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Can You Use Dog Shampoo on Cats? Vet-Verified Toxicity Facts and Safe Options

Luxifa Le

By Luxifa Le

Gray cat and a Brussels Griffon dog wash on a blue background

Vet approved

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Pet parents who have multi-pet households might wonder if they can use their dog’s shampoo on their cats. But this gambit can have potentially fatal consequences for your cat. Dog shampoo is made with safe ingredients for dogs; however, some of those ingredients can be toxic for cats. So, you should avoid using dog shampoo with your cat to be safe.

hepper cat paw divider

The Subtle Differences in Cat and Dog Fur

Cat and dog hair have different needs when it comes to cleaning. Cat hair is generally more delicate and softer than dog or human hair. Cat hair also tends to be shorter than dog hair on average, but long-haired cats can have fur as long as six inches.

Cat hair bends more easily than dog hair, which is coarser and springier. As a result, dog hair will retain its shape better, but cat hair is easier to manage and detangle.

These differences mean that cats and dogs have subtle differences in their grooming needs. As such, not every product will be appropriate for use by both animals. Furthermore, cats don’t generally need bathing since they are able to keep their coat in great shape thanks to their grooming habits.

cat and dog together on sofa
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Is Dog Shampoo Effective at Cleaning Cats?

Provided that the shampoo is safe for cats, a dog shampoo will clean a cat just as effectively as a species-specific shampoo. The difference isn’t in whether the cat will be clean after the bath; the difference lies in the qualities of the skin and the fur.

While a single bath with a cat-safe dog shampoo will not significantly affect a cat’s long-term health outcomes, regular use of inappropriate products can irritate the skin and leave the cat’s skin dry and itchy.

When your cat gets itchy, they will scratch, and this scratching will damage the skin. When the skin is heavily damaged in this way, it can promote infections and a great deal of discomfort, totally defeating the purpose of having bathed your cat.

Is Dog Shampoo Dangerous for Cats?

Dog shampoos can be dangerous for cats when they contain permethrins. Flea and tick shampoos can contain these compounds that are safe for dogs and don’t have any significant long-term or short-term adverse effects.

However, permethrin is highly toxic to cats¹. If your cat is bathed in this shampoo, they could become the victim of permethrin poisoning.

woman bathing a cat
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

Signs of Permethrin Poisoning

If you have already bathed your cat with dog shampoo and are noticing that your cat is acting unusual, take your cat to your vet immediately and bring the bottle of shampoo with you.

Permethrin poisoning can be deadly and should never be ignored.

Common symptoms of permethrin poisoning include:

  • Drooling
  • Tremors
  • Twitching
  • Dilated pupils
  • Changes in body temperature
  • Rapid breathing

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Cats?

Human shampoos contain many chemicals and compounds that are too harsh for a cat’s skin. Therefore, using human shampoo should be a last resort; even plain water is better for cleaning cats than human shampoo.

Parabens, sulfates, isopropyl alcohol, and other preservatives used in human shampoo production are generally considered too harsh for a cat’s skin. Even some baby shampoo may contain too many harsh chemicals for a cat’s sensitive skin.

Bathing your pet can be challenging, but the right shampoo will make it a lot easier! We have two favorite shampoos for the job, both are safe, all-natural shampoos designed with your pets in mind. Our soothing shampoos are pH balanced, made in the USA, and free of glutens, dyes, sulfates, and phthalates. Here’s a quick guide to help you choose the right option for your pet’s next bath!

Hepper Oatmeal pet shampoo
Hepper Colloidal Oatmeal Pet Shampoo

Hepper Waterless No Rinse Pet Shampoo
Natural cucumber & aloe scent
Natural cucumber & aloe scent:
Natural cucumber & aloe scent:
Safe for cats & dogs
Safe for cats & dogs:
Safe for cats & dogs:
Rinsing required
Rinsing required:
Rinsing required:
Free of harsh chemicals & nasty ingredients
Free of harsh chemicals & nasty ingredients:
Free of harsh chemicals & nasty ingredients:
Lathers easily
Lathers easily:
Lathers easily:


What to Do If You Don’t Have Cat Shampoo

Cats don’t generally need to be bathed. However, even when a cat gets old and may neglect their self-care, regular bathing by a professional groomer is usually enough to keep your cat smelling fresh for a few weeks or months.

Never fear if you don’t have cat shampoo, but your cat desperately needs a bath. You can always bathe your cat in plain water. While it might seem like it’s not enough to get your cat clean, your cat usually cleans themselves with just saliva; running water is already a step up.

If your cat has some localized grime that they’ve gotten themselves into, consider using plain water and a washcloth to wash the dirt out of their fur. This spot cleaning will be more comfortable for your cat than being submerged in water and is easier for you to dry up.

In the case of an actual cat bathing emergency, you can use regular dog shampoo, provided that the formula is permethrin-free. If the recipe isn’t listed as being permethrin-free, you should double check with your vet to ensure your cat’s safety.

If you happen to store chlorhexidine in your house, you can dilute this antiseptic for use as an emergency cat bath wash. However, this should not be used regularly as this can dry the skin out and leave your cat itchy and irritated.

Your best bet is to purchase some cat-safe shampoo in advance. While you’re unlikely to need it regularly, your cat will thank you if you ever come upon an emergency where it’s useful. There are many different kinds of cat shampoo products, from traditional bath shampoos to waterless leave-in shampoos that you can use to clean your cat up if they need your help.

cat bath
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

hepper cat paw divider

Final Thoughts

If you need to bathe your cat you should use cat-friendly shampoo to be on the safe side. Some shampoos are suitable for both species, so speak to your vet if you want to keep a single option for both pets. Unfortunately, generally speaking, dog shampoos aren’t safe for cats, and you should avoid using dog shampoo on your cat wherever possible. But dog shampoo isn’t just inappropriate for a cat’s body needs; it can also be deadly for your cat.

Once again, if you have bathed your cat using dog shampoo and are worried about possible toxicity, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your cat needs to be brought in for observation. They can help you give your cat the best possible care.

Featured Image Credit: Okssi, Shutterstock

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