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Ask a Vet: Can Baby Shampoo Be Used on a Dog?

Can Baby Shampoo Be Used on a Dog?

Can baby shampoo be used on a dog? This is a very good question. The market offers a plethora of shampoos formulated specifically for dogs and with so many choices making the right one can be rather challenging. And with so many human and baby shampoos available on the market the choosing process is even more challenging. So the real question is what to use for those dog baths? Are human and baby shampoos actually safe for dogs? And why do dogs need baths in the first place?

How often should you bathe a dog?

How often should you bathe a dog?

First, Do Dogs Really Need Baths?

When it comes to dogs and bath times there is not much place for mixed feelings – some dogs love baths while others hate them.

Based on which group your dog belongs to, the bath as an event can be perceived as either the best of the worst experience ever. Regardless of which category your dog belongs to, one thing is for sure: dogs need baths.

It goes without saying that over time, debris, dirt and bacteria tend to build up on the dog’s coat. Those build ups lead to skin infections and parasitic infestations.

Therefore it is safe to assume that dogs require similar skin and coat protection and care as we do for our hair. Baths are the best way to provide skin and coat care and protection.

The Truth About Using Human Shampoos For Dogs

When it comes to dogs, regular human shampoos are a definite no-no. This is because human shampoos are specifically formulated for human skin. Namely, the regular skin pH balance in humans is between 5.2 and 6.2. On the other hand, in dogs the pH ranges between 5.5 and 7.5.

Therefore, using shampoos formulated for different pH balance can have devastating consequences. More precisely, both humans and dogs have a protective barrier over their skin called the acid mantle. When bathing, that protective layer gets scrubbed away. With the acid mantle scrubbed away, microorganisms can run rampant and over time the dog’s skin becomes itchy, irritated and easy to peel.

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In a nutshell, human shampoos destroy the dog’s acid mantle thus triggering a vicious cycle of reactions. With the protective barrier disrupted, infectious agents can easily penetrate the skin. Those infectious agents cause itching and scratching that lead to open abrasions and wounds. The open abrasions and wounds are easy targets for additional infections.

Over time, dogs with disrupted acid mantles start to smell. When dogs start to smell, dog parents usually respond with practicing more frequent baths which only aggravates the problem!

Can Baby Shampoo Be Used on a Dog?

Is it OK to wash my dog with baby shampoo? The answer to the question why baby shampoos are considered safe for dogs is quite simple. Baby shampoos are safe for dogs due to the ingredients they contain. Most baby shampoos contain:

  • Water
  • Glycerin (which gives smoothness)
  • Potassium acrylates copolymer (which promotes proper thickness of the shampoo)
  • Sodium trideceth sulfate (cleansing agent that is unlikely to cause irritation).

Baby shampoos, although not ideal, are considered a safe alternative to dog shampoos. Baby shampoos are specifically formulated for sensitive skin and without fragrances and harmful chemicals.

In a nutshell, baby shampoos are safe for dogs because they do not disrupt the skin’s protective barrier. If using baby shampoo for your canine baby you need to pay attention to several important factors:

  • The formula is clear and unscented
  • The formula has a pH balance of about 7
  • The formula does not contain added colors, SLS, parabens and phthalates
  • The formula is tear-free.

Basically, before making a choice you need to read the shampoo’s label carefully. If you are not sure about the ingredients do not hesitate to talk to your vet. However, keep in mind that most veterinarians are reluctant when it comes to recommending baby shampoos for dogs.

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The Top 5 Baby Shampoos for Dogs

  1. Aveeno baby shampoo

This formula contains natural oat extracts. It is specifically designed to be hypoallergenic and it is soap-free, tear-free and parabens-free. The Aveeno baby shampoo can be easily rinsed off and it gives the coat soft and smooth feel.

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  1. Johnson’s baby shampoo

Present on the market for well over 50 years, the Johnson’s baby shampoo has an excellent reputation, is easy to access and comes with an affordable price.

  1. Burt’s bees baby shampoo

This 2 in 1 formula (wash and shampoo) uses natural ingredients (soy proteins, moisturizers, vitamin B and essential oils) that both clean and soften the skin. The Burt’s bees baby shampoo is free of SLS, parabens, phthalates and petrolatum.

  1. Bronner’s unscented baby liquid soap

This product is made of vegan and organic ingredients. Instead of artificial fragrances the formula uses olive oil. Due to its delicate components the Dr. Bronner’s unscented baby liquid soap is perfectly safe to use on dogs.

  1. Aquaphor baby wash and shampoo

This all-purpose formula is both dye-free and tear-free. It is specifically formulated to gently clean the skin without drying it. It contains chamomile essence and pro-vitamin B5.

rash on a dog's belly

Signs You Need to Consider Changing Your Dog's Shampoo

Regardless of which shampoo you decide to use, your dog may not tolerate it. Unfortunately there is no ideal, one-type-suits-all type of shampoo. Each dog is different and requires individual approach. You can buy the most popular and expensive shampoo on the market, but if it does not suit your dog’s skin and coat you will need to change it.

The most commonly observed signs that indicate a switch of shampoo is needed include:

  • Particular itchiness after bath time
  • Obsessive paw biting
  • Head shaking
  • Face rubbing
  • Body nipping and/or licking.

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Other more serious signs include:

  • Persistent or repetitive ear and paw infections
  • Development of hives, rashes and skin infections
  • Development of bald patches, blisters and ulcerations on the skin.

Worst case scenario, if your dog is extremely allergic to a particular component present in the shampoo, it may develop a life-threatening condition known as anaphylactic shock. Due to its fast onset and development, the anaphylactic shock is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.


All in all, baby shampoos are a safe alternative to dog shampoos. However, although safe, baby shampoos should not be used on a regular basis. Instead they should be treated as an emergency backup option.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia. Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

ivana crnec

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