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So my cat (almost 2 years old) somehow got urine on the back of her neck, so to clean it up we used a small amount of diluted human shampoo on a towel to wash her fur. It didn’t go into the skin much (if at all), but now I've seen that human shampoo shouldn’t be used on cats!

It was a very small amount of shampoo on one section of the cat, will she be okay or do we need to do anything?

Thank you!

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It sounds like you did the best thing you could do in the given situation.

One of the main reasons why you shouldn't use human shampoo on a cat (or bathe it at all if it's not absolutely necessary) is that human skin is more acidic than cat skin. Bathing a cat with human shampoo would feel like washing yourself with undiluted vinegar. In addition to that, cats produce almost no sebum (skin oil) at all. The sebum protects the skin and hair from drying out and getting damaged, but it also makes the hair look oily.

Most humans can go a week at most without washing their hair. After a few days the human body already produces so much sebum your hair looks oily. Human shampoo is designed to wash that amount of sebum away.

A cat's skin produces so little sebum it takes them several weeks--up to several months--to produce enough sebum to recreate the protective skin barrier again. Washing cats with human shampoo dries their skin out rather extremely and causes irritation, itching and scratching, and other symptoms of dry skin like dandruff; it can also increase the risk of skin infections. Some ingredients in human shampoo can even poison your cat!

Rubbing the dirty fur with plain water or a specialized cat shampoo is the best way to remove dirt from the fur. Very diluted baby shampoo seems to be the next best option and some people use very diluted dish soap.


One last note: at 2 years of age it is no longer a "kitten," it's an adult cat ;)

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  • Hi, thanks for covering the area that I've missed in my answer! I checked the link you've provided and I'm a little bit shocked - I would never think some shampoos could contain phenol. Its use is banned in personal care products in Yuropean Union where I live, but apparently allowed in USA. – lila May 25 at 11:13
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    @lila I know exactly how you feel. Sometimes during research for an answer I stumble about FDA approved products or similar things in online shops that could never exist in Europe. Even worse is when you can buy a product but get no information whatsoever about ingredients or health / environmental risks of the product. – Elmy May 25 at 11:21
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    Thanks a lot! We kept an eye on her and she seems fine. Thanks for your advice! Much appreciated!! – Matthew Meek May 25 at 17:50
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I cannot completely guarantee that some minor irritation wouldn't ensue, but I'd say she would be all right - especially if the shampoo didn't touch her mucous membranes (mouth, eyes, nose, etc.) If it did, it would more easily cause an irritation, but in that case you would probably notice it right away due to adverse cat's reaction like sneezing or reddened, watering eyes. But I wouldn't expect it to be serious either.

In general, human shampoo shouldn't be used for cats (and vice versa) because optimal pH for cat skin is different that the one for human skin, thus prolonged use would be problematic. But a single, incidental use like in your case - I don't think so.

I'm oversimplifying this of course - human shampoos are different enough among themselves, with the baby shampoos regarded as being the most gentle. But even if it wasn't a baby shampoo - at worst, I'd expect a minor and transient irritation to ensue and then quickly become a ghost of time without any intervention and she will be fine.

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