We hear this question all the time – “what’s the difference between my shampoo and my dog’s shampoo?” You may be surprised to learn that there is a substantial different. Of course, if you run out of your fur kids’ shampoo and you use your own to wash your dog a couple of times, nothing will happen. Your fur kid’s hair won’t fall out and life will probably go on as normal.
But there are areas in which human and dog shampoos differ that you should be aware off. You may not notice the ill effects of human shampoo if used only a couple of times, but after repeated use, you’ll start to see.
Things you didn’t know about your dog’s skin …
- As delicate as a baby … your fur kid’s skin is actually very different from human skin. The pH of human skin is around 5.5 (acidic), while that of dogs is around 7 (neutral) to 8 (slightly alkaline). That’s why canine shampoo has to be specially formulated for dogs with a balanced pH to prevent drying out and itching. Babies also have a more neutral skin pH like dogs, which becomes more acidic over time – hence why babies need special shampoo too.
- A tough cookie but thin skinned … your fur kid’s skin is only three to five cells thick; where as a human’s is between 10 to 15 cells. Damage to those fragile outer layers can lead to infections, irritation and inflammation. This means that shampoos and skin products formulated for humans will be far too harsh for even the most macho of dog breeds.
- Sweaty feet for a speedy getaway … contrary to popular belief, dogs DO sweat and they DO have glands located on their bodies, just like humans. However, it is only the glands in dogs’ paws that act to reduce heat by releasing a substance equivalent to sweat in humans and the glands on their bodies mainly produce pheromones for scent marking. These paw glands are also activated in nervous or frightened dogs which is thought to help doggies in danger make a quick getaway!
- The hair of the dog … unlike humans, your fur kids have three types of hairs: a soft undercoat for warmth (secondary hairs), longer guard hairs for protection (primary hairs) and whiskers (tactile hairs) – although puppies lack primary hairs. Whereas human hair also tends to be the same colour for its whole length, dog hair can have a range of colours throughout its length, known as ‘banding’.
- Not all bacteria are bad … it is normal for dogs to have a level of bacteria living on their skin which actually has a protective function. A common bacteria found on the healthy skin of dogs is Staphylococcus (Wikipedia) which usually doesn’t cause a problem. However, when the skin barrier or immune system is compromised, such as by other disease or an allergy, these typically harmless microbes can multiply and cause a bacterial infection. A healthy, well cared for fur kid is better able to maintain that balance of healthy bacteria and fight off unwelcome invaders.
- Good grooming – more than just skin deep … just as people may have preferences for bobs, perms or mullets, dogs can be clipped professionally in different styles such as the teddy bear, lamb cut or lion cut. General brushing and grooming spreads the skin’s natural protective oils across its surface, it also increases circulation and blood flow – all of which help to maintain sumptuous skin. The average dog has between 100 and 600 hairs per square centimetre over its body.
- Dogs don’t tan … unlike humans, your fur kids don’t have the ability to tan with repeated exposure to the sun. It is the substance melatonin that provides the skin with sun protection and gives it its colour which is lacking in lighter skinned dogs putting them at increased risk of burning. However, the coat also provides an effective screen against the sun, so hairless dogs or those with sparse coats are also more likely to burn. Whatever the skin color or coat of a dog, shade should always be readily available. Supplements high in iodine and iron, such as elderberry and nettle extract may help maintain healthy skin pigmentation.
Key points to remember …
All mammals have what is called an “acid mantle” (Wikipedia) – a thin layer of acidic oil that covers the top layer of skin and protects it from bacteria, viruses, and other harmful elements. When humans bathe, we wash away that protective mantle. Human shampoos and soaps are typically formulated with oils and moisturisers that replace that acidic layer until the body is able to rejuvenate it on it’s own … usually within 12 hours. If that acid mantle is not replaced, we see irritated, dry, flaky skin, or even a bumpy rash. That acidic layer is what determines the relative pH of both human and canine skin. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 (Wikipedia), with levels more than 6.4 considered high alkalinity, and with levels less than 6.4 considered high acidity. Human skin falls into a pH range of 5.2 to 6.2, fairly acidic, and human shampoos and soaps are made to maintain that balance.
Canine skin, on the other hand, can range from 5.5 to 7.5, moving into more of an alkaline range depending on the breed, sex, and size of the dog. The climate of where the dog lives also factors into skin balance. Canine skin has several layers, including an outer epidermis that is constantly being replaced and an inner dermis that contains nerves and blood vessels. Canine skin is thinner and much more sensitive than human skin.
Canine fur grows from hair follicles in the skin. Dogs have compound hair follicles, with a central (guard) hair surrounded by 3 to 15 secondary hairs growing out of the same pore. Sebaceous (oil) glands within the skin lubricate the hair, keeping the coat shiny and water resistant. Hair growth is controlled by several factors, including nutrition, hormones, and time of year. In general, dogs shed at a slow steady rate all year round, with periods of increased shedding in the spring and fall. Shedding replaces hair gradually, without bald patches (which can be a sign of illness and should be investigated).
The main functions of the hair coat are to protect the skin and to help regulate temperature. Fur traps air, which provides a layer of insulation against the cold. Small muscles attached to the guard hairs allow dogs to raise these hairs, which improves air trapping. Dogs also raise their hackles as a threatening gesture in response to danger. Different breeds of dogs have different types of hair coats. Breeds from northern climates (such as Huskies and Malamutes) have a soft, downy undercoat that provides better insulation in cold weather. Water breeds (retrievers, for example) have more long and stiff guard hairs to protect the skin and undercoat from harsh environmental conditions. Water breeds also have ample oil secretions to lubricate the hair. Breeds from warmer climates have shorter coats designed only to shade the skin. Poodles have very fine, curly hair that sheds far less than that of other breeds.
What do I look for in doggy shampoos?
Dog’s have different problems than what their pet parents do. We usually don’t sit around and scratch our heads as much as dogs scratch. This is because dog’s eliminate toxins differently than we do. We can sweat them out. Since dogs really don’t sweat, their toxins are eliminated through their kidneys and bowels. Shampoos containing natural, colloidal oatmeal, aloe vera, and tea tree oils will replace your dog’s natural skin balance more quickly than shampoos made with chemical components. Shampoos and rich conditioners with natural fragrances such as lavender, peppermint oil, or eucalyptus not only replenish skin oils and keep your pet smelling nice, they can also work as insect repellents.
Contrary to popular belief, you can wash your dog every week to every month (depending on the breed). Keeping your fur kids’ clean means washing away allergens that can make him or her itchy. And if you (the human) have allergies you really want to keep your fur kids’ allergen free. Buying a good quality, all-natural doggy shampoo, such as the brands we support, may mean digging a little deeper into your pockets than it does when you purchase your own shampoos and soaps – but one bottle can last 6 months and can save your fur kids from the incessant itching and scratching that comes from using a cheaper, human product.
References and Research
There is little written on this topic available across the net.
- Evaluation of the effect of pH on in vitro growth of Malassezia pachydermatis (PubMED);
- Structure of the Skin in Dogs (Merck);