Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs: What Is It and How to Use It Safely

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Hydrocortisone is a medicinal substance that is found in many human-grade topicals. Its main utilization is in treating inflammation or allergic reactions, particularly if they involve skin rash flare ups. Recently, hydrocortisone is found more veterinary products, and one of the more commonly bought item is hydrocortisone cream for dogs.

What is Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs?

Hydrocortisone can contain high concentrations of corticosteroids, which is a hormone steroid that was discovered to be efficient at treating irritating, itchy, dry skin in dogs. Corticosteroids come in two forms: (1) hormones that can be naturally found in our and dogs’ bodies (mineralocorticoids) and (2) man-made synthetic products common in veterinary medicines (glucocorticoids), i.e. hydrocortisone cream for dogs.

While the hydrocortisone sitting in your medicine cabinet right now could treat an itchy area or hot spot on your dog’s skin, if your dogs were able to lick at the site the cream was applied, serious adverse side effects could occur, such as a weakened bladder, diarrhea, and vomiting. If left unattended these issues could result in extreme dehydration in dogs, which could be fatal.

There’s a difference between your hydrocortisone products, and hydrocortisone cream for dogs. Human-grade hydrocortisone is not FDA-approved for animals, and not typically a veterinarian’s first recommendation for a treatment plan of dog’s skin problems, which is why you should only use the alternatives that were made with dogs in mind.

Luckily for you and your pet, there are multiple hydrocortisone creams for dogs, as well as hydrocortisone lotions, sprays, oral medications, and even medicated dog shampoos containing hydrocortisone specifically designed for a canine patient.

Uses of Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs

Hydrocortisone is a powerful substance that has been observed in studies to successfully treat several skin conditions in dogs, and it’s been used in animals at least since the 70s (Smith, et al. 1976). The five most common conditions it is used to treat are:

1. Atopic dermatitis

Hydrocortisone cream for dogs with atopic dermatitisAtopic dermatitis is a veterinarian term used to explain a chronic skin issue that’s linked to allergic reactions. Any of the following are likely to be recommended and prescribed by your pet’s vet in order to combat this skin disease: corticosteroids (like products of hydrocortisone cream for dogs), antihistamines, and cyclosporine (Nam, et al. 2012).

Typically, these will be an oral prescription or possibly a spray that can be directly applied to the inflamed skin. A large 2015 meta-review found that hydrocortisone can significantly improve atopic dermatitis condition in dogs (Olivry, et al. 2015). Sadly, many dogs never see remission of this medical issue. However, they are able to lead happy, healthy, and comfortable lives when given the proper attention and care.

2. Allergies

Hydrocortisone cream for dogs with allergiesJust like humans, dogs may experience the occasional allergic reaction. You’ll know your dog is suffering from allergies if they exhibit any of the following signs: runny nose, excessive sneezing, biting and licking their paws, rash development, itchy skin, and/or lethargy.

While a chronic allergy in dogs is best looked at by a veterinarian, non-threatening allergies – many of which may only be present seasonally – can be treated with hydrocortisone cream for dogs and other hydrocortisone products, such as flea-allergy dermatitis (Bonneau, et al. 2009). However, it’s important to note that the hydrocortisone will not treat the issue at its core; it’s merely easing any potential inflammation or itchiness found on your pet’s skin.

3. Pruritus (Hot Spots)

Hydrocortisone cream for dogs with hot spots pruritusA dog with pruritus is more likely to exacerbate common canine ailments, such as pest bites (mites, tics, fleas), allergies, or non-serious injuries such as minor cuts or scratches. They’re also more likely to lick, itch, or bite at their own skin or paws as a source of entertainment while you’re away from home. In some cases, this is also a sign of canine depression. Studies have shown that hydrocortisone cream for dogs can help in the case of pruritus (Thomas, et al. 2000).

In short, pruritus in dogs is a chronic desire to itch that can be, but isn’t always, linked to pest bites and allergies. Pruritus can lead to or be associated with the development of hot spots, which in the veterinary world is referred to as moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis. Hot spots are a common ailment with some dog breeds being more susceptible to developing them, such as the Beagle.

This colloquialism derives its name from the appearance moist dermatitis can have: red, inflamed spots on the skin. In comparison to humans, this can look a lot like eczema.

4. Poison oak, ivy or sumac

Rashes from toxic plants like poison oak or poison ivy typically subside within less than a month. However, the presence of itching can not only lengthen this ailment but also cause it to become inflamed and possibly lead to infections in dogs.

Hydrocortisone cream for dogs is an ideal medicine when it comes to specifically these issues as it doesn’t intend to treat but merely ease discomfort in the pet, therefore reducing or eliminating itching and allowing for a quicker recovery (Kircik, 2011).

5. Addison’s Disease (Hypoadrenocorticism)

Addison’s is a disease that affects the dog’s endocrine system and is a result of inadequate hormonal production from the adrenal glands. It’s these very glands, located near the kidneys, that produce the hormone called mineralocorticoids.

Symptoms of Addison’s disease in dogs (Hypoadrenocorticism) include, but are not limited to, low heart rate, collapse, dehydration, lacking appetite, and vomiting. Corticosteroid replacement therapy is the leading treatment plan for dogs suffering from Addison’s (Klein, et al. 2010).

Approved Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs

While hydrocortisone products designed for people technically can be used on dogs, there’s little to no way of knowing the proper and safe dosage when going from treating a human to a canine (especially if there is a major difference in weight). However, Food and Drug Administration does have some recommendations for hydrocortisone spray uses.

Canine-friendly hydrocortisone products which are approved by the FDA and considerably safer to use, especially if you are attempting to treat a rudimentary issue such as a small rash without the guidance of a veterinarian, which you should only do if the inflamed skin is not paired with additional troubling symptoms. Hydrocortisone cream for dogs isn’t the only option pet owners have, so here are a few well-known brands and products to consider if you’re looking to try hydrocortisone for dogs:

1. Zymox Topical Spray with Hydrocortisone 1%

Zymox is the best known brand among pet owners and veterinarians, and the company makes several products designed to ease skin inflammation and itchiness, including dog shampoos supplemented with hydrocortisone and various skin infection and ear infection treatments. The company used to have the largest library of studies of testing their products, but with the rebranding of their site they have since removed it.

The Zymox hydrocortisone topical spray is also a disinfectant so there’s no need to wash and dab-dry the area before applying. Additionally, it fights infection by protecting the immune system against bacteria and is safe if the medicated area is licked by your dog.

2. Remedy & Recovery Hydrocortisone Lotion %.5

When applied directly to the skin after a soothing bath or gentle rinsing of the inflamed area, the Remedy & Recovery low-dose hydrocortisone cream for dogs helps reduce redness and inflammation, hydrates the skin, and eases irritation in dogs. Due to its lower dosage of hydrocortisone itself, this may be an ideal addition to a monthly dog grooming routine.

3. VetOne Hydrocortisone 1% with Oatmeal Topical Spray

A less popular another topical hydrocortisone a spray in a bottle, this product is a dye-free anti-inflammatory meant to be used for minor skin ailments in dogs. The addition of oatmeal to the ingredients may be effective as it’s a natural skin hydrator that has been shown effective in multiple studies.

4. Veterinarian-prescribed oral medications

For pet skin issues that do not resolve within one to two weeks of utilizing hydrocortisone cream for dogs products, contact your pet’s veterinarian for an appointment. Be as specific as possible during the appointment when the vet and staff ask questions, as these may help them deduce the underlying issue, and pick the best solution and treatment.

It’s likely that prescribed medications containing cortisol will be suggested by your vet. These medications fight infection, reduce redness and swelling in dogs, as well as help with pain management, guiding the dog through the healing process more quickly and efficiently than hydrocortisone cream for dogs, or other over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointments or soaps.

Safely Applying Hydrocortisone Cream

Here are a few tips and items to consider when treating rash, infections, inflamed skin and other related issues on your dog at home with the use of hydrocortisone cream for dogs or other hydrocortisone treatments:

Get an Elizabethan collar cone

Every dog owner should own an Elizabethan collar (often referred to as a head cone or recovery cone) in case infection strikes. It’s a handy household item to the modern pet owner, although your dog isn’t likely to appreciate it.

These devices come in a variety of sizes and materials – some plastic, some foam – to ensure a proper fit and comfort for the animal. They will keep your dog from licking or chewing on parts of their body which cause it to be vulnerable to infection. It’s also relevant if you do choose to use hydrocortisone cream for dogs to treat hot spot or dry skin as it will keep them from licking at the area.

Check for open wounds

When the skin becomes inflamed, itching naturally follows. Some dogs may even stress over the dry, itchy skin, pawing and biting at it incessantly, which can cause the skin to break and open wounds. Note that cortisone is not recommended for use on or near an open wound. Always check the rash for any signs of open skin before application and contact your vet should any bleeding occur.

Ask for help

It’s likely the raised, red area of skin is causing your dog discomfort, which is why it may be ideal or even necessary for you to request help from a housemate or neighbor when applying hydrocortisone cream for dogs or other similar ointments. The two of you, when working together, can ensure the dog is calmer as you apply medicine to their skin.

Avoid holding the dog forcibly down as this could cause them more distress. Instead, have one person pet the dog and speak to them in a soothing voice while the other works quickly yet gently to spread or dab the cream over the affected region.

Wash hands before application

To help fight off the risk of infection and further complications, always thoroughly wash your hands before touching or inspecting your dog’s inflamed skin, and of course wash them off completely afterwards too.

Use cotton-tip applicator

Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs - What Pet Owners Must KnowYou may want to use a cotton swab, applying the cream to one end, and gently spreading it around the rash. This is another method intended to safeguard from the potential of infection and is simply the easiest way to apply the ointment.

Keep the inflamed skin clean

Any time an animal experiences dry, irritated skin, they will lick, itch, and even bite at it in an attempt to soothe or “heal” the area. Unbeknownst to them, this attention worsens swelling, spreads the rash, and increases their chances of infection which is why it’s important to routinely wash the area, particularly before applying hydrocortisone cream for dogs or any other topical solutions.

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