Basic care

Can You Use Dog Shampoo on a Cat?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: February 11, 2021
Can You Use Dog Shampoo on a Cat?

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There are often many doubts over how to bathe your cat. The first one is over whether it should be done at all. Caregivers know that many cats don't like water (although this is by no means an exclusive group), but they also know that cats need to be clean. Cats generally don't need to be bathed as they devote a lot of their daily schedules to cleaning themselves with their tongue. They do this to maintain a healthy coat which, in turn, affects the rest of their health. However, there may be some instances where a cat is particularly dirty, has been contaminated with something or even if they smell bad for an unknown reason. In these cases, you may want to bate your cat. But can you use dog shampoo on a cat? AnimalWised takes you through what to consider when answering this question.

You may also be interested in: Can You Give a Cat Ibuprofen?
  1. The importance of skin
  2. Bathing a cat
  3. Shampoo for cats
  4. If you don't have any shampoo for cats

The importance of skin

Although we don't always give it much consideration, the skin and hair of our cat fulfil some basic functions in terms of their health. They provide thermal protection, barriers against irritants and are also signifiers of the overall health of the cat. A thick lustrous coat means a healthy feline. This is not to mention its importance in feline communication as cats use their coat to communicate with their prey, other cats and even us humans.

It is therefore important to ensure a cat's coat is well taken care of. Cats shed naturally at different times of the year, but we should give them a brush regularly. This may even be frequently with long haired cat breeds. This gets rid of dead hair and helps protect against mites and parasites. If we see their coat is not looking healthy, but they are otherwise well looked after, it could be a sign your cat is suffering from some sort of physical or mental health problem.

When we groom, we also perform an inspection of the cat. We check for infestations, infections, missing patches of hair (alopecia) or even wounds from an attack or injury. If we do notice something in these areas, we should take them to the vet to achieve a proper diagnosis. To help maintain their overall health, including the quality of their fur, we need to ensure we are implementing a proper vaccination and deworming schedule.

Can You Use Dog Shampoo on a Cat? - The importance of skin

Bathing a cat

Although bathing a cat is rarely needed, there are a few circumstances when it might be called for. It can be particularly the case if they get something on them which is matted into their fur, but which could be harmful if your cat licks it in an attempt to clean. This could be something chemical, a foodstuff they cannot eat or even some unknown fecal matter which could be carrying bacteria or parasites. Ingesting these things can harm your cat more than being a little upset over water.

If you do decide to bathe a cat, then you will need to ensure you have everything you need. These include towels, cleaning products and even a hair dryer if your cat is not too scared. There are currently many specific shampoos for cats which have specific formulation for our furry friends. They may even be formulated for specific breeds such as long hair, dark fur or for cats with particular skin conditions.

All of these products should be verified by a governing body as to their effectiveness. This means they are suitable for a cat's fur and skin, making the former bright and healthy without damaging the latter.

If we want to bathe our cat, we may however find that we only have dog shampoo at hand. Dogs generally need bathing more than cats and therefore you may not have thought to buy cat shampoo when a bathing emergency occurs.

So, can you use dog shampoo for cats? The answer is no. While it is possible that some dog shampoos can be used with little harm, this depends on the formulation of the product. Some of them may be benign in the short term, but there are many which can pose a significant threat to your cat's health and we explain why below.

Shampoo for cats

While cats and dogs both have similar needs in maintaining their coat for general health purposes, these coats are not the same. They differ in terms of thickness, structure and, crucially, pH levels. The pH of cats is more acidic than that of dogs. Generally, cats have a pH of 6 while dogs have a pH level of 7.5 (humans are only 5.5), although this can differ depending on the part of the animal.

The difference is taken into account when making species specific shampoo. They are formulated to suit the individual species. You can wash a cat with dog shampoo. It will get the animal clean and there may not be any obvious issues with their health. However, if we use a shampoo for dogs on cats with any regularity, the subtle changes to the cat's skin can be damaging. It can make it harder for them to groom themselves, dry out the skin and even promote parasites, which is the opposite purpose of cleaning them. Also, if our cat's health is compromised in any way, this will not help them.

An important reason you should never use dog shampoo on a cat is because it may contain permethrin. This is an insecticide and it is poisonous to cats. If the cat has any wounds or sores, then coming into contact with permethrin can be dangerous. If a cat were to inhale enough of this substance, respiratory paralysis, muscle contraction and even death can occur[1]. If swallowed or coming in contact with skin in enough concentration, we might see symptoms of hypersalivation, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, ataxia (uncoordination) or respiratory stress among others. If this occurs, it is a matter of needing urgent veterinary consultation.

Can You Use Dog Shampoo on a Cat? - Shampoo for cats

If you don't have any shampoo for cats

As we have stated, with regular brushing and providing for our cat's general well-being, we should have little need for bathing them. However, if they are sick and have stopped grooming or are in need of a wash for whatever reason, we may not always have specialized cat shampoo available. In these instances, you may ask yourself what alternatives are available?

Here are some general tips on how to clean your cat when you don't have any cat shampoo:

  • If you have a cat washing emergency, then you can use dog shampoo on a cat in a pinch. However, you need to check the formula and if there is any permethrin present, then you shouldn't use it at all.
  • You can see if using water only will eliminate the dirt.
  • If you ave chlorhexidine at home, you can dilute it in water according to the instructions on the label and bathe your cat with the mixture. Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic which is used for various skin conditions, although it is not for regular use and should only be used in a cat bathing emergency.
  • If the dirt is localized to a small area we can clean the affected area only with water. However, you should remember that cat's lick themselves and may have spread some of this dirt around the rest of their body if they have licked the dirty spot.
  • There are specific wipes use for cleaning up cats and dry shampoo is also available which means you can clean a cat in an emergency without have to put them through the often stressful experience of getting wet.
  • In all cases, if we put a personal cleaning product onto a cat, we need to ensure all of it is thoroughly rinsed out otherwise they may ingest it during their personal grooming routines and fall ill.

If you want to look at some homemade shampoo formulations for cats, we have some advice on the subject to share with you.

If you want to read similar articles to Can You Use Dog Shampoo on a Cat?, we recommend you visit our Basic care category.


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🤦‍♀️ What happens if I did use dog shampoo on three of my cats
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Tarnisha,

As explained in the article, it is not a good idea. It won't necessarily causes, much harm, but this will depend on the ingredients. It's always best to use a shampoo specific to a given animal.
Kaung Myat
Can I use dog shampoo which contains cypermethrin 0.10% for cats?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Kaung,

Cypermethrin is toxic to cats. It is possible a low amount won't do harm, but we shouldn't risk it.
hey this part "If you have a cat washing emergency, then you can use dog shampoo on a cat in a pinch. However, you need to check the formula and if there is any permethrin present, then you should use it at all," it should really be changed to shouldn't use at all because I can really make someone's day suck
Administrador AnimalWised

This is a typo, so thanks for pointing it out, it has been changed!
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Can You Use Dog Shampoo on a Cat?