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Can You Use Dog Shampoo on Cats? What You Need to Know!

Many of us have dogs and cats as household pets, and since we bathe our dogs much more than cats, it’s natural to wonder if we can go ahead and use the dog shampoo on our cats. The short answer is no, there’s a good chance your dog shampoo will be harmful to your cat, but there are a few exceptions we can discuss.

Join us while we take an in-depth look at the dangers and safety precautions required for using dog shampoo on your cat.

Cat ball divider 1Should I Bathe My Cat?

The first question you may be asking is if you need to bathe your cat. We’re all familiar with the sight of our cats regularly cleaning themselves almost non-stop. Cats also hate water and can become quite aggressive about getting away from it while trying to wash them.

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Image Credit: tookapic, Pixabay

The best reason to regularly bathe your cat is to get them used to the water in the event that they get into something that requires a bath. If your cat has no experience getting wet and they encounter a skunk or dangerous chemical you don’t want them to ingest, you can be in for a real problem when you try to put them in the water. Early and frequent socialization with bathwater can make the process much easier for both you and the cat.

Related Read: How to Bathe Your Kitten: 5 Simple Steps (With Video)

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Why Dog Shampoo Dangerous to My Cat?

Here are a few reasons not to use dog shampoo on your cat.


The main thing you need to worry about when using dog shampoo on a cat is flea and tick medication. Your dog’s flea medication is much different than cats, and it can be toxic to your pet. Dog flea medication contains a chemical called permethrin that is safe for dogs but dangerous to use around cats. It’s so dangerous that most vets recommend keeping the dog and cats separate for a time after applying the medication to your dog to reduce the risk of your cat getting too close.

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The hair that makes up a cat’s coat is different than a dog in several ways, including length, thickness, and pH. The pH of a cat shampoo is more acidic than dogs with a pH of 6, while the dog shampoo is likely closer to 7.5. It might not sound like a big difference, but it will have a huge impact on the shine and softness of the coat, and it may also affect their ability to groom themselves.

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Essential Oils

Dog shampoos can contain essential oils like tea tree oil in concentrations that can be harmful to cats. While dogs are also sensitive to essential oils, many products contain a small amount of tea tree oil because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties. In small amounts, it can help your dog recover from skin irritations and bug bites, especially from fleas. However, even an amount considered safe for dogs can have serious consequences for a cat, so you shouldn’t use it.

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Tar is another ingredient in many dog shampoos for its therapeutic value. However, there is no value in tar for a cat, and applying it to their fur can take away their ability to groom themselves, causing the cat to become dirty again quickly and adding significant stress to the cat.

wet gray tabby cute kitten after bath_KDdesignphoto_shutterstock
Image Credit: KDdesignphoto, Pixabay

Shampoo Alternatives

There are a few alternatives to a shampoo that you can use in a bind that is better for your cat’s health than dog shampoo and will work great in an emergency. Before you use any product, make sure to read the label and avoid using any products that contain tea tree oil, glycerin, lavender, peppermint, and jojoba.

Natural Soap

There are many brands of natural soap that do not use any harmful fragrances or ingredients. Pure Casile liquid soap is a great option that isn’t too expensive, but there are many other similar soaps available also.

The downside to using natural soaps is that they can leave an unpleasant flavor on the fur that your cats don’t enjoy.

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Dish Soap

You can use several brands of dish soap, if it doesn’t contain essential oils. The most popular brand to use is Dawn, and it will also help rid your cat of any fleas it might have picked up. The soap is usually gentle on the skin but effective for removing dirt, grime, and chemicals.

The downside to using dish soap is that they are very effective at breaking up oils, leading to dry, itchy skin if used too often.

wet gray tabby cute kitten after bath wrapped in green towel_KDdesignphoto_shutterstock
Image Credit: KDdesignphoto, Pixabay

Dog and Cat Shampoo

Unless it’s an extreme emergency, the best thing to use when bathing your cat is cat shampoo. There are dozens of brands available, all formulated to clean your cat safely. A cat shampoo will leave your cat with a soft coat that smalls nice without irritating their skin or using harmful ingredients. Many brands allow you to clean your cat without the need for water, which allows you to sidestep the most difficult part of bathing them.

Using Shampoo Safely on Your Pets

In recent years, there has been a large increase of brands that claim they are suitable for dogs and cats and may even be ideal for rodents and horses. While these products are safe for your cat and don’t contain any of the harmful chemicals we have mentioned, it’s unlikely to work as well as a cat or dog shampoo because of pH and other factors unique to the coat of each animal.

We recommend only using dog and cat shampoo if you have a large number of animals, and the cost of purchasing separate types is cost-prohibitive, or you are unable to find a brand in your local store.

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You should avoid using dog shampoo on your cat, mainly because it may contain harmful flea medication or essential oils. If you know the shampoo doesn’t contain those ingredients, you can probably get away with using it once, but it will likely dry out your pet’s skin due to the pH difference. You are much better off going with a shampoo for cats, or at least one that specifically states it’s for cats and dogs to keep your cats coat clean and soft without damaging or irritating the skin.

We hope you have enjoyed reading over our discussion about the proper type of shampoo to use on your cat. If you have learned something new and think it can help others, please share this guide to what you must know about using dog shampoo on a cat on Facebook and Twitter.

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Featured image credit: Susan Schmitz, Shutterstock