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Is it ok to wash a cat with human shampoo?

Cats are typically fastidious groomers. Unlike dogs, who don’t seem to mind being dirty or even stinky, it’s rare that a cat needs a bath. Their tongue is specially designed to keep their fur clean, and they spend as much as 50% of their day grooming themselves.

Still, there are rare occasions when you’ll need to give your cat a bath. If they’ve gotten into something that isnt’ easily removed, like mud, they’ll need your assistance.

Since it’s rare that your cat needs a bath, you may have not thought to pick up cat shampoo. This leaves you wondering, can you use your shampoo on your cat?

Is it ok to wash a cat with human shampoo?

The recent wisdom is that you shouldn’t wash a cat in human shampoo. The two main reasons for this is that the chemicals often used in human shampoo may not be safe for cats, and that they have a different ph than us.

Is it true that using human shampoo on your cat is a bad idea, or is it a method to sell more cat care products?

Human Shampoo Safety

Human shampoo is considered safe and effective for humans, although that is up for debate. Most shampoos contain some questionable chemicals that are leading some consumers to purchase organic shampoos without these ingredients.

If the shampoo has these chemicals, they might pose a problem for your cat. The concern for humans is that these chemicals can be absorbed by the skin, and cause issues when we are exposed to them for long periods of time.

This isn’t really an issue for your cat. You aren’t going to be washing them in your shampoo every day, or even every week.

The problem with cats is they are constantly licking their fur. Chemicals found in shampoo leave a residue behind. Your cat will lick their fur. If there’s chemical residue, they will ingest it while grooming.

Ph Balance

What if you have organic shampoo, free of sulfates and other chemicals? Nearly everything you read these days will tell you that you can’t use a human shampoo on your cat because our skin has a different ph balance.

This is true. Cats have a typical ph balance of 5.5 -7.5. However, this varies based on the area of the body and even from day to day. A cat ph ranges from 4.67 to 8.59. Human ph ranges from 5.2 to 6.2.

Wait, the range for human ph is within the range of normal cat ph? That’s just the beginning!

You would assume that shampoos formulated for cats and dogs would be ph balanced for them. That’s certainly what we have been told.

A recent study sheds more light on this subject. A wide range of human and pet shampoos were tested. Human products ranged from 4.5-8, while pet shampoos ranged from 4.5 to 8.

The majority, 52% of pet products and 43% of pet products fell into the 6-6.5 range. This means when it comes to ph, there is no difference in the ph levels between many pet and human shampoo.

In fact, to meet the commonly recognized ph of cat skin, 6.5, the shampoo should have a ph of 6.5 or higher. Only 33% of pet shampoos met this threshold, compared to 11% of human shampoos.

So, the odds are that your shampoo is in the same general range as the one you purchase for your cat.

The Acid Mantle Myth

Humans and cats have an acid mantle. This is what determines our ph balance. It’s responsible for keeping our bodies safe from bacteria and keeping our skin healthy.

The acid mantle is very important for your cat’s overall health, but does the shampoo you use have a serious impact? It turns out the answer is no.

When an acidic shampoo is used, your pets ph will return to normal within 12 hours. Add to the fact that a cat’s ph can vary greatly due to natural factors. Your cat’s body, like our own, is designed to maintain a ph that is healthy for us, even when something temporarily interferes.

Does This Mean Human Shampoo is Ok For My Cat?

Assuming your shampoo doesn’t have any objectionable chemicals, using it on your cat won’t cause any harm. However, there are still reasons why you might want to choose a cat shampoo instead.

First, it removes any guesswork. Will this fragrance irritate my skin? Is my shampoo sulfate free? When you choose a cat shampoo, these worries are not an issue.

Secondly, they are formulated for cat hair. Human shampoos tend to focus on making hair soft and manageable. This sounds nice, but isn’t exactly what your cat needs.

They need a shampoo that will help them maintain their coat, which is different in texture and strength than human hair.

Lastly, cat shampoos can have other functions. Want to brighten up your cat’s white coat? Need to treat them for fleas? Do you need a shampoo that is gentle on your cat’s skin? You can purchase cat shampoos that are designed for these functions, where human shampoo isn’t designed to tackle these issues.

Bottom Line on Using Human Shampoo for Cats

Using human shampoo on cats is safe, especially if they don’t contain potentially harmful chemicals. However, cat shampoos are better suited to clean your cat.

If all you have is human shampoo, it’s probably ok to use on your cat. Just don’t use it on a regular basis. This will reduce the chances of chemical build up and skin sensitivity. There is a slight chance your cat could be allergic to a shampoo ingredient, but that is true of cat shampoo as well. If you prefer not to use human shampoo, there are plenty of other options.

What can I use to wash my cat if I don’t have cat shampoo?

You need to give your cat a bath. Perhaps you aren’t comfortable using human shampoo, and you are wondering what your options are.

Since ph balance isn’t a big concern, there are many options when it comes to cleaning your kitty. You are sure to have at least one, if not more of these products, in your bathroom or kitchen.

Baby Shampoo

Baby shampoo was once considered the best thing to wash your pet in, especially if pet shampoo wasn’t available. If it’s safe for babies, it must be good for your pets? The maker of the most popular baby shampoo, Johnson and Johnson, has repeatedly come under fire for having harmful ingredients in its product.

In 2014, it claimed it had removed two cancer causing chemicals from its baby shampoo. However, in 2019, India claimed they found harmful ingredients in the shampoo.

Baby shampoo is tear free, which makes it a good choice for cats. It is free of sulfates and phtlates, according to J&J. Is it safe for your cat? Probably, when it’s used very rarely. The good news is, there’s a better option that might be sitting in your kitchen right now.

Dawn Dishwashing Liquid

Dawn dishwashing liquid is known for its grease fighting power. In addition to cleaning dishes, it’s used in animal rescues and ocean oil spill clean ups.

Dawn has been shown to be safe for this use. Don’t pick up just any dishwashing liquid, though. They may contain different ingredients that might not be good for your cat.

Dawn is great at removing oil, so it can dry out your cat’s fur or skin. It’s best to mix it with water to dilute it so it’s gentle on your kitty’s fur.

Castile Soap

Castile soap is very gentle and nontoxic. It’s made from vegetable oil, typically olive oil. It’s an excellent cleanser that is very gentle on your cat’s skin and fur. Dr. Bronners advertises their castille soap as being safe for both cats and dogs, with one caveat.

They recommend using pure Castile soap, without any added essential oils, on cats. It will say 100% pure Castile soap, and may also include the word unscented. A tiny amount of essential oil is unlikely to harm your kitty, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Cleeaning and Deodorizing

If your kitty has gotten into something stinky, regular soap may not do the job. You can kill the stink by simply adding baking soda. You can add baking soda to Castile soap, for an easy deodorizing cleanser. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little water.

You can also add baking soda to baby shampoo or dawn dishwashing liquid. However, be careful adding it to Dawn, because baking soda can intensify the cleansing and drying effects. Be sure to dilute the Dawn.

Homemade Solution

Dawn and vinegar can both be used to clean your cat. One of the best ways to get them clean is to combine the two. Mix 1/4 cup of Dawn  and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. Then add 1 to 2 cups of water.

Now you’ve got an excellent cleaning solution that will be gentle on your kitty’s skin and fur while offering powerful cleansing.

Oatmeal for Sensitive Skin

Yes, the same oatmeal you use for breakfast also makes a great kitty cleanser. You can grind oatmeal using a coffee grinder, or purchase oatmeal baby cereal. These methods make clean up simple. You’ll need 1/2 to 1 cup oatmeal.

Add 1/4 cup baking soda and 2 cups of water. Use the mixture as you would shampoo, and then rinse.

You can also place oatmeal into a cheesecloth bag or old pair of stockings. This will contain the oatmeal so you aren’t picking it up out of the tub. In this case, you’ll use the oatmeal bag as a scrubbing sponge. You can also add a bit of baking soda the the outside of the oatmeal for extra cleaning power.

Rinse when finished, and your kitty is clean.