Veterinarians are often asked about which products owners should use to care for their dogs. A very common query from pet parents is about the shampoo they should use to bathe their dogs. There is no one answer that fits all dogs and all situations, but in general, if not using a dog-specific shampoo, human baby shampoo is a safe choice for most dogs.
Can You Use Baby Shampoo on Dogs?
Baby shampoo, such as Johnson and Johnson, may be used on dogs. Baby shampoo is typically gentle and free from harsh and irritating ingredients. It also has the added benefit of being “tear free,” meaning it will not damage a dog’s eyes if a small amount is inadvertently splashed into them.
Every dog is an individual, and it is always possible for a dog to have an allergy to a shampoo, even human baby shampoo.
When to Consider Baby Shampoo for Your Dog
In general, it is a good idea to purchase a pet-specific shampoo for your dog. Shampoos designed specifically for dogs have a more appropriate pH for dogs' skin and may contain ingredients to optimize skin and coat care. Oatmeal-based shampoos and shampoos containing ceramides can be extra moisturizing for our canine companions' skin, which has a different makeup, including pH, structure, and microflora, than human skin. There are also medicated shampoos that can be integral to the treatment of many skin conditions in dogs. If your pet has a skin issue, talk with your veterinarian about what shampoo may help.
However, human baby shampoo may be an acceptable choice for healthy dogs with no skin issues as well as puppies and dogs that are squirmy in the bath. Unfortunately, dogs may develop painful lesions and burns on their corneas due to accidental exposure of their eyes to shampoo during a bath. This is seen in dogs bathed at home as well as dogs being bathed by professional dog groomers. A dog that squirms or flails while being bathed is at higher risk of this accidental injury.
If you are worried about accidentally getting shampoo in your dog’s eyes, human baby shampoo may be a fine choice for your dog’s bath time. Though as much care as possible should still be taken to avoid getting shampoo into the dog’s eyes, human baby shampoo will not damage the corneas the way regular shampoo, both dog and human, will.
Another instance when you may want to consider using human baby shampoo for your dog’s bath is in the case of sensitive skin. Though these shampoos are not medicated and will not treat skin conditions, they are typically gentle and free from harsh ingredients. This formula may be helpful if bathing irritates your dog’s sensitive skin. Regardless of the shampoo used, it is essential to thoroughly rinse out all shampoo from your dog’s coat. It is also important to use cool water for bathing and rinsing your dog, as dogs are more sensitive to warm water, which can make bathing uncomfortable for them.
How to Choose the Right Dog Shampoo
Suppose your dog suffers from a skin condition such as infections, parasites, or allergies. In that case, you will need to consult your veterinarian to find a medicated shampoo to help soothe and cure the skin condition.
For healthy dogs without skin conditions, there are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing an appropriate dog shampoo. First, remember that dog skin and human skin are not the same. One difference is that they have different pH balances. Human skin has a normal pH balance between 5.5-5.6, which is acidic. On the other hand, dogs have a normal pH balance between 6.2 and 7.4, which is neutral and less acidic.
Shampoos intended for the human scalp may disrupt a dog’s pH. This disruption may lead to irritation, dry skin, and itching. These issues are more likely to be seen in dogs that are bathed frequently or not thoroughly rinsed as well as dogs that have sensitive skin.
Always read the ingredient list of any shampoo you are considering using on your dog. Look for shampoos specially formulated for a dog’s skin. You may want to consider a moisturizing shampoo if your dog lives in a dry climate or has a history of dry, flaky skin.
It is important to avoid harsh or toxic ingredients. Shampoos designed to fight fleas and ticks are typically ineffective against these fleas as they cannot control the immature stages of the parasite, which, though unable to be detected with the naked eye, make up 95 percent of the flea population. The chemicals in these shampoos are also notorious for causing severe reactions such as seizures.
Dogs and humans have different skin types and also other needs for shampoos. Dogs with skin conditions may find significant relief from being bathed with appropriate shampoos. Baby shampoo can be a safe and gentle alternative for dogs with normal skin and may be especially helpful to use on puppies and dogs that squirm during bath time. It would be best if you spoke to your veterinarian about what is the best choice for your dog.
Matousek JL, Campbell KL, Kakoma I, Solter PF, Schaeffer DJ. Evaluation of the effect of pH on in vitro growth of Malassezia pachydermatis. Can J Vet Res. 2003 Jan;67(1):56-9. PMID: 12528830; PMCID: PMC227028.
Flea Control. Oklahoma State University. https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/flea-control.html#:~:text=In%20most%20circumstances%2C%2095%20percent,is%20in%20these%20source%20points.