Having an itchy pooch can be incredibly distressing for both them and you, their pawrent. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to see your veterinarian immediately, but you want to provide some relief for your best furiend. This is where your own medicine cabinet comes in – hydrocortisone cream, to be specific.
If you’ve read other articles by myself, you’re probably aware I generally don’t advise using human medications on your fur-baby but hydrocortisone cream is the exception. Formulated to treat itchy skin, bug bites and stings, and even mild rashes, this cream is safe to use on your pooch. Just make sure to distract them after application to prevent its rapid removal by their tongue.
Read on to learn more about using human anti-itch creams for your pooch’s itchy ailments.
Are human anti-itch creams safe for dogs?
Some human anti-itch creams are safe for dogs with the most commonly used possibly being hydrocortisone cream. Some other creams containing dexamethasone and betamethasone are also safe to use on your pooch.
These tend to be stronger concentrations, and I wouldn’t advise their use without prior discussion with your DVM.
What about Hydrocortisone?
Hydrocortisone is a glucocorticosteroid that has anti-inflammatory properties. Most commonly found in creams as 1% hydrocortisone acetate. It helps to calm inflamed and irritated skin.
These creams are formulated to break the “itch-scratch cycle” associated with allergies, infections, bug bites, and stings. It’s important to remember that hydrocortisone creams haven’t been FDA-approved, although canine formulations exist in other countries.
Small amounts of topical hydrocortisone are generally considered safe in our canine companions once you ensure they don’t lick it off as it can cause side effects like upset tummies.
What Does the Science Say?
There have long been investigations into the efficacy and safety of hydrocortisone in dogs, and in recent years more investigations have been performed.
Hydrocortisone aceponate was studied by one group and found that it rapidly relieves the signs of pruritis (itchiness) and can even be used in combination with pro-active therapies such as oclacitinib (Apoquel) even further to prevent itchy episodes.
Hydrocortisone acetate itself has not been extensively studied in canines. However, its safety and efficacy have long been understood in humans.
What Else Can I Do to Relieve My dog’s Itching?
There are several ways to relieve your pooch’s itchy and inflamed skin, and the options will vary depending on the irritation causing your pup’s itchiness.
For example, open sores require very different treatment from a fresh insect sting. Always follow the directions on any products used.
Read on for some options to help soothe fido’s itching:
Gentle bathing with a soothing shampoo or medicated wash (from your veterinarian) can help to soften and lift any crusts or pus if there’s an open sore. Patting the area dry can also help reduce inflammation.
Distracting your pooch to stop them from licking or scratching the area will also allow it to heal and prevent nasty ‘hot spots’ from expanding.
Clipping allows inflamed skin to be exposed to the air and cooler than under a dense mat of fur. Clipping also allows the cream to be directly applied to the irritated area.
Moisturizing coconut oil can help soothe itchy areas but remember it doesn’t allow the skin to breathe in thick layers and can make irritated skin worse. Always apply sparingly to the affected area.
Honey has long been known to have antimicrobial properties and is used to treat wounds. Small amounts of manuka honey can be applied to inflamed or broken skin, but you definitely need to distract your fur-baby from just licking it straight off again.
Benadryl cream is safe to use in small amounts on your pupper’s irritated skin or bug bite. It will relieve itching and reduce inflammation.
Essential oils (lavender, chamomile, helichrysum)
Always discuss the use of any essential oils with your DVM before using them, as they can make certain health conditions worse. Also, never apply neat essential oils to your dog’s skin/fur as they can be toxic and cause severe skin inflammation.
For some tips on essential oils for pooch’s check out Dr. De Klerk’s article here.
Should I Change my Shampoo?
Make sure you’re using a dog-specific shampoo for their regular bathing at home, and select one that is free from fragrances or harsh and drying chemicals.
Shampoos containing soothing ingredients such as aloe vera and oatmeal are good options for pups with sensitive or inflamed skin.
If your dog has known allergies or ‘hot spots’, your DVM may have recommended a medicated wash so stick with that if this is the case.
When to See a Vet?
It can be hard to know when to see your dog’s veterinarian when they’ve had an insect bite/sting or a minor rash. So here’s some tips on signs to watch out for telling you to see a veterinarian.
Signs needing a trip to the Emergency Room (ER)
The signs listed below are all indications that your pooch needs to be seen as a matter of urgency, so you should contact your nearest emergency clinic to have them seen. These signs could be stages of anaphylaxis or an often fatal allergic reaction, and prompt treatment may be life-saving.
- Swollen face
- Difficulty breathing
- Severely distressed
Signs needing a trip to your own veterinarian
The signs listed below aren’t as serious as those needing a trip to the ER, but they warrant a timely appointment with your own DVM to assess your fur baby.
- Rash that is expanding
- Open wounds
- Any smell
- If your pup is painful
- Intense pruritis/itching from which you can’t distract them
Now you know that if your pooch is stung by a bee or bitten by a flea and has an itchy spot, you can apply some human hydrocortisone cream to the affected area.
This cream will soothe their skin and break the “itch-scratch” cycle without needing a trip to your veterinarian. This cream is suitable for those minor bites, irritations or even mild “hot spots” to treat at home.
If your dog is showing more severe signs such as broken skin, intense, intractable itching, or pain and distress, then a trip to your DVM is warranted for sure.
Only use human preparations after prior discussion with your veterinarian to ensure that it won’t interfere with any medication or other health conditions that your pooch may have.
Nuttall, T.J.; McEwan, N.A.; Bensignor, E.; Cornegliani, L.; Löwenstein, C.; Rème, C.A. Comparable efficacy of a topical 0.0584% hydrocortisone aceponate spray and oral ciclosporin in treating canine atopic dermatitis. Vet. Derm. 2012, 23, 4-e2.
Takahashi, J.; Kanda, S.; Imanishi, I.; Hisano, T.; Fukamachi, T.; Taguchi, N.; Momiyama, S.; Nishiyama, S.; Motegi, T.; Iyori, K. Efficacy and safety of 0.0584% hydrocortisone aceponate topical spray and systemic oclacitinib combination therapy in dogs with atopic dermatitis: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Vet. Derm. 2021, 32, e119–e125.
Bruet, V.; Mosca, M.; Briand, A.; Bourdeau, P.; Pin, D.; Cochet-Faibre, N.; Cadiergues, M-C. Clinical guidelines for the use of antipruritic drugs in the control of the most frequent pruritic skin diseases in dogs. Vet. Sci. 2022, 9(4)