Picture this: you hear the soft padding of your dog approaching. She’s just been outside for a potty break, and you’d left her in the yard for a bit to get some fresh air. The moment she steps into your house, you see how muddy she is. You open the cabinet, but there’s no more dog shampoo. As your muddy dog leaps up onto your sofa, you watch in horror. Then, you remember you have some Dove soap. But can you even use Dove soap on a dog?
The short answer is “if you have to.” Dove and other human-grade products should ideally not be used on dogs. Human-grade products can contain chemicals that are non-toxic for humans but toxic for dogs. Additionally, humans and dogs have different needs for cleanliness products, and human-grade ones aren’t designed for dogs’ needs. However, if it’s an actual emergency bath and you only do it once, your dog won’t likely see any adverse effects. Just don’t do it more than once.
Basic or Acidic: The pH Balance of Skin
Human skin has a thin layer on top called the acid mantle. The acid mantle protects the topmost skin layer—the stratum corneum—from pathogens and other contaminants. It also contributes to the body’s hydration by absorbing water and reducing water evaporation from the body. Yet dogs do not have this layer.
We don’t just wash away the bad stuff when we wash our bodies. We wash away the good stuff as well, including the acid mantle. To help counter this effect, most soaps and shampoos include ingredients meant to moisturize the skin and protect it until the acid mantle regenerates. But, for the acid mantle to restore and do its job, the skin needs to be kept in a proper state to foster its development; the skin must have the correct balance of alkalinity and acidity—or pH balance.
Dogs’ skin has a pH of about 6.2–7.4, which is approximately neutral on the pH scale. On the other hand, humans’ skin has a pH of about 5.5–5.6, markedly more acidic than dogs’ skin. Using a human-grade shampoo on your dog will disrupt pH, making your dog’s skin feel dry and itchy. Scratching damage can make it easy for bacteria, viruses, and parasites to infect your dog since the acid mantle doesn’t adequately protect their skin.
Additionally, dogs’ skin is thinner and more sensitive than ours. Dogs’ skin has 3–5 layers of cells while ours has 10–15. Damage to a dog’s skin is often more severe than to humans’ because the skin is so thin.
Is Dove Soap Toxic for Dogs?
Dove soap is not toxic for dogs; it’s even non-toxic when ingested in small amounts (though it is not food and should not be ingested at all.) However, just because something isn’t toxic doesn’t mean you can use it on someone without incurring adverse effects. For instance, Dawn dish soap isn’t harmful to humans, but you would probably balk at showering with Dawn regularly. It would help if you kept that thought process going for your dog when using human-grade soaps on them.
Can I Use Baby Soaps on My Dog?
While baby soaps are gentler than soaps formulated for adults, they’re still formulated for skin within the pH range of a human and are too harsh for a dog’s skin. Even baby soaps should not be used on dogs because they can disrupt the skin’s pH and dry out your dog’s skin.
Can I Bathe My Dog with Dawn Dish Soap?
Dawn Dish Soap has been famous in the animal community for a few years due to its effectiveness at cleaning up animals who had been caught in the effects of an oil spill. This has left more than a few pet parents wondering if they can employ their dish soap double duty as a dog shampoo.
Dawn Dish Soap on its own should not be used as a dog shampoo. It contains many harsh chemicals—the same ones that allow it to so effectively fight grease—that would not be present in a shampoo formulated for dogs. However, you shouldn’t put the Dawn away entirely. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has a recipe for a homemade dog shampoo that uses dish soap.
Homemade Dog Shampoo
If you’re thrifty or a DIY-er, the AKC has you covered with recipes for dog shampoos using household products; they even have a special recipe for dogs who have dry skin!
If your dog has chronic dry skin, you might want to use a gentler soap. Mix one quart of water, one cup of gentle dish soap, one cup of white vinegar, ⅓ cup of glycerin, and two tablespoons of aloe vera gel in a spray bottle and shake. Spray this on your dog and lather him up, then rinse thoroughly. Better yet use one of the many shampoos available and specifically designed for skin troubles.
Unfortunately, you can’t get the extra big bottle of shampoo and bathe your dog with your shampoo to save money because the products will dry out your dog’s skin. The best way to handle a potential dog bath emergency is forethought and planning. Make sure you always stock dog shampoo, just as you would shampoo your own hair. That way, you’ll never be caught in a situation where you need dog shampoo but don’t have it. But in a pinch, you can use the Dove.