Catster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Cats? Vet-Reviewed Risks & Alternatives

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team


Can You Use Human Shampoo on Cats? Vet-Reviewed Risks & Alternatives


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

While most cats rarely need a bath, there could be the odd occasion that your cat does need to get clean. Maybe your cat came home after rolling around on the neighbor’s driveway that happened to be coated in oil. Or perhaps they’ve had an allergic reaction to something, and you want to give them an emergency rinse.

If your cat is usually good at keeping themselves clean, you might not have any cat shampoo on hand. Can you use human shampoo in a pinch? As a general answer, no, it is not safe. Let’s find out why!

Before we look at the details, know that regular human shampoo isn’t recommended for cats.


Why Is Human Shampoo Bad for Cats?

It could be logical to think that if a shampoo is gentle enough for you and your kids to use, it should be safe for cats.

But that’s not the case.

We humans have a skin pH of around 5.5. Our shampoos are designed to have a pH of around this level, so they don’t irritate our scalps or cause uncomfortable dryness.

The pH of your cat’s skin is more alkaline than yours (though still considered acidic), at around 6.4–6.6 (depending on the skin region). Using a human shampoo with a lower, more acidic pH may cause your cat’s skin to feel dry, itchy, and altogether uncomfortable and irritated.

Human shampoos can also contain foaming agents, sulfates, parabens, colors, and fragrances, all of which can irritate your cat’s skin even further.

Bubble bath a small gray stray cat_135pixels_shutterstock
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

Using Human Shampoo Can Cause Long-Term Issues

You might think that it’s okay to risk using human shampoo on your cat in an emergency, but you may end up causing long-term issues for your cat. Using human shampoo can cause dryness by stripping away the natural oils on your cat’s skin. These oils perform a vital function: protecting your cat from infections.

You may find that your cat develops a skin infection, most likely fungal or bacterial, if you use human shampoo. You’ll then need to speak to your vet about getting a special prescription shampoo to resolve the infection and replenish those natural oils.

If you desperately need to give your cat a bath, the good news is that there are more suitable options.

cat paw divider

Top 3 Safe and Effective Alternatives to Human Shampoo

Now you know that human shampoo isn’t a great idea, but you still need to give your cat a bath and you don’t have any cat shampoo. Are there any safe alternatives that will get your cat clean without making them more uncomfortable? Yes!

1. Invest in a Cat Shampoo

The best pet shampoos are carefully formulated to clean your pet without causing irritation. Hepper's Colloidal Oatmeal Pet Shampoo does a great job of this by combining soothing ingredients like aloe vera and colloidal oatmeal. It is also pH-balanced and free of irritants like dyes, soaps, sulfates, and phthalates. You and your pet will both enjoy the fresh, clean scent, too! 

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...

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!

2. Shampoo-Free Alternatives

Although there are common household ingredients that can be used to clean your cat, these are mainly recommended for when you’re in a pinch and are not substitutes for shampoos as effective cleaning agents:

  • Plain warm water
  • Clean wipes dipped in sterile saline
  • Cat dry wipes

3. DIY Soothing Oatmeal Shampoo

Raid your pantry, and put together a simple and soothing oatmeal shampoo that can be used as a substitute for cat shampoo.

You’ll need:
  • 4 cups warm water
  • 1 vitamin E capsule (optional)
  • ½ cup of coconut oil (pure)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup organic oatmeal, finely ground

Simply mix all these ingredients before applying the mixture to your cat when they’re already wet. Use your fingers to work the mixture down into your cat’s coat, then rinse well. Ensure that your cat doesn’t lick this shampoo, though, as it isn’t safe for consumption. This homemade recipe shouldn’t be used on irritated skin, open wounds, or other lesions until after getting approval from your veterinarian.

Can You Use Human Shampoo on Cats? What You Must Know! Cats are equipped with all the tools they need to bathe and clean themselves, but there may be times when your cat needs some assistance, possibly after they have walked through or played in something particularly dirty. Besides the fact that your cat will probably hate the experience of being bathed, it is important to remember that regular bathing can cause more harm than good, so it should be reserved solely for emergencies. With that said, there is a good chance that you won’t have cat shampoo laying around in the cupboard. So, can you use human shampoo on your cats? Is it safe? The quick answer is no, you shouldn’t use human shampoo on your cats. We’ll tell you more below. Should You Bathe Your Cat? Your cat has a rough tongue and powerful teeth. He has the tools he requires to effectively keep himself clean most of the time. This is especially true of short-haired cats. As such, it is rare that you will even consider bathing your cats. However, it is also true that cats are incredibly inquisitive. Some might say nosey. They want to investigate every portion of every room. They want to know what you keep grabbing out of the cupboard, and what it is that has such a strong smell in the back of the shed. They rub against things, roll in liquids and substances you don’t want them to, and have a seemingly endless list of ways in which they can cause mischief and end up caked in mud and other nasties. There may, then, be occasion when you feel it is necessary to bathe your cat. Occasional bathing is fine. The same natural oils that help protect your cat’s coat from everyday dirt and grime will recover after a bath. Frequent bathing, though, can strip these oils from the fur. This will leave your cat with dry fur. It can also lead to dry skin, rashes, and other problems that not only leave their fur lacking luster but may actually cause them harm. So, you can bathe your cat, but you should only do so when it is absolutely necessary. If you have ever had to bathe a cat, you likely won’t want to repeat the process too often. It tends to result in a lot of soapy water everywhere except on the cat, and a terrified and angry cat warning you off. It’s a lot of water, claws, and hissing, but not a lot of cleaning. You should make the process quick, be confident, and you should have everything ready before you even consider turning the tap on. Should You Use Human Shampoo? Even the most delicate human shampoo contains chemicals and other ingredients that are harmful to your cat. A lot of shampoos contain perfumes and even essential oils, both of which can prove toxic to your cat. The ingredients are effectively absorbed through the cat’s skin and broken down by the liver, but a cat’s liver is not the same as a human’s and it is not as effective at breaking down the chemicals that are found in human shampoo. Therefore, it is safest to use a shampoo specially designed for cats. Using Specialist Cat Shampoo It is worth having a bottle of cat shampoo in the cupboard, ready for any mud-based emergency. These shampoos are formulated especially for use on cats. They have the right pH balance, so are not usually as acidic as human shampoo, and they do not contain the same essential oils and perfumes as are used in our own shampoo. Cat shampoo won’t dry out your cat’s fur or skin as readily. It will contain some natural odor that will help get rid of the smell of dirt and muck, but it uses natural ingredients that are not damaging to your cat. Is Human Shampoo Safe For Cats? Some human shampoo may prove relatively safe for cats, but the majority of ingredients found in human shampoo can prove dangerous for your filthy feline. Stick to cat shampoo, only bathe when necessary, and be prepared before you grab the cat because the process is likely to get a bit scratchy.
Image Credit by: Olleg, Shutterstock

3 cat face divider

Wrapping It Up

Human shampoo isn’t suitable for use on your cat, even in an emergency. The pH is designed to suit our skin, not the pH of your cat’s skin. Depending on your cat’s sensitivity, human shampoo may make them feel uncomfortable and itchy within one use. Other cats may take longer to show a reaction, but it’s not worth the risk.

Human shampoo can strip the protective oils from your cat’s coat, increasing the risk of them developing a skin infection. If your cat desperately needs a bath, there are alternatives, including DIY shampoo, that you can use instead of human shampoo.

Many cat shampoos come with a long shelf life, so you may want to buy a small bottle the next time that you’re shopping online and put it in the cupboard for those just-in-case moments. Your cat will thank you for it!

Featured Image Credit: Christina Oleshkevich, Shutterstock

Get Catster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Catster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.