Do Puppies and Dogs Need a Different Shampoo? (Vet Explains)

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do puppies and dogs need a different shampoo

You just brought home a new puppy as a companion for your older dog. After playing and wrestling in the yard, your furbabies come inside caked with dirt. All you have is regular dog shampoo. Does it really matter if you wash your puppy with your older pal’s formula?

When I counseled new puppy owners about caring for their youngsters, I would include grooming tips. One thing I always covered was the importance of using the right type of shampoo. Puppies need a gentle product that’s specially formulated for them.

In this article, we’ll look at the difference between puppy shampoo and adult formulations. Then we’ll discuss what age you can use regular dog shampoo on your juvenile and when you should first introduce her to shampoo baths and how frequently you may need to bathe her. 

After covering these details, we’ll answer a few other questions like whether it’s ok to use puppy shampoo on your adult dog, whether you can use human baby shampoo on your puppy, and what you can use if you don’t have puppy shampoo handy.

Let’s get started.

Dog Shampoo vs. Puppy Shampoo: What’s the Difference?

Similar to their food, the shampoo formulas you use for dogs and puppies should be different. That’s because juvenile canines have far more sensitive skin than their adult counterparts. As a result, they require a gentle formula with mild cleansers and a pH of around 7. Most puppy shampoos are made using natural ingredients like oatmeal or coconut oil. Usually, they’re also tear-free, fragrance-free, and dye-free.

While some adult dog shampoos may be safe to use on puppies, that’s not always the case. Unless you’re dealing with a gentle, natural formula for sensitive skin, the detergents in regular dog shampoo may be too harsh for your new furbaby. Adult dog shampoo can also include ingredients that can trigger sensitivities or irritate your pup’s eyes and skin.

Puppy shampoo is specially formulated to be mild and gentle because puppy skin is more sensitive than that of full-grown dogs. Regular shampoo may contain harsh detergents to clean dirty fur or other ingredients that can irritate your young pooch.

At What Age Can Puppies Use Regular Dog Shampoo?

Puppy skin is too sensitive to handle the harsh detergents and chemicals that you find in many regular dog shampoos. Using these products before your furbaby reaches adulthood can cause skin irritation. 

However, if you have a product that claims to be safe for puppies, you may be able to use it as long as your pup is over six months old. The best way to determine if it’s safe to use a particular brand of regular dog shampoo on your puppy is to read the label. There should be a recommended age of use. You can also check the ingredients to make sure they’re gentle enough for puppy skin.

When it comes to adult dog shampoo, you should check the label to see the recommended age of use before applying it to your puppy’s coat.  Some gentle formulas for sensitive skin may have ingredients that are mild enough for sensitive puppy skin after about six months of age. 

At What Age Should I Shampoo My Puppy For the First Time?

owner is giving his brown puppy a bath

Generally speaking, puppies don’t need a bath unless they’re stinky or got into something that made them dirty. Repeated washing, even with quality puppy shampoo, can upset the natural oils on your pal’s skin. 

Whenever possible, it’s best to wait until your puppy is three months old before his first bath. Because juvenile dogs have more sensitive skin, you should start with products that are specially formulated for puppies. Most of these formulas aren’t recommended for dogs less than 3 months old. Puppy shampoos tend to rely on milder ingredients that are gentle enough for sensitive skin. 

It’s best to wait until your puppy is three months or older before you bathe her with shampoo for the first time. Even then, it’s best only to wash your youngster when she gets stinky or dirty. Frequent bathing can affect the natural oils on their skin.

How Often Should I Shampoo My Puppy?

Now that you know how old your furbaby should be before his first bath, you may ask how often you should use shampoo on him. The answer to this question is no more than every two weeks but usually about once every two months unless your four-footed-pal gets dirty. However, it’s not quite that simple.

As with adult dogs, the bathing frequency of your puppy will depend on his coat type and length, breed, and lifestyle. 

  • Coat Length – Animals with longer coats like a Collie or Maltese generally require more frequent washing – about every 4-6 weeks. On the other hand, dogs with short or double coats require baths less often – about every 2 months.
  •  Coat Type – Pups with thick undercoats like a German Shepherd may require a moderate bathing frequency, such as every 6 weeks or so, and curly or wire-haired coated dogs like the labradoodle or wire-haired vizsla can often go every three months.
  • Lifestyle – Active puppies are prone to get dirty faster than mild-mannered pooches. 

These guidelines are important because overbathing your pooch can strip essential oils from her skin and fur. This often results in dry skin and puts your furbaby at a higher risk of irritation or infection.

Once puppies reach the three-month mark, you should usually shampoo them about every two months but no more than twice a month. However, your pal’s lifestyle, coat length, and coat type will influence the frequency. Naturally, if your furbaby gets dirty before the one-month mark, you should give him a bath.

Can I Use Puppy Shampoo On My Adult Dog?

What if you need to bathe your adult pooch, and all you have on hand is puppy shampoo? You can use the product to wash your furbaby. In some cases, it may be the preferred option. 

Most puppy shampoos contain mild cleansers and gentle ingredients that shouldn’t irritate sensitive skin. These formulas usually consist of natural materials and are also free of harsh chemicals, synthetic fragrances, and dyes. As long as your full-grown pooch doesn’t need deep cleaning, the gentle cleansers should do the trick.

In short, yes, you can use puppy shampoo on an adult dog. Products that are formulated for puppies use mild cleansers and gentle ingredients that should be safe for most furbabies. They may even be beneficial if you have a dog with sensitive skin.

Can I Use Baby Shampoo On a Puppy?

chihuahua puppy in taking a bath

Whenever possible, it’s best to use a product that’s formulated for puppies. But what if you need to bathe your puppy and you have no puppy shampoo handy? Because baby shampoos are made to be gentle enough for a baby’s skin, they’re generally safer to use on your puppy than regular human shampoo.

If you don’t have a canine product on hand, you should be able to use baby shampoo as an emergency solution. Just remember to check the label to make sure it’s fragrance and dye-free, has a neutral pH, and that it’s marked “gentle”.

While we recommend using a shampoo that’s formulated for puppies whenever possible, you can use baby shampoo in an emergency situation. Most baby products are made to be gentle and have a neutral pH that’s safe for your pup’s skin. Always check the label to assure the formula is dye-free, fragrance-free, and gentle. 

What Can I Wash My Puppy With If I Don’t Have Puppy Shampoo?

Your puppy needs a bath pronto, but you’re fresh out of his shampoo, what do you do? As we discussed above, you can use gentle, fragrance, and dye-free baby shampoo. However, you may not have it either. Here are some other options you can use to clean your pup’s fur in an emergency.

Warm water 

Sometimes, all it takes to clean off debris is some warm water. Rinse your pooch with a sprayer as if you were using shampoo. Massage the coat to get deep into the fur. After the water bath, dry your pooch and thoroughly brush the hair.

Homemade Puppy Shampoo

There are a variety of gentle concoctions you can create using ingredients that you may have in your home. Below are three examples.

  • Castille soap and dog-safe essential oils – Castille soap is an olive-oil-based cleanser that’s gentle and safe for your pooch. To make this shampoo, combine 1 cup of distilled water, 1 teaspoon of olive or coconut oil, ¼ cup of Castille soap, 2 teaspoons of vegetable-based glycerin, and about 5 drops of a dog-safe essential oil such as lavender. Blend thoroughly in a spray bottle, and apply to your puppy’s wet coat. Massage the solution into your dog’s coat then rinse thoroughly. 
  • Dawn dish soap and vinegar – If your puppy has normal skin, you can make a deodorizing shampoo using ¼ cup of Dawn dish soap, ½ cup of apple cider vinegar, 2 cups of warm water, and 4 ounces of vegetable-based glycerin. Follow the same procedure as with the Castille soap mixture above. Use this concoction only for emergencies as washing your pooch too frequently with vinegar can strip the skin and coat of its natural oils.
  • Oatmeal shampoo – Puppies with itchy or extra-sensitive skin can benefit from an oatmeal bath. To create this mixture, combine 1 cup of finely ground oatmeal, ½ cup of baking soda, and about 1 quart of warm water. Blend the solution in a spray bottle and apply it to your pal’s wet coat. Massage in and allow to sit for a few minutes before rinsing the coat thoroughly. 

Dry Cleaning Options

In addition to homemade shampoo, you can use some simple household items to make dry shampoos that help to remove dirt and oils from your puppy’s coat. For example, both baking soda and cornstarch help to trap grease and dirt. You can sprinkle either material over your pooch and massage it into his fur. Then brush your pup’s coat thoroughly to remove the residue.

Another option is a mixture of both substances: Combine 3 tablespoons each of baking soda and cornstarch. Add about 6 drops of dog-safe vanilla oil. Blend the ingredients together and place them in a shaker bottle. Apply to your pal’s coat, massage it in, and brush out the fur.

The Final Woof

owner is bathing his puppy with a shampoo

It might seem like no big deal to bathe your puppy with a regular dog shampoo, but it might be. Puppy skin is more sensitive than dog skin and requires formulas with mild detergents and gentle, natural ingredients. Some products made for adult canines use materials that are too harsh for juveniles. So, unless your formula for adult dogs is a gentle product made for sensitive skin, it’s best not to use it on a puppy. On the other hand, puppy shampoo is generally safe to use on an adult dog.

When it comes to your furbaby, it’s best to wait until she’s at least 3 months old before her first bath. After that, unless she gets dirty, you probably won’t need to wash her much more than once every few months. The frequency will vary depending on your dog’s coat type, hair length, and lifestyle. If you need to bathe your pooch but are out of puppy shampoo, you may be able to use a human baby shampoo formula that’s gentle, dye-free, and fragrance-free. However, you could also make homemade mixtures to wash your puppy.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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