HFF does NOT advise the use of dish soap for ANY purpose aside from emergency decontamination. Dish soap is unnecessarily harsh. It strips natural oils and over-dries the skin and coat. It can also cause significant irritation and adverse reactions in both the skin and airways.
It has become increasingly common for people to recommend bathing pets with dish soaps (e.g. Dawn) for various reasons, including for fleas and blackheads/rat-tail. Unfortunately this common recommendation is inadvisable.
Dish soaps contain chemicals known as “detergents.” Detergents are molecules that break apart and surround lipids (oils, fats), allowing them to then be dissolved in water and removed. This property is what makes dish soaps so useful for emergency situations such as decontamination in oil spills. However, those emergency situations are the only time that dish soaps should be used on pets.
Most soaps contain detergents but dish soaps, specifically designed to break apart tough oils from cooking, contain particularly strong detergents. These strong detergents do not discriminate between “bad” and “good” oils and along with any unwanted substances will strip important, healthy oils from the skin and coat. This stripping of the natural oils is drying and damaging to the skin and fur. In addition to the harsh, drying effects of the detergents, many dish soaps contain other harsh chemicals that can irritate sensitive ferret skin and airways and in rare cases can cause severe reactions. Furthermore, the relatively high pH of dish soap compared to the natural pH of our pets’ skin (dogs, cats, and ferrets) can cause damage to the skin barrier which increases risk of burns, irritation, reactions, and increased susceptibility to a variety of skin infections.
From the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine: “A mild hypoallergenic soap that’s formulated for veterinary use is all you need.” “Formulated for veterinary use” means a product that’s designed to work with a dog’s body. While dish soap or your favorite shampoo might strip away the dirt, and more importantly the odor, from your pet’s coat, it will also strip natural oils from their fur and may irritate their skin.“
Below is a helpful informatic that, while geared towards dogs, also applies to ferrets and cats: