Baby shampoos might seem handy, especially if you ran out of dog shampoo and your dog has been a naughty boy and needs an immediate shower. But is it safe?
In my 12 years of veterinary practice, I had my share of dogs with dry, irritated skin. Some problems could be directly traced to the owner’s shampoo choices. If a pup parent were to ask me if baby shampoo is safe for dogs, I would take time to explain the difference between dog skin and hair and that of humans. I’d explain that even gentle baby shampoos are not specifically formulated for dog skin and long-term use can have damaging effects. Then I’d recommend the owner use a dog shampoo.
Dogs need products formulated specifically to match their skin and hair pH. Products made for humans will not suffice, but baby shampoos generally come closer to the right pH balance. It can be safe to use when you don’t have your normal product at home, but we don’t recommend it for regular use.
If you need to wash your dog with baby shampoo, pick a product that’s gentle and doesn’t include any irritating or toxic chemicals. There are some brands that contain natural ingredients and have a neutral pH. These can be used in emergencies. If you have no dog or baby shampoo at home, you may be able to make a dog-safe alternative from common household products. But after you deal with the immediate need, replenish your normal dog shampoo.
Is Baby Shampoo Safe for Dogs?
Some baby shampoos are safe for dogs for one-time use, while others might cause skin problems. If your dog needs an emergency bath, you might have safer substitutes than a baby shampoo in your house.
Dog Shampoo vs. Human Shampoo: What’s the difference?
The difference between dog shampoo and human shampoo is the pH. Human skin pH is around 5.5-6.5 pH, while dog skin pH is around 7.5-8 pH. Human shampoos also contain chemicals that might be good for human hair but might be toxic for dogs.
The first concern with using a human-based shampoo for dogs is the difference in skin pH between us and our canine companions. Human skin pH is around 5.5-6.5 while a dog’s skin pH is usually around 7.5-8. Applying a product designed for adult human hair will upset the protective barrier, known as the acid mantle, on your pup’s epithelial surface. Without this protection, your furbaby is more vulnerable to infection from bacteria and other contaminants. It’s also more likely to lose moisture and become dry and scaly. So, based on the pH balance alone, normal human shampoo is not safe for dogs.
However, the concern with human products goes beyond pH. Our shampoos are formulated to address human hair. Each brand contains a surfactant or detergent that works to separate dirt, grease, and sebum(an oily substance that moisturizes and protects the skin and hair) from the hair. Other ingredients are added for pH balance, moisturizing, descaling, color, fragrance, and more. While the additives are generally recognized as safe for people, they may be irritating to a dog’s skin.
While dog shampoos start with similar detergents to remove grease and dirt, they contain ingredients that are specifically designed for canines. Because the detergent itself can irritate a dog’s delicate skin, their washes often include a moisturizer and a soothing agent like aloe vera. Depending on the product, a dog shampoo may also include medications to prevent fleas or mange, treat a yeast or ringworm infection, reduce itching, or control the amount of sebum your dog secretes. Human shampoos will generally not contain these ingredients, so they’re not the right choice for taking care of your dog’s coat.
Is Baby Shampoo safer for dogs than Adult Human Shampoo?
Baby Shampoo is safer for dogs than adult shampoo, because most baby shampoos tend to have no chemicals and a neutral pH that is safer for dogs. Before usage, you must check the shampoo label and ensure that it doesn’t contain dog toxic ingredients. Baby shampoo is not a substitute for dog shampoo.
Here’s the rub, many baby shampoos are designed to be extra gentle. They often have a neutral pH(around 7) because it’s less irritating for the eyes and skin, and they use a softer detergent. Baby shampoos are often fragrance-free, and most don’t contain common allergens. So, some groomers and dog people say it’s ok to use baby shampoo on your furbaby. And it should be gentle enough to prevent skin irritation…Therefore, some formulations are safe to use when you don’t have normal dog shampoo handy. If you reach for baby shampoo in an emergency, always check first to make sure it’s clear(no added color), unscented, and labeled as “gentle”.
Just because you can use it safely, however, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.
- First, it may not provide the deep cleaning you need if your pooch just rolled in the mud or something more putrid. You may need to scrub more vigorously, and that could irritate your pal’s skin.
- Second, baby shampoo will not have the added medications for your pup’s skin. So, if Fido has an issue like a yeast infection or parasites, baby shampoo is not the answer.
- Finally, if you use baby shampoo all the time, your dog may develop a skin reaction over time.
The bottom line here is that certain baby shampoos are safe to use when you don’t have a better option, but it should be a rare occasion.
Is Baby Shampoo Safe for Puppies?
Baby shampoo isn’t safe for puppies until they reach 3 months of age. After 3 months, some baby shampoos might be safe for one-time (not repeated) use. You must check the label on the baby shampoo to ensure it doesn’t have ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
Ok, so baby shampoo with no added color or fragrance that’s marked gentle is ok for adult dogs. What about puppies?
We don’t recommend it for very young puppies. Their skin is extra sensitive, and they have special needs. Frankly, for about the first 7-8 weeks, their mom can keep them clean. Until they reach weaning age, puppies can’t effectively regulate their body temperature, and getting them wet can be traumatic. The first bath should be more of a wipedown with a damp cloth or a warm water rinse. These approaches should be effective to remove dirt and debris and will help to prevent drying the skin.
When puppies are about 3 months old, you can start to introduce shampoo. It’s best to choose a product that’s formulated specifically for puppies. However, if you’re in an emergency situation and don’t have dog/puppy shampoo, a clear, fragrance-free, gentle baby shampoo with a neutral pH is a safe alternative. Just don’t use it on a regular basis.
7 Toxic Ingredients to Avoid in Baby Shampoos
There are some common ingredients used in shampoo that can be irritating, harmful, or toxic to your dog. While many baby shampoos don’t include these substances, there are others that do contain them. Always scan the product label, and avoid these ingredients.
- Mineral Oil – Mineral oil is a common emollient ingredient in baby shampoos. Unfortunately, this chemical comes from petroleum, and it can harm the skin and cause other health issues like kidney damage or liver problems.
- Sodium Laureth sulfate – Another common ingredient, sodium Laureth sulfate can be irritating to the mouth, digestive tract, and skin. The risk of damage to the tissues increases with repeated or lengthy exposure.
- DEA, cocamide DEA, and lauramide DEA – These foaming agents are potential carcinogens.
- Synthetic colorants or dyes – Brightly colored shampoo may contain harmful dyes such as Cl 1940, D&C Yellow No. 8, or D&C Blue No. 4. These chemicals can cause allergic reactions and may be linked to cancer.
- Chemical fragrances or perfumes – Artificial fragrances may trigger allergic reactions, nausea, or other issues.
- Parabens – These chemicals mimic estrogen and have been implicated as a cause of cancer. Common names include benzyl-para-hydroxybenzoic acid, ethylparaben, and butylparaben.
- Stearalkonium chloride – Used as surfactants and antimicrobials in some shampoos and conditioners, this substance can irritate the eyes and skin. In some cases, it may also cause negative effects on the nervous system.
Overview of Baby Shampoo Commercial Brands
We evaluated six baby shampoo brands that pet owners commonly ask about to help you know whether any of these products are safe for your pooch. Our results are summarized below.
Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo
Reason: This product does not contain any of the ingredients listed in the section above. With no parabens or detergents, the formula is made to be gentle on the skin. There is some light fragrance in the formula that could be a problem for sensitive dogs. It doesn’t contain known allergenic substances but has soothing oat extract for the skin and coat.
The pH of this shampoo is 6.2-7.2, which is more neutral than adult products and less irritating for your dog’s acid barrier. Because it contains gentle products, the shampoo is easier to rinse from Fido’s hair. Although not recommended for regular use, it should be safe as an emergency backup.
Does It Kill Fleas?: If you leave the product on your pooch for about 10 minutes, the shampoo lather should kill fleas on your dog by suffocation. However, there are no specific ingredients in the formula that kill fleas directly.
Johnson’s Baby Shampoo
Safety: Not safe for repeated use
Reason: Including no chemicals that are considered toxic to dogs, this shampoo from Johnson & Johnson is made to be gentle and tear-free. With natural products that are easy to rinse, it shouldn’t leave any irritating residue. Unfortunately, the formulation could be damaging to your dog’s acid mantle.
The pH for this specific product is not listed, but the manufacturer states it is formulated for baby skin and hair. Newborns are usually born with a higher skin pH that’s >6, but it drops shortly after birth to become more acidic. So, a product made for baby skin is likely to have a more acidic pH than is healthy for dogs. Additionally, the shampoo includes fragrance that may be irritating to dog skin.
This shampoo likely has a lower pH that could disrupt your dog’s skin pH. It’s not a safe choice for your pooch.
Does It Kill Fleas?: The formula contains a derivative of lauric acid, which is a natural flea repellant. Consumers report that this shampoo kills fleas on contact.
Johnson’s Head-to-Toe Wash & Shampoo
Safety: Not Safe for Repeated Use
Reason: Designed for baby hair and skin, this gentle shampoo is free of dyes, parabens, phthalates, and sulfates. The cleansing agent is gentle and should not irritate the skin or eyes. It’s pH balanced for baby skin to protect the acid barrier, which means the product’s pH range is 4.8-5.8.
While the product contains naturally-derived ingredients that rinse easily from the hair, the low product pH is not designed for dogs. Continual use of this product is likely to disrupt the canine acid barrier and leave your pooch susceptible to infections and dry skin. We do not recommend it for use on dogs unless you have a one-time emergency.
Does it Kill Fleas?: Similar to Johnson’s Baby Shampoo described above, this product contains PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, which is a derivative of lauric acid. This chemical is a natural flea repellant.
Baby Dove Sensitive Skin Care Hypoallergenic wash
Reason: Formulated to be gentle and tear-free, this hypoallergenic baby shampoo has a neutral pH around 7 that’s closer to a dog’s natural skin pH. It contains no harsh chemicals, phthalates, parabens, sulfates, or dyes. With a prebiotic moisturizer, the shampoo helps to nourish the skin and replenish substances naturally found in the skin. The pH and natural ingredients in this formula make it safe for use on dogs. However, it should only be used occasionally when you don’t have dog shampoo on hand.
Does It Kill Fleas?: Baby Dove contains lauric acid, which is a natural flea repellant.
Baby Dove Sensitive Skin Care Night Time Wash
Reason: Similar to the Baby Dove product above, this formula has no harsh or harmful chemicals. It’s hypoallergenic and uses a mild cleanser that’s gentle on the skin. A moisturizer helps to replenish the skin’s natural substances and keep it soft and healthy. In order to protect sensitive baby skin and eyes, this product is pH neutral, around 7. With a pH level that is close to that of a dog’s skin, it’s less likely to upset the acid barrier than other human products. This shampoo is safe to use on dogs occasionally when your normal supply of dog shampoo is depleted.
Does It Kill Fleas?: The product includes sodium lauroyl glutamate, a derivative of lauric acid, which is a natural flea repellant.
Will Baby Shampoo Burn a Dog’s Eyes?
Baby Shampoo might burn a dog’s eyes because it might contain a cleansing agent. Tearless baby shampoos aren’t necessarily tearless for dogs.
Some baby shampoos claim to be tearless because they have a neutral pH of 7, and that matches the pH of the eyes. The solution will be far less harsh. However, because shampoo contains a cleansing agent, however mild, it can still sting the eyes.
What should you do if the baby shampoo gets in your pup’s eyes?
Follow these steps if a baby shampoo gets into your dog’s eyes:
- Immediately flush the eye with water to remove all traces of the soap. You can also use a damp washcloth with no soap to wipe away the soap.
- Check the shampoo bottle to see if the manufacturer has specific directions and follow them. If instructions include calling poison control, contact your veterinarian immediately.
- Observe your dog’s eyes for any problems like weepy eyes, red, or cloudy eyes. Your furbaby may also have difficulty opening the eye. If you notice any abnormalities, contact your veterinarian.
Does Baby Shampoo Dry the Dog’s Skin?
Baby shampoo relies on gentle detergents that are less irritating to your dog’s skin than adult products, but it’s still formulated for human babies. So, while it’s not likely to interfere with your pup’s acid barrier and dry out the skin after one wash, it might cause dry skin if frequently used.
Does Baby Shampoo Kill Fleas on Dogs?
Some baby shampoos contain ingredients that are natural flea repellants. However, it’s not effective as fleas can get back on your dog from surfaces such as his dog bed, blanket, or even your floor.
Many dog owners will attest to their experience that certain baby shampoos kill fleas. But do they? While there are no specific studies showing that human baby shampoo can eliminate nasty skin parasites, there is evidence that a common ingredient in these products can effectively kill fleas and other pests.
Many baby shampoos contain lauric acid or derivatives of this compound, which is found naturally in coconut and palm oil. The substance works as a surfactant that gently cleanses the skin and reduces the surface tension of water. Lauric acid will coat a flea’s exoskeleton and interfere with its ability to move and breathe. Consequently, the flea suffocates or drowns. So, baby shampoos that include coconut oil, lauric acid, or a derivative can effectively kill fleas that are on your dog at bathtime. That being said, it may not be as good as a medicated flea shampoo that’s specifically formulated for dogs.
There’s one problem. Usually, if your dog has these parasites, there are more lurking in the environment. Once the shampoo is rinsed, fleas can return. So, you’ll need to wash all human and pet bedding, vacuum all floors, and apply environmental flea control to the home and yard. Contact an exterminator, or purchase a fogger that addresses all stages of the flea life cycle. It’s best to use a non-toxic treatment for the yard. Once you address the immediate issue, consider investing in a preventative that kills fleas when they contact your pooch. Your veterinarian can recommend the best products for your pooch.
Other Alternatives if You Don’t Have a Dog Shampoo Handy
Sometimes your dog needs a bath asap like if they roll in mud or something worse. But what if you’re out of dog shampoo? Here are some dog-safe alternatives that you can make for emergency use. Just remember, like baby shampoo, they’re not meant for regular grooming.
Castile Soap and Dog-Safe Essential Oils
Castille soap is derived from olive oil and is gentle and safe for your dog’s skin. If you add a few drops of a dog-safe essential oil like lemon, orange, or lavender, it can help neutralize odors. Check with your veterinarian before adding essential oil to make sure it’s not toxic to Fido.
Dawn Dish Soap and Vinegar
Dawn is an effective and gentle detergent that you can use in an emergency. Mix ¼ cup Dawn with ½ cup white vinegar and 2 cups water to make a dish soap shampoo. Pour the mixture in a spray bottle and apply evenly over the coat. Rinse thoroughly after bathing, and only use it for emergencies. Applying this mixture too often can strip the skin and hair of its natural oils.
Another mixture you can make in a pinch is a homemade oatmeal bath. Grind 1 cup of oatmeal until it’s a fine powder then add ½ cup of baking soda. Dissolve this mixture in water and pour it into a spray bottle. An oatmeal bath is a soothing option for pups with sensitive skin. Just make sure you rinse it completely from your dog’s coat.
If you need to clean your pooch but don’t have time to draw a bath, you can use baking soda or cornstarch to cleanse the coat. Both of these household items can help to neutralize grease and odor. First, brush your pal’s coat. This will help loosen and remove hair, dirt, and debris. Then sprinkle the substance evenly over your dog’s coat and massage it in. Once the cleaning agent has time to work into the coat, use a wet cloth to wipe your furbaby down.
Again, these concoctions should only be used when you need to clean your pup and don’t have dog shampoo handy. Making a regular habit of washing your pal with any of these mixtures could dry out his coat and disrupt the acid barrier.
The Final Woof
Dogs have a different pH balance for their skin and hair than humans. As a result, using your shampoo to wash your dog can dry out his skin and disrupt the protective acid barrier. However, many baby shampoos use gentle ingredients and have a neutral pH that’s safer for dogs. They may also include natural substances that help to kill fleas.
While some brands of baby shampoo can be safely used on dogs occasionally, they should never replace your normal dog shampoo. Sure, you can reach for Baby Dove or Aveeno in an emergency, but repeated use may cause dry, irritated skin. Human shampoos simply aren’t formulated for dog hair and skin. The bottom line is next time…have a dog shampoo at home.