Is Hydrocortisone Cream Safe to Use on Dogs? Here’s What a Vet Says


Is Hydrocortisone Cream Safe to Use on Dogs? Here’s What a Vet Says

Learn if this medicated, over-the-counter skin cream can ease irritated, itchy skin on dogs like it does for people.
By Kristi Valentini Medically Reviewed by Jenna Stregowski, RVT Updated May 31, 2022 Medically Reviewed by Jenna Stregowski, RVT Advertisement Pin FB More Tweet Email Send Text Message Print dog scratching his neck with his hind leg
dog scratching his neck with his hind leg Credit: Christian Buch / Getty

On This Page

  • What is Hydrocortisone?
  • Can I Put Hydrocortisone on My Dog?
  • Common Uses
  • How to Use
  • Can It Make My Dog Sick?
  • How Much to Use

Do you have an itchy dog? If your pupper has skin irritation that's making him miserable, you might have a quick fix in your medicine cabinet. You can use hydrocortisone cream on your dog in most cases. Like in people, it helps treat mild rashes, itchy skin, and bug bites in canines, too. But there are a few things you should know before using it, including how to safely apply it, why it's not a long-term solution, and when to avoid using it. Read on to learn more about this over-the-counter skin soother.

What is Hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone is a steroid medication that reduces inflammation. It comes in cream and spray forms to apply to the skin. "It can decrease skin inflammation within 30 minutes of applying it and usually stops itching in one to two hours," says Lindsay Butzer, a veterinarian and spokesperson for pet-supplement company Zesty Paws.

But she cautions that using steroid medications can also have a negative effect. "Steroids are a double-edged sword because they're good at decreasing inflammation and pain, but they also slow healing and suppress the immune system."

Can I Put Hydrocortisone on My Dog?

Hydrocortisone is generally safe to use on dogs. But if your dog is pregnant or has another illness, avoid using it until you consult with your veterinarian to make sure it's safe. Also, opt for the cream version, advises GoodRx. Hydrocortisone sprays and gels that contain alcohol can make pets sick if they lick them off.

Other over-the-counter medications safe to use on canine skin include Neosporin—an antibiotic ointment—and Benadryl cream, a topical pain reliever. "Hydrocortisone cream is usually more effective than Benadryl cream," says Butzer. "But oral Benadryl can help with reducing inflammation in the affected area."

If you decide to try oral diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for your dog's irritated, itchy skin, here's a safe rule of thumb for dosing: Give 1 to 2 mg of Benadryl per pound. For example, a 25-pound dog can have 25 to 50 mg of oral Benadryl. Note that this drug can cause drowsiness, especially at higher doses.

Supplements developed for dogs may also help decrease inflammation in dogs with allergies, says Butzer. Look for ones that contain fish oil or turmeric.

RELATED: Try These Allergy Medicines for Dogs to Help Your Pup Ditch the Itch

Common Uses for Topical Hydrocortisone in Dogs

You can use hydrocortisone cream on dogs to soothe minor irritations like bug bites and small rashes. Vets often recommend it to treat skin allergies, inflammatory skin diseases, infections such as hot spots, and to help decrease ear inflammation in dogs with severe ear infections, says Butzer.

How to Use Hydrocortisone on Dogs

You can apply hydrocortisone cream to the affected area once or twice a day. But before you do, make sure it's not an open wound. The cream should only be used on mild wounds and abrasions with closed skin (or a scab).

Apply the cream to the skin, not the fur, and wash your hands afterward. Keep your dog from licking the area for at least 30 minutes so the medication has time to sink in and start working to relieve discomfort.

If your pooch does have an itchy scab, apply the cream to the surrounding skin but not directly on the scab, cautions Butzer. Moisture from the cream could break down the scab.

Will My Dog Get Sick From Licking Hydrocortisone Cream?

Some dogs are pretty persistent when it comes to scratching, gnawing, or licking an area that's bothering them. If your furry pal insists on licking the spot where you applied hydrocortisone cream, it may cause some mild symptoms, says Butzer, including:

  • Increased hunger or thirst
  • Panting
  • Pacing around the house

Your pooch may need an Elizabethan collar to prevent ingestion of hydrocortisone cream, especially if you need to apply the cream for several days. The cone-shaped collar prevents pups from being able to lick or chew any part of the body.

How Much Hydrocortisone Can I Put on My Dog’s Skin?

Hydrocortisone is a temporary fix and shouldn't be used for long periods of time. If your dog's skin continues to be red, irritated, or starts to ooze pus, it's time to seek veterinary care. Your vet can determine the underlying cause and treat it to get rid of the problem for good.

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