Why you shouldn’t use human shampoo on your dog

This post was sponsored by Rufus & Coco, all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

How is it only Tuesday? Are we getting Punk’d? Truly, I woke up expecting it to be Thursday, only to find out we’re not nearly that lucky. Sigh. The good news is, I have a fantastic post for you. Recently, I gave some very lucky dogs a makeover courtesy of Rufus & Coco. When they initially reached out to me, I was excited to partner with a brand I believed in, but more than that, I learned… a lot. Namely, why human shampoo is not good for dogs.

Let me start with a favorite story of mine. Back in 2014, I was babysitting my friend’s dog named Oliver and I decided to take him on a picnic. I packed us water and snacks and we headed to the lakefront. I was laying out my blanket while Oliver was off sniffing around (on a leash of course). Once the picnic was set up, I turned back around and realized he was no longer sniffing, he was now rolling in goose poop. Stunned and slightly panicked, I swiftly repacked our picnic and walked immediately home. I knew he needed a bath but I had no doggy shampoo at my place. So, knowing he had sensitive skin, I opted to use Head & Shoulders which I thought would be the most gentle. Sigh. If I knew then what I know now.

Human vs. Dog Skin

Humans use shampoo that is formulated for our skin, which sounds obvious. What’s not obvious is how different our scalp is from dog skin. On a (literal) surface level, there is a difference of thickness, ours is much thicker than dogs’. The human epidermis (skin) is about 10-15 cells thick, whereas canine skin is only about 2-5 cells thick. That means ours is three times thicker than our dogs’.

What does this have to do with shampoo? Since canines have a thinner skin, they also have more sensitive skin. So when you’re lathering up your dog, you want to be sure the shampoo is formulated for their skin. If it’s not, your dog can experience some major discomfort. For example, if you use human shampoo which is much more acidic (200 times) than dog shampoo, you can cause a lot of irritation. What does that mean? Oh, I’m so glad you asked.

pH Levels

A little chemistry lesson (bet you didn’t see that coming) really quick. Everything has a pH level ranging from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline). The pH level of human scalps is fairly acidic ranging from 4.5-5.5. Thus, shampoos designed for humans generally have a pH level of about 5. Dogs, however, have slightly more neutral skin ranging from 6.5-7.5. So, shampoo for dogs should have a pH level closer to that range.

Since (as we learned) dogs’ skin is thin, it’s already sensitive. Using a human shampoo (even baby shampoo) is way too acidic. When you use an acidic (human) shampoo on a dog, their pH level gets all messed it. This can allow for bacteria, viruses, and parasites to flourish. Not a good situation. Even at best, using human shampoo on your dog can lead to irritation, not any fun for Fido.


The last little nugget of information I’ll share is about the actual ingredients in the shampoo. Some shampoos contain chemicals that can also irritate your dog’s skin.

Parabens are found in many, many cosmetics (even your own) and have been linked to cancer. They are stored in the body and build up causing tumors. You won’t find “paraben” on the label, but you might find butylparaben, methylparaben, or propylparaben. Avoid these!

Sulfates are what makes shampoo nice and foamy. It’s what makes you “feel” clean when soaping up your own hair, but they actually strip our hair of its natural oils and irritate the skin. I stopped using shampoos containing sulfates immediately and will be avoiding them for Rawlings.

Fragrances generally come from artificial chemicals which, you guessed it, are not good for the skin (ours or our furry friends.) These fragrances have been linked to cancer-causing chemicals so best to avoid them altogether.

What to use

Why risk it? There are so many potential dangers using people shampoo on your dog that it’s best to simply avoid it. Instead, opt for a dog shampoo that is specifically formulated for their coat.

Want to take all the guesswork out? Rufus & Coco are paraben and sulfate free. They use organic ingredients which smell amazing (I can attest to that) and yes, they are even cruelty-free. Rufus & Coco is an Australian brand that is now launching at PetSmart. They put a lot of thought into their shampoos so you don’t have to. Oh! And if your dog isn’t into baths (I can relate) they have a dry shampoo for them! We tried out the dry shampoo with Stanley who was not keen on the whole bubble bath thing. A little dry shampoo and Stanley was looking and smelling beautiful. Can I get an amen?

I learned a lot of useful information writing this post and I am still apologizing to my friend for bathing her dog in Head & Shoulders. I’m stocked up on Rufus & Coco now so bring on the goose poop!


Both these babies are available through Chicago Canine Rescue. Psst… have you signed up for Mutt Strut yet??

Rue – Old lady Rue is seriously as sweet as they come. She loves people, kids, cats and most dogs she meets. Rue was SUCH a good girl when it was time for her bath. She let us do whatever we wanted and just gave kisses the whole time. Rue has been at the shelter for far too long and is ready for her forever home. For more information about Rue, click here.

Stanley – This beautiful black pup is ready for someone to love him. He’s had a tough start to life and would benefit greatly from a large yard to romp around in all by himself. He’s super sweet but would be best with someone who has experience with larger breed dogs. He has been in the shelter for TWO YEARS and is still such a good boy. For more details on Stanley, click here.


I got this shirt from One Heart Coffee and it seemed to fit perfectly with this shoot. There was certainly dog glitter everywhere and I loved it. I paired it with my Girlfriend Collective leggings and Air Max. You can shop a similar look below!



All photos: Margaret Rajic








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