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Can You Use Human Conditioner On Dogs?

It might be tempting to use a human conditioner on your dog, but this isn’t a good idea!

Human conditioners can lead to skin dryness, flaking, and irritation, as they are not pH balanced for a dog’s sensitive skin. Many human hair products also contain ingredients that are potentially dangerous for dogs.

In this article, we’ll discuss why you should only ever use dog conditioner when washing your pet’s fur. We’ll also go through the benefits of dog conditioners and how to use them effectively.

Can You Use Human Hair Conditioner on Dogs?

The short answer is no, you should not use human hair conditioners on your dog.

Dogs have more delicate skin than humans. Many human conditioners are more acidic than a dog’s skin can handle, and they often contain chemicals that can strip natural oils from your dog’s coat.

While the dangers of human conditioners are sometimes overblown, there are very real risks to using them on a dog (especially on a regular basis). These risks range from skin dryness to an increased chance of bacterial infections.

So, you should only ever use hair products specifically designed for dogs. This is especially true for conditioners, as there is very rarely an emergency reason to condition a dog’s hair after shampooing.

Why You Shouldn’t Use a Human Conditioner on Your Dog

Now that we’ve established that human conditioners aren’t safe for dogs, let’s delve deeper into why this is the case.

A Dog’s Skin pH Differs From Human Skin

A significant difference between human and dog skin is the pH of the acid mantle. The acid mantle layer is vital for fending off bacteria and viruses, and also keeps the skin hydrated by reducing water evaporation.

Dogs typically have a pH of 6.2 to 7.4, although some dogs might have slightly more acidic or alkaline skin. On the other hand, humans have a narrower pH range of 5.5 to 6.5.

Since a lower pH indicates more acidity, a dog’s acid mantle is more neutral than humans by around one point on the pH scale (on average).

This might seem like a small difference – but remember that the pH scale is logarithmic. A single unit change, like moving from 6 to 5, represents a tenfold difference! So human skin is about ten times more acidic than a dog’s.

As you might expect, human conditioner is formulated for the acid mantle of humans. This means it’s more acidic than a dog’s skin, and can disrupt the important pH balance and strip healthy oils from the skin.

Dogs Also Have a Thinner Epidermis

Canine skin layers

Another difference between human and dog skin is the thickness of the top layer, known as the epidermis. This layer acts as a protective shield against infection, injury, and harmful UV rays.

While humans have around 10-15 skin cells in this layer, dogs have as few as three! This means that harsh chemicals and bacteria can penetrate into a dog’s body more easily, particularly when the acid mantle has been compromised.

As a result, it’s vital to avoid using human conditioners that might contain potentially harmful chemicals. It’s also important to avoid causing skin irritation, as the canine epidermis is susceptible to damage if the dog scratches it repeatedly.

Human Conditioners Are Not Designed for Dogs

This point may seem obvious, but it’s worth reiterating: human conditioners simply are not made with a dog’s safety in mind.

Dogs often lick their fur, so any residual conditioner in the coat could enter the bloodstream. Unfortunately, human conditioners may contain preservatives, surfactants, dyes, fragrances, and other additives that could be dangerous to your pet if ingested.

Some human conditioners and shampoos also contain soap. Soap-based products can dry out a dog’s skin, leading to flaking, itchiness, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Additionally, human conditioners can be more challenging to wash out of your dog’s fur. Conditioners designed for dogs are formulated to rinse out much more easily, making them a more convenient option – especially if your dog hates baths!

What Can Happen If You Use a Human Conditioner?

So, we’ve established that human conditioners are not safe for dogs. But what are the potential risks of using a human conditioner to wash your pet’s fur?

As we’ve already mentioned, human conditioners can disrupt the balance of a dog’s acid mantle. This imbalance can trigger a variety of problems, such as skin dryness, flakiness, and itchiness. Once a dog’s skin becomes dry, the constant scratching could also lead to open wounds and hot spots, which are areas of infection and inflammation on the skin.

An unsettled pH balance or damaged epidermis also makes it more likely for viruses and bacteria to invade your dog’s body. This can increase the chance of skin infections and even parasites.

However, before you start panicking, these issues are only likely to happen if a dog’s coat is repeatedly washed with human conditioner. While it’s best to completely avoid human conditioners, a single application probably won’t have a major impact on your dog’s skin.

The exception is if your dog has an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients in human shampoo, which would require immediate veterinary assistance.

What Exactly is a Dog Conditioner?

The easiest way to avoid the problems listed above is to use a dog conditioner. These are developed specifically for canine skin, making them gentler and safer for your pet.

Here are some key differences between a high-quality dog conditioner and a human one:

  • Dog conditioners generally have a pH that’s closer to neutral, aligning with a dog’s acid mantle.
  • Dog conditioners are made with gentler ingredients to avoid drying out a dog’s skin.
  • Dog conditioners are formulated to wash out more easily from thick fur.
  • Dog conditioners don’t include ingredients that are unsafe for your dog to lick off the fur in small quantities (although it’s still important to wash as much of the conditioner out as possible).

Dog conditioners also often include natural ingredients that are beneficial for a dog’s skin. For example, some conditioners are formulated with oatmeal, which is known to reduce itchiness and soothe irritation. Others use coconut oil, which adds a lovely shine to the coat.

What are the Benefits of a Dog Conditioner?

Just like with us humans, a conditioner can offer several benefits to your dog’s fur.

Conditioners don’t wash the coat like shampoo, but moisturize the skin and fur. They also create a healthy shine and can help prevent tangles.

However, it’s worth noting that not all dogs require a conditioner. Conditioners tend to be most beneficial for dogs with hair-like coats, such as curly hair poodle breeds, as these are prone to tangling and mats. They are also helpful if your dog is prone to dry skin – although you should always consult a vet about any ongoing skin issues.

Tip: If your dog doesn’t like bath time, consider a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner. These speed up the bathing process, while still providing the benefits of a conditioner.

How Often Should You Use Conditioner on Your Dog?

Washing a dog

It can be hard to know how often to use a dog conditioner, as the answer depends on factors like your dog’s fur type and bathing frequency.

You can usually apply a dog conditioner each time you shampoo your dog’s fur. Most dogs only need a bath every 4-8 weeks, depending on the type of coat and how dirty your dog gets.

It’s important to avoid bathing your dog too frequently, as this can lead to skin dryness by stripping away natural oils. The exception is dogs with skin conditions requiring medicated shampoo, as these may need to be applied more often.

If you’re uncertain about how often to use a conditioner on your dog, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian.

Are There Any Ingredients to Avoid in a Dog Conditioner?

Despite being designed for dogs, not all dog conditioners are created equal. Some are safer and more effective than others.

Try to avoid dog conditioners containing harsh ingredients or unnecessary chemicals. For instance, artificial colorings, while harmless to humans, can cause irritation to your dog and offer no added benefit. Soap-based conditioners can also lead to coat dryness.

Certain chemicals should also be avoided, as they are potentially harmful. Examples include:

  • Parabens
  • Formaldehyde
  • Phthalates
  • Isothiazolinone preservatives
  • Sulfates
  • Bromopol
  • Isopropyl alcohol

Additionally, steer clear of conditioners with strong fragrances. Dogs have a sensitive sense of smell, so strong-smelling hair products can be very uncomfortable for them.

Instead, opt for certified organic dog conditioners that primarily use natural ingredients and have little (or no) scent.

Tip: Be wary of dog conditioners containing “proprietary blends” in the ingredient list. You should be able to check exactly what’s included in a conditioner or shampoo before using it on your dog.

How Should You Apply a Dog Conditioner?

Applying a dog conditioner usually isn’t difficult, as long as you follow the instructions on the bottle. However, it’s essential to wash your dog with shampoo before applying a conditioner. Dog conditioner should never be used on its own!

Here’s a simple, step-by-step process for washing your dog’s coat:

  1. Begin by shampooing your dog’s fur to remove dirt. Be careful to avoid the eye area, as even tearless shampoos can cause discomfort and irritation.
  2. Rinse the fur with clean water to remove all the shampoo. The water should run clear before moving to the next step.
  3. While the fur is still wet, apply the conditioner. Massage it throughout the coat to ensure an even distribution.
  4. Repeat the rinsing step to ensure that all of the conditioner is removed from the skin. Leftover conditioner can cause buildup and potentially irritate the skin.
  5. Use a towel to remove as much water as possible from your dog. Then, let them shake off the rest! Shaking off isn’t just effective for removing water, which is important for preventing coldness after a bath, but can also reduce stress in dogs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use Baby Conditioner on a Dog?

Even though baby conditioners and baby shampoos are gentler than adult alternatives, it’s still not advisable to use them on dogs. These products may contain chemicals that can be harmful or irritating to a dog’s skin. The pH of baby conditioners is also not optimised for dogs.

Do Dogs Really Need Conditioner?

No, not all dogs need a conditioner. In many cases, washing with a dog-specific shampoo is enough to leave your pet’s coat clean and healthy.

However, conditioners can be beneficial for dogs prone to dry skin or matting. This is particularly true for dogs with long or curly hair, which are more likely to suffer from tangles. Conditioners can also make the fur feel soft, reduce shedding, and add a healthy shine.

Can You Use Head And Shoulders On A Dog?

Head and Shoulders should not be used on dogs, even dogs with dandruff or flaky skin. Like human conditioners, human shampoos are not pH balanced for a dog’s skin. Always use products specifically formulated for dogs, and contact a vet if you notice signs of skin irritation or flaking.


You should not use a human conditioner on your dog’s coat. Human conditioners are not designed for dogs, so they may contain harmful ingredients. Dogs and humans also have different skin pH, so it’s essential to use a canine-specific conditioner.

Do you have any questions about whether you can use a human conditioner on a dog? Please let us know in the comments section. You may also want to read our article about the best dog shampoos.


Richard Cross

Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports.
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