Doggy dandruff is similar to that of human dandruff. If your pet is itchier than usual or is shedding “snowflakes” on their bed or your lap then it’s possible they have dandruff.
The term “dandruff” is one we use to describe dead skin cells that have sloughed onto the coat. Skin cells naturally die and slough off but if they accumulate and become trapped in the fur, they can cause irritation.
Like all pet pawrents, you want your pooch to be as healthy and as comfortable as possible.
This includes treating and preventing dandruff and with so many conflicting reports and reviews available on the internet, we wrote this article to give you the facts on why you should NOT use human dandruff shampoo on your pets.
Specifically, Head and Shoulders shampoo is NOT a suitable dandruff treatment for dogs.
Is Head and Shoulders shampoo safe for dogs?
Head and Shoulders human shampoo shouldn’t be used on our pets. While the ingredients in Head and Shoulders shampoo may not be toxic to our pets, the formulation isn’t suitable. In fact, I don’t recommend using any shampoos that are formulated for humans on our fur-babies.
Online, you will see a variety of conflicting messages about using Head and Shoulders on your precious pooch. Many websites laud the benefits of this particular brand of shampoo in treating a range of skin ailments but there are also numerous risks to our pets. Potential problems that human shampoos can cause for our fur-iends include the following:
- Dry, flaky skin
- Irritated and itchy skin
- Increased risk of skin infections
- Strips natural oils
- Eye trauma
Humans have very different skin than our canine counterparts which may come as a surprise to you. Since we don’t tend to have as much hair on our bodies as dogs, we actually have much thicker skin.
Human skin has 10-15 layers while our canine companions’ skin is actually just 3-5 layers deep. This means that our pooch’s skin is much more sensitive to trauma and irritation with harsh chemicals.
Human skin is also more acidic than that of our canine buddies, dog skin pH is around 7 while human skin has a pH of about 5.5. Using a shampoo designed for the more acidic environs of human skin can disrupt the delicate protective layer of your pet’s skin, leading to dry, flaky skin that’s irritated and prone to infection.
One particular claim you may see is that the active ingredient Zinc Pyrithione that’s in Head and Shoulders shampoo is safe to use on dogs and thus the shampoo itself is safe. This isn’t true.
The study that’s often cited was a human study and there are too many nasty side effects of zinc pyrithione in pets to advise its use in our best furiends. These include tummy upsets if ingested, localized skin and eye irritation, swelling of the lungs (if inhaled), neurological signs and muscle weakness. These toxic effects increase with frequent use of zinc pyrithione over weeks.
In essence, Head and Shoulders shampoo is formulated for humans and isn’t suitable for our canine counterparts. Zinc Pyrithione is an active ingredient in many formulations of Head and Shoulders that can actually be toxic to our pets. The toxic dose depends on your pet’s size and the amount to which they’re exposed so it’s best to just avoid it.
Selsun Blue vs Head and Shoulders for dogs
Selsun Blue Shampoo is another product often lauded for treating yeast infections in our canine buddies, but as a human formulation this product is more acidic than is appropriate for your dog’s skin.
Selsun Blue is a very drying shampoo and many dogs react poorly to just one application so please don’t use ANY human shampoo on your pet’s delicate skin.
Are other dandruff human shampoos safe for dogs?
Ideally you should avoid using any human hair products on your precious pooch as they are formulated to help human skin and tend to be too acidic and irritating for our canine buddies. It’s not possible to go through every single human shampoo ingredient in this article so a good rule of thumb is to avoid using them altogether.
I have had patients that were regularly bathed in human shampoo to treat scurfy (dandruff) skin or fleas due to online fora recommendations.
Even without the eye irritation and upset tummies some pet’s have after exposure, the fleas tend to still be there.
These pet’s tend to present to my clinic with even more irritated and dried out skin and some even have bacterial and fungal or yeast infections due to the disruption to their natural skin defenses.
Human dandruff shampoos aren’t safe for dogs. Avoid using these shampoos on your pooch, at worst they may contain ingredients toxic to our canine companions while at best they may cause irritation to skin and eyes. In my clinic, I’ve treated a number of pet’s with nasty, painful skin infections that developed following the use of human shampoo.
I recommend to my clients that they have a small stash of a soothing canine formulated shampoo product for those times when their pooch gets “skunked” or rolls in something unimaginably stinky. In an absolute emergency/once off, baby shampoo is generally safe as it’s formulated to be minimally irritating to the delicate skin and eyes of tiny humans.
Risks of using human dandruff shampoo on dogs
As you’re probably aware by this stage, it’s not a good idea to use human shampoos on your pooch, and this is even more so of medicated human dandruff shampoos. There are a number of risks to your pet including:
Any shampoo can cause irritation to your pet’s eyes if contact occurs but this can be even more severe when human medicated shampoos are used.
Pooches love to “help” with bathtime and often lick at the shampoo lather which can lead to tummy upsets.
Many medicated shampoos formulated for humans contain ingredients that can be toxic to pets so should be avoided.
Human shampoos are designed for human skin and can be harsh on our fur-babies’ delicate skin causing redness and itching.
Bacterial/yeast/fungal skin infections
The acidic pH of human shampoos disrupts the natural skin defenses, oils, and bugs on our pet’s skin which allows nasty bugs to set up home and cause painful skin infections that can be difficult to treat and cure.
What to look for in a dog’s shampoo for dandruff?
There are lots of pet-formulated shampoos targeting dandruff and scurfy skin on the market so you’re sure to find something that suits you and your pet’s specific needs.
How often you need to bathe your pet and the exact application requirements will depend on the shampoo you use.
Here are a few top tips to watch for when selecting a shampoo for your fur-baby:
- Soothing, gentle formula: Select a shampoo that has soothing properties such as oatmeal or aloe.
- pH suitable: Ensure the pH of the shampoo is close to your pet’s natural skin pH (around 7).
- Free of dyes, parabens, and harsh chemicals: Harsh chemicals can further irritate already traumatized skin so should be avoided.
- Veterinary formulations: If you’re selecting a medicated shampoo then try to purchase a veterinary formulation as these have been tested to a high standard to ensure they do exactly what they claim.
Finding the right shampoo to ease your pooch’s itchy, scurfy skin can feel like a daunting task but the key essentials are to look for shampoo that has been formulated specifically for pets with soothing ingredients such as oatmeal without harsh chemicals.
Recommendation Dog’s Shampoo for Dandruff
So now that we’ve told you what not to use and what to watch out for.
Here’s one of my favorite non-prescription medicated shampoos to help treat canine dermatitis and parasitic infestations:
Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Antiparasitic & Antiseborrheic Dog Shampoo.
I often recommend this product for patients with sensitive skin that need a little assistance but don’t require prescription medications. These include patients that have a history of canine seborrhea but don’t have an active bacterial skin infection.
This Veterinary Formula shampoo is a wonderful blend of targeted compounds including coal tar, micronized sulfur and salicylic acid alongside soothing, anti-inflammatory ingredients such as oatmeal and allantoin.
This shampoo effectively treats the clinical signs of irritation and redness while also rehydrating your pet’s skin and promoting healing. Free from parabens, dyes, and soap, this shampoo can be used 3 times a week in the early treatment stages without further damaging delicate and irritated skin.
How to treat dog dandruff in adult dogs?
Methods of treating and preventing dandruff in dogs are luckily the same. If your pet has a bacterial infection or underlying parasitic infestation then your veterinarian will prescribe specific medications, but there are things you can do at home to help your pet fight their dandruff problems.
Regular brushing helps to remove hair mats which are prime real estate for parasitic reproduction. This also increases the chances of you spotting any issues before they take hold on your pet.
Checking after walks/Playtime outdoors
After outdoor playtime, particularly if you’ve been in long grassy or wooded areas then you should carefully check your pet’s fur for burrs or seeds that they may have picked up. These can be a source of irritation for pets and this step is particularly important if your pet has long fur.
Frequent bathing can help prevent dandruff development for some dogs. Ideally, use a dandruff shampoo specifically formulated for pooches. There’s a delicate balance to be struck here when it comes to how often you should bathe your dog and this is unique to each pooch. The key to bathing pets is making sure they’re dried thoroughly afterward.
There are some dietary additions you can make to support your pet’s skin and coat health. These include supplements with essential fatty acids and vitamin E.
Many pet foods have added omega fatty acids or are produced with ingredients rich in these skin supporting compounds to provide your pooch with everything they need to have a glossy coat and healthy skin.
One common cause of scaly and irritated skin are mites and fleas munching into our pooches’ skin.
Regular preventative medications for fleas and mites is essential in helping prevent dandruff in prone pets.
How to treat dog dandruff in Puppies?
Treating puppy dandruff is exactly the same as when you’re treating it in adult pooches. Puppyhood is also the perfect time to get your fur-baby treating their grooming and bathtime sessions as luxurious spa days – but be prepared to have a lot of puppy drool on the brush as they try to use it as a chew-toy.
When to go to the vet?
This is the hardest part, knowing when your pet has a mild case of visible excess skin cells on their coat or if they have a more serious condition. Some signs that you need to take your pooch to their dog-tor are listed below:
- Irritated, reddened or broken skin associated with the scales.
- Scratching or licking the scaled area.
- Foul smell or discharge.
- If the scales move, aka “walking dandruff” which is a parasitic infection.
- Any systemic signs that your pet isn’t feeling themselves (dull, lethargic, tummy upsets etc).
Remember, this article is not veterinary advice and you should speak with your pet’s primary DVM if you have any concerns about their health.
The Final Woof
Dandruff for our pooches can be the same annoyance for them as the human version is for us. It’s heartbreaking to watch your fur-baby itch, scratch, lick and chew at their inflamed and scurfy skin which introduces bacterial and fungal infections that further exacerbate their discomfort and worsen their condition.
As a pawrent you want to relieve your pet’s suffering as soon as possible and you may have seen online fora praising human dandruff shampoos in helping pooches with scurfy skin.
Human shampoos shouldn’t be used on our fur-iends as they are more acidic and strip natural oils from pet skin causing it to dry out further.
Dog’s have much thinner skin than humans and they have a more neutral pH protective mantle which is disrupted by using human products on them.
Please don’t use Head and Shoulders dandruff shampoo, or ANY human shampoo on your pooch!
Mangion, S.E., A.M. Holmes & M.S. Roberts (2021). Targeted Delivery of Zinc Pyrithione to Skin Epithelia. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 22(18) 9730
Piérard-Franchimont, C., V. Goffin, J. Decroix & G.E. Piérard (2002). A multicenter randomized trial of ketoconazole 2% and zinc pyrithione 1% shampoos in severe dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Skin Pharmacol. Appl. Skin Physiol. 15(6) 434-441