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Can You Use Dog Shampoo on Cats? Grooming Advice & Safety Tips

Written by: Chantelle Fowler

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cleaning cat by shampoo on water bath

Can You Use Dog Shampoo on Cats? Grooming Advice & Safety Tips

If you have a multi-pet household, you might wonder if you can kill two birds with one stone by using your dog’s shampoo on your dirty cat. As convenient as it would be to share shampoos between species, pet shampoos are designed either specifically for cats or sometimes for both dogs and cats. Prior to using the shampoo on your feline companion, ensure that the label indicates its safety for use on cats. Some ingredients in dog shampoos can be toxic and even fatal for your feline family members. Read on to learn more.

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Why Can’t I Use My Dog’s Shampoo on My Cat?

The simple answer is that dog shampoos are made specifically for dogs. Of course, it’s not that easy, and that’s not the only reason you shouldn’t use your pup’s shampoo on your kitty. Let’s dive a little deeper.

cat and dog sitting together in a luxury tub_Susan Schmitz_shutterstock (2)
Image Credit: Susan-Schmitz, Shutterstock

Dog Shampoos May Contain Permethrin

Permethrin is a topical pesticide often added to flea shampoos made specifically for dogs, though it can sometimes be found in much smaller quantities in flea products sold for cats. Your dog’s flea medication is much different than cats, and it can be toxic to your pet. Dog flea medication 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.

So, why can dogs use permethrin-containing products but not cats? A cat’s body metabolizes certain chemicals and drugs differently than dog’s body. A cat’s liver doesn’t have the necessary enzymes to break some chemicals down into harmless forms. This can cause chemical accumulation in the body and lead to serious illness. This is further complicated by the fact that permethrin-containing products marketed toward dogs contain anywhere between 45% to 60% permethrin, while the ones marketed toward cats have less than 0.1%.

Permethrin toxicity will cause nervous system-related signs in cats:
  • Tremors
  • Twitching
  • Stumbling
  • Seizures
  • Oversensitivity to touch
  • Overproduction of saliva

Dog Shampoos May Contain Essential Oils

Some dog shampoos are made using essential oil-based fragrances.

The Pet Poison Hotline says essential oils can pose a toxic risk to many household pets, especially cats. Why are they worse for cats than dogs, though? It all relates back to your cat’s liver. Their livers lack an essential enzyme for metabolizing and eliminating certain toxins like essential oils.

So, while these oils can keep your pup smelling fresh and clean, it’s best to use fragrance-free options for your kitty.

Signs of essential oil poisoning in cats include:
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Wobbliness
  • Low heat rate
  • Respiratory distress

Cats and Dogs Have Different Skin Types

A cat’s skin is much thinner than a dog’s, and its pH is more acidic. pH is a measure of how acidic or basic something is. Dogs average a pH of 7.5, while cats average around 6, so shampoos designed for dogs will have the wrong pH for your cat’s skin. Even the smallest change to your cat’s pH can make a huge difference. The wrong pH level can make cats itchy and their skin irritated. It can cause dry and flaky or oily and greasy skin.

persian cat taking a bath
Image By: 135pixels, Shutterstock

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Are There Any Safe Dog Shampoos for Cats?

Some pet shampoos are safe for use on various species. If the shampoo in question explicitly states that it can be used on cats, then it should be okay. These shampoos should be free of permethrin and have a pH that is suitable for all skin types.

Hepper Oatmeal Shampoo for Dogs, Cats and Other...
  • Only Natural Pet Shampoo - Our vegan, plant-based formulation is made with safe and natural...
  • No Soap - A cat and dog wash free from soaps, glutens, dyes, DEA, sulfates and phthalates means it's...
  • Colloidal Oatmeal - Formula soothes and nourishes dry, irritated skin, providing itchy skin relief...

There are lots of pet shampoos to choose from, but some are much better than others. We love these two options by Hepper made with all-natural ingredients that gently clean your pet's skin and coat. These pH-balanced formulas contains moisturizing aloe vera and colloidal oatmeal, and it's free of dyes, phthalates, sulfates, and other irritants. 

At Catster, we’ve admired Hepper for many years and decided to take a controlling ownership interest so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!

Are Human Shampoos Safe for Cats?

As convenient and budget-friendly as sharing shampoo with your cat would be, it is not recommended. Human shampoos, even those formulas made for sensitive skin, can worsen skin problems for your cat.

The pH of your shampoo is more acidic than what a cat would require. Continued use can alter your pet’s pH balance, making them more likely to develop dry and flaky skin.

Additionally, human shampoos often contain irritating ingredients and artificial scents or fragrances that can cause an allergic reaction in your pet.

Can I Use Dish Soap?

Dawn dish soap commercials show the cleaning power of their soap by cleansing wildlife affected by oil spills, so it must be okay to use on your cat, right?


While it is true that some dish soaps are extremely effective at removing grease and oil, it is this feature that makes it inappropriate for repeat use on your household pets. It will strip your cat’s skin of the natural oils it needs to nourish and protect it, leaving the skin less hydrated and more prone to bacterial or allergic irritants.

However, if you’re in a bind, you can use Dawn once or twice without long-lasting side effects, provided your cat doesn’t have skin infections or sensitivities and the soap you’re using is unscented.

cat bathing in the bathroom
Image By: Madhourse, Shutterstock

Do I Need to Bathe My Cat?

Cats are fastidious groomers and spend up to 50% of their day grooming themselves. For this reason, bathing a cat is usually entirely unnecessary. But of course, this isn’t always the case.

Certain cats may be unable to reach their entire body during their grooming sessions due to obesity or old age. However, this doesn’t mean you need to use shampoo, as a warm washcloth can help keep your kitty clean and comfortable.

Cats may need to be bathed if they’ve gotten into a substance that could pose a health risk. Additionally, those sprayed by skunks, with fleas, or with fungal or bacterial skin infections should also receive a bath.

If shampoo becomes necessary, make sure you’re choosing one specifically formulated for cats. If you’re in a pinch and don’t have time to get shampoo for your cat, check out our article to find safe alternatives.

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Final Thoughts

Cats are professional groomers and can handle most of their bathing needs themselves. However, if the time comes when your kitty needs an extra hand getting clean, a little water and a washcloth can go a long way. Dog shampoos are not recommended for cats unless the bottle explicitly states they are safe for your feline family members.

Related Reads:

Featured Image Credit: angnokever, Shutterstock

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