Can You Use Human Shampoo On Dogs?

As much as we love our pets, there are times they just don’t smell so great! But can you use human shampoo on dogs? Or do you have to buy a special kind of shampoo? Let’s find out!

While some breeds, like Huskies, are fastidiously clean and are known to avoid this problem, just about every other dog owner has lamented and complained about how much their beloved pet still has that doggy smell, no matter how clean they are.

Perhaps, at wit’s end, you look at your bottle of shampoo and wonder, can you use human shampoo on dogs? Would that work out better?

The quick answer is, sadly, is no. It might not make sense at first since both are meant to clean parts of the body that’s covered anyway, but the differences between the human scalp and dog skin are enough to make using human shampoo on dogs a bad idea.

Here’s more information on why that is the case.

Can You Use Human Shampoo On Dogs? Difference Between The Human Scalp And Dog Skin?

Before we can start figuring out how else to get rid of that wet dog smell, we need to understand why we can’t use human shampoos in the first place.

At first glance, the easy answer seems to be because we are different creatures with different needs. In truth, the reality is a little more complicated than that.

An important component of the skin is something called the acid mantle. This slightly acidic layer is the skin’s personal layer of protection.

Because of the porous nature of the skin, this layer serves as a barrier to protect the topmost layer of skin, the stratum corneum, from viruses and bacteria.

During a shower, we wash away some of this acidic layer, leaving the stratum corneum stripped clean and vulnerable to being attacked by microorganisms.

This is why most human shampoos are formulated with moisturizers, which act as a temporary barrier until the skin can replenish the acid mantle.

For humans, the pH level of the acid mantle is usually about 5.2 to 6.2, which is slightly acidic.

This means that in order to protect the skin, human shampoos are specially formulated to maintain this pH balance. However, the pH level for dogs is 5.5 to 7.5, which is more alkaline.

Washing dogs with human shampoo can then upset the pH level of a dog’s skin, leaving them vulnerable to dry, flaky, irritated skin that feels itchy due to the microorganisms invading the skin.

Unfortunately, your dog will want to scratch that itch, creating more abrasions for microorganisms and thus beginning a vicious cycle.

Why Do Dogs Smell The Way They Do?

While some breeds like the Husky are famous for being fastidiously clean and not having that wet dog smell, there are many perfectly normal reasons for why your dogs have that smell!

Considering how important scent is for dogs to identify each other by, it is a good idea to run through the list of possibilities for your dog’s scent, just to understand what is going on.

Natural Musk

You might just not be used to their natural musk! Most dogs have a distinct smell unique to each individual and are one of the many ways dogs identify each other.

How this is achieved is through light perspiration through their hair follicles. This perspiration doesn’t function like human sweat – dogs cool their bodies through their paws and tongues – and instead serves to emit a chemical scent.

There is also the natural oils secreted by their body, which also carries a scent marker.

All this combined with the glands in their ears, which produce a light, yeasty scent, and each dog can have a very distinct smell. Humans can’t tell the difference though, so to us they just all smell the same!


You will notice that when the weather is dry and cold, that wet dog smell is nonexistent. But when your dog gets wet, or can’t dry out completely, that wet dog smell is out in full force!

This is because the surface of a dog’s skin is home to thousands of microbes, such as bacterial and fungal organisms like yeast.

As these microorganisms go about their daily business, they produce waste in the form of chemical compounds.

Some of these do smell terrible on their own, while others aren’t as offensive, but on the whole, the smell they produce normally isn’t so bad when the dog is dry.

The problem happens when the dog gets wet – suddenly all these microbes have what they need for their numbers to boom.

And when there are more of these microorganisms producing waste that smells bad, it makes the dog stink!

Clogged Anal Glands

Dogs carry scent glands that can get clogged. Also known as anal glands due to their location near the anus, the secretion from these glands carry a strong, musky scent for the purpose of identification among other dogs.

Healthy glands are normally expressed at the same time the dog defecates.

However, these glands can get clogged and be unable to drain naturally, trapping the secretions and making the glands swollen.

The pressure build-up is uncomfortable, even painful for your dog, who will then try to find relief by any means necessary.

This often means they will be dragging their butts along the floor, which can ruin your attempts to keeping your home smelling fresh!


A less pleasant and more worrying reason as to why your dog could be smelling so strongly is an infection. Just like any other part of the body, the skin can get infected.

This usually happens in dogs with overlapping folds of skin like Bulldogs, but can affect just about any other dog when the folds of the skin retain too much moisture and microorganisms.

They can also be caused by scratches or cracked, broken skin from skin allergies, where the skin is vulnerable to infection.

Other forms of infections include infection ear infections, dental infections, anal gland infections.

Ear infections often occur in long-haired dogs or dogs with floppy ears, while anal gland infections can happen when the anal glands get clogged and swollen.

Meanwhile, dental infections can create rotting, decaying smells as a result of the infected tissues in a dog’s mouth. These issues, if found, should be tackled immediately for the sake of the dog’s health.

Dirty Old Collars

Just like any other fabric, a dog’s collar can absorb and hold onto moisture and oils. As the collar breaks down and gets worn out, any waterproofing the collar had will wear out, allowing the collar to trap and retain water and the dog’s body oils.

These liquids then create the perfect environment for microorganisms to bloom and grow!


You just may be feeding your dog foods that make them stink! Just like humans, dogs have microflora in their gut.

This microflora aids the digestive system in breaking down food, and in turn releases gases that can make your dog’s flatulence smell terrible, or even give them bad breath!

What Can I Do About This Smell?

For the most part, a dog having a doggie smell usually doesn’t suggest any problem. In fact, that smell is important for dogs to identify each other by, and may just be something you will have to get used to!

While reading this, however, you may have also noticed a pattern – any smells that occur usually fall under two categories: keeping the dog clean, and keeping the dog healthy.

These two things are highly interconnected and crucial to maintaining that wet dog smell at normal levels.

Cleanliness leads to a healthy dog, and a healthy dog is a dog that doesn’t smell bad! This is because a healthy dog means all body organs functioning as they should.

Good dental hygiene eliminates the dog’s mouth as a possible factor. Clear and functioning anal glands means no build-up of the strongly musky secretion.

Clean and healthy skin and ears make it impossible for an infection to take hold and create offensive odours. All this is only possible if the dog is kept healthy, as the smell of infections is there to indicate that something is wrong with your dog.

Additionally, maintaining a clean and dry dog also means keeping the natural microflora on the dog’s skin in check. Washing the dog removes excess oils that contribute to the smell, and drying the fur reduces the moisture content microflora needs to live.

This in turn reduces and keeps the smells that these microorganisms produce as low as possible. Because of this, it might be tempting to just wash your dog a lot.

However, this is actually a bad idea! Just like in humans, washing your dog too often and too much can cause many problems that might even make the smell worse.

Washing strips your dog of the all-important acid mantle, which protects the stratum corneum layer of the skin and keeps it moisturized.

This leads to the skin drying and cracking, which can be irritating to the dog and an easy target for bacteria and pre-existing microorganisms on the dog’s skin.

This, by the way, is the reason why you can’t use human shampoo on dogs! Since the moisturizer the shampoo tries to replace the acid mantle with isn’t suitable for dogs, it won’t be able to adequately protect the dog’s skin.

This can lead to infections when will then cause the smells that you wanted to avoid in the first place!

Alternatively, if you find that none of those tips seems to be fixing the issue, you can try changing your dog’s diet, or replace their collar with a new one.

If that doesn’t work either, but your dog is still a healthy and happy dog, then that smell is just something you are going to have to get used to! Some dogs get a lot of energy after they take a bath, so don’t be surprised if your dog starts running around the house.

What If I Have An Emergency?

Sometimes it can’t be helped – maybe a car accident means you are now financially in dire straits and can no longer afford dog shampoo, or you have sudden visitors and you need to make sure your dog’s smell doesn’t offend their sensitive noses.

But you have just run out of dog shampoo and don’t have time to make a quick run to the store. What can you do then?

This really depends on several factors. In cases like these, a once-in-a-blue-moon emergency wash shouldn’t harm your dog, barring any pre-existing skin allergies or skin conditions that could be irritated by human shampoo.

It is only the frequency of use that will start having an effect on your dog.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the skin’s pH value of your dog can vary from breed to breed, from individual to individual.

Your dog may have more acidic skin than other dogs, making them more tolerant of human shampoo should an emergency come up.

Additionally, human shampoo these days are generally made from gentle, natural ingredients such as aloe vera, tea tree oil, or natural colloidal oatmeal.

These ingredients are less harsh than chemical shampoos, and will likely cause less damage to your dog’s skin should the need arise.

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