Author

My name is Amber, and I am a Licensed Vet Tech with a degree in Veterinary Technology. My love for animals and their pet parents drove me to work remotely in this field, aiming to provide pet education and guidance whenever it's needed. There’s nothing I love more than helping you feel empowered about your dog or cat’s care!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can I use human shampoo on my dog?

The short answer is no. It is not good for their skin and its protective barrier. In a pinch, sure you can use it, but don’t make a habit of it.

Could I use baby shampoo on my dog?

If it ever comes down to using either human shampoo or baby shampoo in a smelly dog emergency, we always suggest going for the baby shampoo. This shampoo is not for regular use, but it will be less harsh than adult shampoos and will likely decrease the risk of skin irritation.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.