As you may already know, I used to work at a pet store and I used to get some really tricky questions I had to answer.
One question that kept coming up was “Can you use Dog Shampoo on Cats?” My response always started with, “Unfortunately, ‘this can be a tricky question to answer’ as it highly depends on the ingredients and brands.”
The safest way to answer whether or not a cat should use a product is to read the instructions on the bottle, but sometimes instructions are confusing.
There are certain products, like brushes, where dog branded products are exactly the same as cat branded products. Marketing and packaging teams choose to brand products based on species to “make it easier for pet parents to choose a product” to use for their little ones. In essence, it’s a lot less confusing for consumers to buy scissors that are marketed as “for cats” rather than just as scissors “for pets.”
Although some products can be interchanged between cats and dogs, most bottles of shampoo will explicitly state (usually in smaller print) whether or not the shampoo can be used on multiple species. Shampoos that can be used on cats and dogs usually have a phrase on them that says “for all pet use” or “for cats and dogs.” The opposite is true of shampoos that cannot be used on multiple breeds as they will say things like “only for use on dogs” or “for dogs only.”
When feeling unsure, always go for the cat-specific bottles to be extra safe. You do not want to risk using a shampoo that is too strong on a cat.
If your pet store is completely out of “cat” products or doesn’t provide them for any strange reason, you can usually get away with using “puppy” shampoo. Puppy shampoo is a lot milder than “dog” shampoo as a puppy has gentler skin than an adult dog. I would still recommend calling the product’s Customer Service or see if an employee in the store you are in has previously called the company to make sure that using the product is okay!
Most companies have a very open customer service team that is very happy to answer your questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called or e-mailed a company to make sure I understood what was in their products and why the product worked (if they worked…)
It’s always a good idea to talk to the floor staff in pet stores, especially because many have had first-hand experiences or have access to information shared by the supplier.
I can’t tell you how fast some news spread from store to store, especially if a product was bad. The gossip in pet stores is real!
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO USE CAT-SPECIFIC SHAMPOO?
Due to the fact that cats are biologically built differently than dogs, cats have different sensitivities than dogs. Because cats are more sensitive than dogs, some dog shampoos will cause irritation rashes or other ailments to your cat’s body.
Sometimes folks will use Dish Detergent to clean their cats. This is a bit of a gray area for me, and while I admit it is effective, you will want to read my more in-depth post about the pros and cons of using dish detergents.
Never use a dog flea shampoo on your cat, ever! Over the counter flea shampoos are already harsh on cats, let alone using their dog counterparts! If you need a flea treatment, make sure to talk to your vet or begin by using the original Dawn Dish Soap.
WHAT ARE SOME INGREDIENTS TO AVOID WHEN USING DOG SHAMPOO?
To be completely honest, I’m not the biggest expert on cat skin problems, but in my limited knowledge tea tree oil causes the most problems. Tea tree oil is found in a lot of dog shampoos and has proven to be harmful to cats. Many cats who have been washed using tea tree oils develop skin and rash problems.
Other harmful ingredients you’d be surprised to find in dog shampoo are tar and Selenium sulphite, these ingredients commonly lead to dry skin and dandruff.
There are also a number of essential oils that are fine to use on dogs and humans but may cause some problems for your kitties. So that being said, the fewer ingredients you find on the bottle, the higher the chance your cat will be okay with it!
I DON’T GET WHAT THE BIG DEAL IS… ARE THERE ANY OTHER SIDE EFFECTS OF USING DOG SHAMPOO?
Well, actually it doesn’t stop at skin and fur.
Some ingredients are actually toxic to your kitty and since cats are different than dogs in the way that they clean themselves, they are at a higher risk of ingesting the shampoo. If cats are not thoroughly rinsed after they are washed with a toxic shampoo, they may end up getting it in their mouths when they clean themselves. Toxic ingredients found in dog shampoos have been known to cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
Dependant on how much of the shampoo the cat has ingested these three symptoms can be detrimental or fatal as all three lead to dehydration. If your cat shows any of these symptoms after a bath makes sure to take them to the vet immediately. Again, depending on how severe, your vet may recommend IV Fluids as well as a flush of their system.
SO WHAT’S YOUR CONSENSUS?
Well, simply put… be very careful if you’re going to use a product that isn’t branded is “cat.”
There’s never a simple answer to these questions but I always recommend doing some extra research as you already have.
Keep in mind, even if something is branded “cat” it’s in your best interest to take a quick look at the ingredients. The main three ingredients you want to make sure to avoid being tea tree oils, Selenium sulphite or tar.