Can You Use Dog Shampoo on Cats?

Can You Use Dog Shampoo on Cats

Some cat owners believe that bathing cats is unnecessary because they constantly groom themselves. These people have a point, of course, but giving your cat a regular bath is still recommended. Bathing your cat also allows the dander on their fur to wash away thus helping those around you with mild cat allergies.

If you are a pet owner who has both cats and dogs, you may find yourself in a situation where you’ve run out of cat shampoo. You grab the dog shampoo and you ask yourself, “Can I use dog shampoo on my cat?”

The short answer is, it depends.

While you can use some dog shampoos on your cat, there are other types of dog shampoo that you should never use.

Keep reading to find out what exactly is in those dog shampoos that make them harmful for cats.

Why can I not use dog shampoo on my cat?

You may think that because dogs and cats are both domesticated house pets with fur, that it won’t hurt to have them share the same shampoo. But we sometimes fail to remember that dogs and cats are from entirely different species of animal. Which means their bodies are built different and will react differently to substances.

The main reason why you should avoid using dog shampoos on cats is because some dog shampoos contain one or two ingredients that have adverse effects on cats.

First, read the label on the dog shampoo. If you find ingredients such as permethrin, selenium sulfide, tar, or tea tree oils, keep that shampoo far away from your cat. These substances are harmful enough to cause irritation or worse on your cat.

Another factor to consider is the shampoo pH levels. Dogs’ skin pH level is 7.5, which is basic, while cats are acidic at 6. In comparison, humans have a skin pH of 5.5. This basically means that manufacturers formulate these dog shampoos to work in balance with a dogs much higher pH. The same way cat shampoos are formulated to better suit their pH level.

Using a shampoo on a cat with a different pH level compared may cause irritation and have an effect on the cat’s coat. It can dry out the cat’s skin, making it difficult for them to groom.

Elevating a cat’s skin pH can also cause an imbalance and make the cat susceptible to parasites.

Do not get sucked into buying dog shampoos labeled “organic” or “herbal”, thinking that they are safe. Even natural oils can be harmful to cats, despite being good for dogs and humans. Specifically, tea tree oil, which is the most common natural oil in dog shampoos can be harmful for cats.

Cats, especially kittens, do not have the naturally occurring enzymes to properly break down the natural oils in dog shampoos making it dangerous to keep on the cat’s skin for long periods of time.

These oils, even in small doses, can accumulate to a level that is highly toxic. This can block the pores on the cat’s skin as well as damage the fur’s texture. It can even damage a kitten’s skin composition when the oils are absorbed.

Dog shampoos sometimes have powerful insecticides as a component. These chemicals are detrimental to cats. Permethrin is one of the insecticides found in dog shampoos that is deadly for cats. So be sure to check the dog shampoo label for this.

Some dog shampoos use pyrethrin instead, it is not harmful to cats when exposed in minimal quantities. So, it might be okay to use a shampoo with this ingredient once, when you absolutely have to and that is the only shampoo you have available in your house. But, with kittens, avoid entirely, given their much more sensitive skin.

Selenium sulfide and coal tar are other components of dog shampoo that is a no-no for your cat. It is used to treat seborrhea in dogs.

Never use dog shampoos with these ingredients on your cat, especially when you know that your cat has open wounds or is still recovering from an illness. These ingredients can cause your cat’s skin to dry out and lead to dandruff or even redness and irritation.

What happens to cats if you use dog shampoo on them?

These are the possible side effects or adverse reactions you cat can have or exhibit when they use dog shampoos with these ingredients:

1. Selenium sulfide

This is used to treat dandruff in dogs, but when used on cats it can irritate and dry out the skin.

2. Permethrin

This chemical can cause diarrhea, vomiting, excessive drooling, labored breathing, and tremors even when it just makes contact on the cat’s skin. In serious cases, a mere whiff of the chemical causes immediate respiratory paralysis and contraction of the muscles, ultimately leading to death.

If your cat has any of these symptoms, take them to the vet immediately.

3. Tea tree oil

This oil contains terpenes, a chemical toxic to cats. Minimal exposure can cause rashes and irritation, as well as vomiting and weakness.

There are multiple essential oils that can build up to toxic levels when in contact with cat skin.

4. Coal tar

Coal tar has therapeutic properties that are helpful for dogs. Tar is corrosive for cats and should be kept away from them as much as possible.

If I run out of cat shampoo, what are safe alternatives I can use?

Use these suggestions whenever you find yourself in a situation without cat shampoo:

  • Lemon spray
  • Aloe vera juice
  • Dawn dish soap mixed with white vinegar and water
  • Baby shampoo
  • Sprinkle baking soda to deodorize your cat
  • Cedar chips
  • Apple cider vinegar diluted in water

When it comes to kittens, though, it’s better to stick to cat-specific shampoo just to be safe.


Although, you can use some dog shampoos that do not contain ingredients such as selenium sulfide, tea tree oil, permethrin, or coal tar, the ideal thing to do is avoid using a dog shampoo on your cat, just to be completely safe. These substances can have detrimental effects on your cat’s health. 

Image: / kozorog