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Can You Use Dog Shampoo on Cats? Is It as Effective for Cleaning Them?

Luxifa Le

By Luxifa Le

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

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.

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.

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 won’t 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’ll scratch, and this scratching will damage the skin. When the skin is heavily damaged in this way, it can actually promote the cultivation of parasite infestations, defeating the purpose of having bathed your cat.

cat bath
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

Is Dog Shampoo Dangerous for Cats?

Dog shampoo can be dangerous for cats because many dog shampoos contain permethrins. However, these pesticide compounds are safe for dogs and don’t have any significant long-term or short-term adverse effects.

However, permethrin is toxic to cats. If your cat accidentally ingests the shampoo while being bathed or happens to have an open wound somewhere on their body, they could become the victim of permethrin poisoning. Permethrin poisoning can even occur when the cat inhales permethrins in the air as they’re being bathed.

woman bathing a cat
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

Symptoms of Permethrin Poisoning

If you’ve already bathed your cat with dog shampoo and are noticing that your cat is acting unusual, check the ingredients to ensure that the shampoo is permethrin-free.

If the shampoo is not listed as permethrin-free or safe for cats, you should take your cat in for evaluation and observation by a veterinarian. In severe cases, permethrin poisoning can cause serious long-term health effects or even death in cats.

Common symptoms of permethrin poisoning include:

  • Overproduction of saliva
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Lack of coordination
  • Respiratory distress or difficult breathing
cat vomiting
Image Credit: Tunatura, Shutterstock

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Cats?

Human shampoos contain many chemicals and compounds too harsh for a cat’s skin. Therefore, using a 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 baby shampoo contains too many harsh chemicals for a cat’s sensitive skin.

These chemicals can cause kidney and liver failure. You should never use human washing products on a cat.

What to Do If You Don’t Have Cat Shampoo

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

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.

Persian cat bathing
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

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 dog shampoo, provided that the formula is permethrin-free. If the recipe isn’t listed as being permethrin-free, you should really just hack it with plain water for 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.

Final Thoughts

It can be tough to figure out what products we have that are safe for our cats. Unfortunately, dog shampoo isn’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 physical needs; it can also be dangerous 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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