Q. I’ve been bathing my pets with baby shampoo forever without ever having a problem. But our new veterinarian tells me it’s a bad idea to use any human shampoo on pets. Is it possible I’ve been doing it wrong the whole time?
Human shampoos and pet shampoos are not created equal. That’s because pet skin and human skin are dissimilar. Human skin is more acidic than pet skin, and people have sweat glands while pets don’t (not on their haired skin, anyway).
While there are more differences, these are the ones most commonly cited. Perhaps that’s because a shampoo that’s too acidic (because it’s pH balanced for humans) and/or too harsh (because it’s designed for those with moister skin) can lead to dryness and irritation.
There are more perils. The skin is, after all, a major organ that plays a huge role in immunological defense. By drying the skin we’re stripping the oils and the top layers from an animal’s skin, thereby compromising the body’s natural barrier against infection.
When these defenses are disrupted, the skin –– indeed, the entire pet –– can become predisposed to infections, usually by the yeast and bacteria that live on the surface of the skin.
How does that explain the fact that you’ve used baby shampoos on your pets and never witnessed a reaction?
The truth is that not all human shampoos will react adversely with pet skin. There are, after all, plenty of individual differences to contend with. Or you may not be using it frequently enough to have a problem.
Despite the possibility that a human product might never cause an issue, as a veterinarian, my preference is that you minimize your risk by using the pet stuff. That said, common sense –– along with trial and error –– is probably your best approach.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice in South Miami. Her website is drpattykuhly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dr. Dolittler, Tropical Life, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.