There comes a time in every pet parent’s life where one of their cats gets themselves in a mess.
Your cat knocks over a container of food that you were trying to put away, your cat comes back extremely dirty from being outside, your cat just underwent surgery and is currently… well… incontinent.
While cats are usually extremely cleanly, making sure to clean themselves regularly throughout the day, sometimes they need an extra hand. It is very common for rescues, young kittens and cats who have recently found their forever homes, to “be a little stinky.” Even when we first adopted our newest addition, Kalista, to the family she was a bit stinky! Reason being? Well, the main reason is cats take a while to trust you and their surroundings. This is why a cat may growl at you or run away from you or may not feel safe enough to clean themselves.
The opposite can be true as well where your cat only feels safe around you and won’t clean themselves when you are not there. Cats in this situation will usually be seen only eating by their owners, sleeping by their owners, or hiding out in laundry baskets.
If you live in a multi-cat household, oftentimes, another cat will take on the responsibility of cleaning the new cat (once they get along.) Often it is the older cat who will begin grooming the younger cat to assert dominance. In cases where this is not true, I would strongly recommend purchasing a cat-specific shampoo, or an approved cat-safe soap.
If you are in a pinch and pet stores are closed you may want to wash your cat with gentle dish detergent, rather than human shampoo, although I would make sure that there are no ingredients that are harmful to your cat’s health and safety. The only dish detergent I would ever trust is the original Dawn Dish Soap and I would use it conservatively, making sure to not use it regularly. Never use dog shampoo on a cat as they are too harsh and often have ingredients that are toxic to cats.
WHY SHOULD I AVOID HUMAN SHAMPOOS?
There are a few reasons you’d want to avoid human shampoos on pets and the most blatant reason is humans have a very different skin composition than pets do. For example, humans have a much more acidic skin than animals do, meaning that using shampoos interchangeably doesn’t’ make sense. That being said, humans sweat from various places of their bodies while our furry feline friends only sweat from their paws. This means that moisture is dispersed differently.
When you combine these two facts you quickly realize that human shampoo would easily burn and/or dry out your cat’s skin and fur, which can potentially cause longterm problems such as a cat who rips out their own hair.
Longterm skin problems have been linked to a lower immune defence as it becomes easier for bacteria to cause infections due to the open sores/skin. It is extremely important to allow our cats to clean themselves regularly, versus taking over for them. In circumstances where we have to intervene, it is important to make sure that the products we use are as close to the pH of the cat’s saliva and that the product has all-natural ingredients that aren’t considered toxic towards cats.
On that note: all-natural does not immediately equal good. Cats are allergic to a number of ingredients that aren’t harmful to dogs or humans, which is why you need to be extra safe when using products that aren’t marketed or branded towards cats. If you are ever concerned if your cat is allergic to an ingredient you can check the ASPCA to make sure it is not toxic.
HUMAN SHAMPOOS ARE NOT TESTED ON CATS
While many human shampoos are historically animal tested, there are none that I am aware of that test on cats. A major reason for this stems from the fact that cats have a very different skin composition than we do.
That being said, we’re actually not aware of a lot of the side effects/reactions cats may have to our products, other than the more “straight forward” answers. If you have used human shampoo on your cat a few times and haven’t seen any negative side effects, it’s probably because you haven’t used it enough for anything to permanently harm your cat. Though this is true, it is still highly recommended that you do not use human shampoo products on your cat, even if it’s a “one time use” as your cat may digest some of the shampoo while trying to clean themselves later (which can lead to toxicity.)
IT’S TOO LATE, I WASHED MY CAT IN HUMAN SHAMPOO… WHAT ARE SOME SIDE EFFECTS?
As mentioned, since the majority of shampoos have never been tested on cats symptoms may vary from brand to brand. Although this is true you can still check for signs of redness or irritation, loss of hair, scratching or discomfort. If your cat shows any signs of lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea make sure you contact the vet immediately and discuss whether a visit is recommended.
In all cases where you assume your cat has experienced toxicity take them to the vet immediately. As for skin conditions, it is important that you take your cat to the vet to help clarify what is causing the skin condition. That being said if skin irritation/a condition is caused by a human shampoo stop using the shampoo immediately and it should clear up quickly.