Can You Use Head And Shoulders Shampoo On A Dog? (Or Other Anti-Dandruff Shampoos)

Written By: Gemma Johnstone | Last Updated: June 8, 2020

Dog near head and sholder shampoo

If your pooch has flaky skin, you might be wondering whether it’s safe to use Head and Shoulders on a dog. This article explains why it’s not a good idea (and what to use instead.)

Many dogs suffer from dandruff and flaky skin. If you already have a bottle of Head and Shoulders, it’s natural to consider using it on your dog. But is this safe?

The short answer is “no.” Human shampoos are formulated for our skin and hair biology. A dog’s skin has different pH levels, thickness, and sensitivity, so washing with a human shampoo could have harmful side effects.

With that said, using Head and Shoulders as a one-off is unlikely to be dangerous, but you should avoid using it regularly. There are also much more effective dog-specific anti-dandruff shampoos available.

Keep reading to learn more about why you shouldn’t use Head and Shoulders, along with some tips for choosing an anti-dandruff shampoo for your dog.

What is Head & Shoulders?

As you know, Head and Shoulders is a popular human shampoo for treating dandruff.

The active ingredient is zinc pyrithione. This compound is found in medical skin creams and shampoos, due to its antibacterial and antifungal properties.

It’s the antifungal benefits of zinc pyrithione that make it an effective treatment for seborrheic dermatitis in humans. This is a common scalp condition caused by a yeast fungus, leading to dryness and dandruff. Zinc pyrithione can kill the fungus and improve scalp condition.

While zinc pyrithione is safe for humans, it can cause burning if it gets in the eyes or mouth. The same is true for dogs, so be extra careful around the eyes if you decide to use Head and Shoulders.

Is Head And Shoulders Shampoo Safe for Treating Your Dog’s Dandruff?

Dandruff on a dog

Despite being an effective treatment for human dandruff, you shouldn’t use Head and Shoulders on your dog. Doing so could cause skin irritation, dryness, and even put your dog at risk of infection.

Dogs Have a Different Skin pH Balance

Both dogs and humans have a protective skin barrier called the ‘acid mantle.’ The acid mantle stops contaminants, such as bacteria or viruses, from entering the body.

The acid mantle of human skin is naturally more acidic than a dog’s skin. Shampoos designed for humans can disrupt the pH balance of a dog’s skin and compromise the acid mantle. This could leave the dog more vulnerable to infection and potentially cause an increase in dryness or flaking.

Note: This is also one of the reasons why you shouldn’t use baby shampoo on a dog. While baby shampoos tend to be gentler than those formulated for adults, they still aren’t designed for a dog’s skin pH balance.

Dogs Have Thinner Skin

Dogs have thinner and more sensitive skin than humans. The top layer of human skin, called the epidermis, tends to be around 10-15 cells thick. Dogs, on the other hand, only have 3-5 layers of skin cells in their epidermis.

This makes dogs more susceptible to irritation caused by harsh shampoo ingredients. Side effects of irritation include dryness and itchy skin, so human shampoos could actually make dandruff worse!

Dog Anti-Dandruff Shampoos Often Have Different Active Ingredients

Head and Shoulders doesn’t contain active ingredients that have been proven effective for dogs. Ingredients such as salicylic acid and selenium sulfide are more commonly used in dog anti-dandruff shampoos.

Dog shampoos also contain other ingredients that are beneficial to a dog’s coat and skin. These include colloidal oatmeal, vitamin E and shea butter.

To summarise, it’s important to wash your dog with a canine-specific shampoo. Ideally, this should contain minimal and gentle ingredients, to reduce the chance of irritation. 

What About Other Human Anti-Dandruff Shampoos?

There are lots of human anti-dandruff shampoos on the market. Nizoral, Neutrogena T-Sal and Selsun Blue are a few popular examples. While they have different ingredients to Head and Shoulders, you should still avoid using them on your dog.

As with all human shampoos, these products have been designed for the more acidic skin of humans. They could also contain chemical ingredients that are harmful or irritating for your dog.

How Should You Manage Dog Dandruff Instead?

Canine dandruff is a skin condition that occurs when dead skin cells multiply more quickly than they should. This results in dry flakes forming on your dog’s skin and coat.

While dry dandruff is more common, oily dandruff is also possible. This is often accompanied by a pungent odor emanating from your dog’s coat.

Although dandruff itself is usually a mild problem, it’s often a symptom of an underlying health condition. Skin infections, stress, parasites, and allergic reactions can all lead to flaky skin. Dandruff can even be a symptom of serious diseases, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease.

For this reason, you should always seek veterinary advice if your dog has excessive or long-term dandruff. Your vet will help you treat the underlying cause of dry skin, rather than just the effects. You should also contact your vet if dandruff is accompanied with other symptoms.

How to Choose a Canine Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

While it’s important to treat the underlying cause of dandruff, anti-flake dog shampoos help manage the symptoms and make your dog more comfortable. In particular, they are great for reducing flakes, soothing itching, and moisturising the skin.

There are many anti-dandruff shampoos designed specifically for dogs, so it’s not always easy to choose. Look for one that has proven active ingredients, such as sulfur, coal tar, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Moisturising ingredients, such as coconut oil, shea butter, vitamin E and colloidal oatmeal, can also be beneficial.

If you’re not sure which shampoo to buy, our recommended anti-dandruff shampoos are:

  1. Veterinary Formula Antiseborrheic Medicated Shampoo (Contains Salicylic Acid and Coal Tar)
  2. PetMD Benzoyl Peroxide Medicated Shampoo for Dogs
  3. PetAg Fresh 'n Clean Skin & Coat Essentials Dandruff Shampoo (Contains Salicylic Acid)

Summary

Although a one-off wash with Head and Shoulders is unlikely to harm your dog, it’s not recommended for regular use. Aside from negatively impacting your dog’s skin health, human shampoos can cause irritation and even make dandruff worse.

Dog-specific anti-dandruff shampoos are formulated for a dog’s more sensitive and alkaline skin. This reduces the chance of skin irritation or inflammation. They also contain active ingredients that are proven to help canine dandruff.

If your dog has ongoing or severe dandruff problems, you should always seek advice from your vet. Dandruff rarely occurs in isolation, so it’s important to treat the underlying cause.

About the Author

Gemma is a freelance writer and official dog nut. With 15 years of experience in the pet industry, she is a passionate animal welfare advocate. She has worked for the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ran her own specialist dog shop for ten years, has volunteered for her local rescue shelter, and is studying towards completing an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour. Gemma is currently travelling around Europe with her wonderful rescue dog, Annie.