It’s well known that cats are meticulous groomers. Watch your cat on any given day and you’ll spot him licking himself from head to tail. A cat has ample flexibility, a barbed tongue that acts as little combs, as well as saliva that functions as a natural detergent. All of these features allow it to get rid of dirt, dander, and other debris from their skin, fur, and coat.
Can cats use human shampoo? A short answer is NO! Humans and cats have different pH tolerance levels, meaning human shampoo may be too aggressive and drying on cats’ skin. This could result in skin-related issues such as dry, flaky skin or painful irritation for your feline friend. There’s cat shampoo that specially formulated for their skin, so why cause unnecessary harm or pain to your cat?
While cats are pretty capable at getting rid of the dirt themselves, there are, however, some instances when your cat might need a little help such as:
- if they’ve rubbed against something too dirty like a massive pile of mud, sticky, or dangerous/toxic for them to lick off themselves
- if they are sick, which makes self-cleaning difficult
- long-haired breeds require thorough cleaning since unkempt hair can easily become matted and a breeding ground for parasites
- it’s important to use the right products when bathing your cat, which brings us to our topic of today: cats and human shampoo.
Cats aren’t the biggest fans of baths or even water for that matter. But as I said, sometimes there’s no way around it. Choosing the right grooming materials is important when cleaning your cat. Much like humans, cats experience adverse reactions and allergies to the chemical content of certain products. In addition to possible skin irritation, keep in mind that your cat will go back to self-cleaning after you have bathed it. Since this involves licking, your cat may ingest harsh chemicals that could be harmful to their health. Let me explain the difference between human and cat skin, as well as human and cat shampoo so you can find an answer to this question and many more interesting details.
Can I Use Human Shampoo On My Cat?
We’ve already established that human shampoo is not safe for cats. Let me take you through a more in-depth look at the reasons why:
There’s a difference between human and cat skin:
Human skin is much more acidic with a pH level of about 5.5 while a cat’s skin is slightly alkaline with a pH of about 7.5. It may not seem like a big difference but using the wrong type of shampoo can damage your cat’s skin, making it dry and itchy. Much like our skin, a cat’s skin acts as a natural barrier against infection, therefore, compromising it can be detrimental to their health. Additionally, humans have distinct glands that are made for sweat while cats don’t. This means they each require different ingredients in their shampoo.
Difference between human and cat shampoo
Shampoos are mostly species-based as they cater specifically to the needs of those they are designed for. Just by reading through the label, you’ll notice a subtle difference in the ingredients. Human shampoos tend to be harsher while cat shampoo is gentler. Human shampoos contain fragrance and essential oils, which can be overwhelming and toxic for the cat.
As I mentioned earlier, both animals have different pH levels. Human shampoo is made to match its pH level while cat shampoo is made to match theirs. Using shampoos interchangeably will only irritate and damage your cat’s skin. Cat shampoo also contains ingredients that human shampoo doesn’t as they are meant to deodorise and keep fleas away.
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Human shampoo is not tested on cats
Many human shampoos are often tested on animals. However, given the different skin composition between humans and cats, human shampoo isn’t tested on cats. For this reason, we are not actually aware of all the side effects cats may experience after using human shampoo.
When you combine all these factors, you quickly realise that human shampoo could potentially result in adverse effects for your beloved cat. Long-term skin problems have been linked to a lower immune defence in cats. That’s because the open sores/skin make it easier for bacteria to cause infection.
No shampoo is better than human shampoo. If you must clean your cat and you don’t have cat shampoo, simply use warm or saline water to clean the fur. You do not want to take chances using something that could potentially result in adverse reactions/effects for your beloved cat, especially when there are safer alternatives.
What if I’ve already washed my cat in human shampoo?
As I said earlier, human shampoo is not always tested on cats so the symptoms will vary depending on the brand. Common side effects include redness, hair loss, scratching, irritation, or discomfort. Contact the vet immediately to discuss if a visit is necessary. If your cat shows signs of diarrhoea, lethargy, or vomiting, seek medical care immediately. As for skin irritation/conditions, make sure the vet clarifies what is causing it. If it’s because of the human shampoo it should clear up once you stop using the shampoo.
Are There Human Shampoos That Are Safer On Cats?
Some people believe that some human shampoos are less aggressive and can, therefore, be used for cats. Let’s find out how true that is:
Is baby shampoo safe for cats?
Baby shampoo is made keeping the baby’s sensitive skin in mind. Most of them claim to be gentler, which makes some think that if it’s less aggressive on baby’s sensitive skin then it might be good for cats’ sensitive skin. Baby shampoos contain far fewer chemicals that are less harmful to felines, as well as moisturisers that can help prevent your cat’s coat from being too dry. The problem is they are heavily scented. Given a cat’s powerful sense of smell, they will find the scents a bit overwhelming, which can cause allergic reactions. They are also still formulated for different pH skin levels, meaning they can still damage your cat’s skin. Another downside to using baby shampoo is it may not be as deodorising as cat shampoo. Baby shampoo can be used as a one-time cat shampoo alternative but not the best choice for regular use.
The organic variety
The problem with most human shampoos is they contain several chemicals that could potentially harm your cat. What if you avoid all those chemicals and go for a human shampoo with natural ingredients? Well, all-natural doesn’t necessarily equal good. There are still natural ingredients that your cat may be allergic, thereby causing unnecessary side effects. Plus, these shampoos are still formulated for human use and not for your cat. Using all-natural human shampoo should be a one-time thing, perhaps if you’ve run out of cat-specific shampoo and haven’t had the time to get another one.
Home-made Cat Shampoo
Most cats need a bath every 4-6 weeks. As a result, cat shampoo isn’t something that most owners remember to keep handy. Cat-specific shampoos are also fairly expensive. Even so, you shouldn’t risk using any kind of human shampoo that could potentially harm your feline friend. You can actually make your own cat shampoo at home (without any harmful chemicals). Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Dry shampoo is a good option if your cat has short hair as it can fluff up and clean cat’s fur. To make this, simply mix equal parts of oatmeal and cornmeal. These two will absorb oil from your cat’s fur and skin. Then add a few tablespoons of baking soda to help remove any unwanted odours. For a shiny coat on your feline friend, add a few tablespoons of cornstarch to the mixture.
Think of dry shampoo as the home equivalent to waterless shampoo. Start by brushing the cat thoroughly to remove any loose debris. Then apply the shampoo on your cat keeping in mind that some of it will fall onto the surface. Rub it into the cat’s fur and onto her skin using a towel. Wait for about 5 minutes and brush off all the traces of the dry shampoo from its fur.
Long-haired breeds can benefit from occasional baths. To make wet shampoo you’ll need a cup of organic oatmeal, a cup of baking soda, I teaspoon of gentle dish soap like Dawn soap, and 4 cups of warm water. Mix the ingredients well before use. Start by preparing a bathing area. Then brush your cat thoroughly to remove loose debris and tangles. Wet her first and then massage the shampoo into her coat from head to tail, avoiding the eyes, ears, and nose. Rinse her with clean water and dry with a towel.
It’s no secret that cats don’t like water. In fact, your usually gentle cat will even hiss at you if you attempt to bathe him/her. Since these animals can handle their own cleanliness, keep the actual bathing to a minimum. Short-haired breeds should bathe once every six weeks while long-haired ones need a bath more often as they get dirty a lot easier. Some special circumstances, which I mentioned at the beginning of this text, may also call for a bath.
There are cat-specific shampoos for a reason. They are specially formulated to suit the cat’s skin pH levels and needs. They have deodorising and anti-flea ingredients, as well as the right level of mildness suitable for cats’ sensitive skin. None of these features can be found in regular human shampoos. Keep in mind that a kitten’s skin is even more delicate. If you have a baby cat, you should take extra precaution when buying their grooming products. Go for cat shampoos that are more delicate and made specifically for kitten use.
There’s a wide variety of cat shampoos available to choose from. If you’re unsure what to go for, you can consult with your cat’s vet. Keep your cat clean, beautiful, and healthy with cat-specific shampoos.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.