Cats & Shampoo: Know What's In The Bottle - Groomer to Groomer

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Cats & Shampoo: Know What’s In The Bottle

By Kim Raisanen

In the old days, us groomers used Dawn dish soap, Johnson’s baby shampoo, Goop, alcohol and other unhealthy ingredients on cats. Thankfully we have come a long way and shampoo manufacturers have stepped up to the plate and designed safer alternatives for us to use.

Now that cats have products that are specifically designed for them, let’s keep these separate from the dog washing products! It’s better to err on the side of caution and prevent a disaster by accidentally using a dog product on a cat. There are shampoos and other grooming products that are toxic, and in some cases, fatal if used on cats, that’s why it is so important to know what is in the bottle.

Cats are very sensitive beings and applying the wrong type of shampoo can cause dermatological issues, hair loss and possible poisoning. Just like flea topical preventatives, you must read the labels and know your ingredients.

shampoo ingredients that can be harmful to cats

Do not use shampoos that contain any of the following ingredients:


Phenol: This can be found in Coal Tar shampoos, Keratolytic shampoos, and shampoos that contain 3% hexachlorophene. Phenol is absorbed very quickly in the GI tract. Kidney and liver damage can occur within 12–24 hours after exposure.

Pyrethrins: This group is naturally occurring compounds that are derived from the chrysanthemum plant. These compounds are the insecticidal ingredients in Pyrethrum. They sound harmless enough, however, to help stabilize them and increase their effectiveness against fleas and ticks, manufacturers add potentially poisonous chemicals such as piperonyl butoxide, sesamex, and piperonyl cylonene to the pyrethrins, which unfortunately increases their level of toxicity. Even though this group is naturally occurring, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that it is safe for use on cats.

Pyrergroids: This is a group of synthetic derivatives of natural pyrethrins. Permethrin, Phenothrin and Etofenprox. Stay away from shampoos that contain these ingredients.

Permenthrin: This is a synthetic derivative of pyrethrins. There are shampoos and other products containing Permethrin that are marketed as “safe for use on cats.” If you decide that you want to risk using this ingredient, make sure that the shampoo or product contains no more than 0.1%. Permethrin is toxic to cats in higher concentrations. Therefore, be aware that there are products on the market available over the counter that contain concentrations of 45% – 60% Permethrin.

D-Limonene and Linalool: These ingredients are “natural” and can be “organic” substances derived from the peels of citrus fruit. D-Limonene and Linalool are citrus extracts that are commonly used in shampoos, dips and sprays for flea control. D-Limonene is a liquid that has a lemony scent. It is also a major constituent in citrus oils such as grapefruit, lime, mandarin, lemon and orange. Remember, natural and organic products are not necessarily safe to be used on cats.

There are cat safe shampoos on the market today including Focus on Felines by Show Seasons, Nature’s Specialties and Davis Mfg., just to name a few. You must know your ingredients. Before you purchase anything to be used on or around cats, it is imperative to know their exact dilution ratio and how long you allow the product to soak on the cat. Always know exactly what you’re putting on the cat. I can’t express that enough.

There are medicated shampoos available only through veterinarians. Use these shampoos exactly as prescribed on their labels. If a shampoo is recommended to sit on the cat for 5 minutes, don’t leave it on for 10. Common sense, right?

It is very important to know that our federal government does not require pet shampoo manufacturers to list ingredients on their labels. Unbelievable, right? Thankfully, many reputable companies divulge the ingredients used in their products. They want you to know the ingredients used because it’s their brand and they’re proud of it. With that in mind, beware of any pet shampoo that does not list the ingredients.

I’d like to set the story straight here, an ingredient list is not the same as the formula (recipe) for the shampoo. Therefore, there is no rational reason for a company to be secretive by omitting the ingredients used to formulate their product. Every shampoo on the market has its own recipe, that’s how companies distinguish themselves from other manufacturers. I’ll say it again, just be cautious when using unknown ingredients on both dogs and cats.

Furthermore, just because a shampoo is marketed towards cats and the words “organic and natural” are used on the label doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe to use on them. The same is true with dogs. I seriously recommend that you make yourself knowledgeable about the ingredients in all of the products that you use.

Cat grooming has evolved within the last 15+ years, giving us a plethora of easily obtainable cat products, cat safe shampoos and conditioners, nail trimmers, combs and non-alcohol based ear cleaners. We also learned more about their needs, and their grooming requirements. We are now armed with more knowledge and are ready to get our fingers in the fur! ✂

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