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

Glucocorticoids were the most commonly used type of treatment for a variety of dog skin conditions (1). However, after recent studies discovered their lack of skin penetration and potential side effects for dogs, making the risk-to-reward ratio not worth it, veterinary dermatologists stopped their use and do not recommend them any longer (2, 3).

Recently, new and better products were developed thanks to esterification to a hydrocortisone template molecule, and they were shown to be effective and also safer to dogs (4, 5, 6, 7). These hydrocortisone for dogs products include creams and sprays, and they were tested for efficacy on a number of canine skin problems, including dermatitis, allergies, pruritus and more.

In particular, a large 2012 study focused on testing safety and efficacy of hydrocortisone for dogs found it to be without adverse effects and with majority of dogs achieving 50% or more reduction in skin inflammation and related skin problems. Scientists also found that hydrocortisone also improved barrier skin function in tested dogs.

What is Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs?

Hydrocortisone will often contain high concentrations of corticosteroids (8). Corticosteroids are a type of hormone steroid and their topical use was shown to be effective at treating irritating, itchy, inflamed, and dry skin in dogs.

Corticosteroids come in two forms: hormones that can be naturally found in a dog's body (mineralocorticoids) and manufactured synthetic products common in veterinary medicines (glucocorticoids), such as discussed hydrocortisone cream for dogs.

Hydrocortisone products made for people are not recommended for dogs. There's a difference between your hydrocortisone topical, and a dog-friendly hydrocortisone cream. Human-grade hydrocortisone is not FDA-approved for animals, and is not vet recommended for treatment of dog skin problems.

While hydrocortisone creams in your medicine cabinet could in fact treat an itchy area, rash or hot spot on your dog’s skin, if the dog were to lick that cream, adverse side effects could occur like weakened bladder, diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration (9, 10).

Luckily for you and your pet, there are multiple hydrocortisone creams for dogs, as well as hydrocortisone lotions, sprays, oral medications, and even medicated shampoos containing hydrocortisone specifically designed for a canine patient. They are often used (and, sadly, misused) in veterinary dermatology. However, when following safety instructions, they are extremely effective for treatment of several skin issues in dogs.

5 Uses of Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs

Hydrocortisone is a powerful substance that has been observed in studies to successfully treat skin conditions in dogs, and it's been used in animals at least since the 70s (11). Below are five of the most common conditions where hydrocortisone for dogs is used.

Hydrocortisone cream for dogs with atopic dermatitis

1. Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a veterinarian term used to explain a chronic skin issue that’s linked to a dog's allergic reaction. Any of the following are likely to be recommended and prescribed by your vet to combat this skin problem: antihistamines, cyclosporine and corticosteroids like hydrocortisone cream for dogs (12).

These can be oral or topical prescription products. Topicals will be directly applied to the inflamed skin. Several studies found that hydrocortisone is safe and can significantly improve atopic dermatitis condition in dogs (13, 14).

Hydrocortisone cream for dogs with allergies

2. Other Canine Allergies

Dogs may experience the occasional allergic reactions. 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 are present seasonally – can be treated with hydrocortisone cream for dogs and other hydrocortisone products, such as flea-allergy dermatitis (15).

However, it’s important to note that hydrocortisone will not treat allergy at its core. The effect of hydrocortisone use is merely easing any potential inflammation or itchiness found on your pet’s skin.

Hydrocortisone cream for dogs with hot spots pruritus

3. Pruritus (Hot Spots)

A dog with pruritus is more likely to exacerbate common dog ailments, such as pest bites (mites, ticks, fleas), allergies, or non-serious injuries such as minor cuts or scratches. Dogs are more likely to lick, itch, or bite at their own skin or paws in such cases, further complicating the issue (16).

Studies have shown that hydrocortisone cream for dogs can help in the case of pruritus (17, 18). Pruritus in dogs is a chronic itch that can be linked to pest bites and allergies. Pruritus can lead to or be associated with the development of hot spots (moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis). Hot spots are more common in some dog breeds like Beagles.

Hydrocrotisone cream for Poison Oak, Ivy, Sumac

4. Poison Oak, Ivy, 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 more serious infections in dogs (19).

Hydrocortisone cream for dogs is an effective 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 (20).

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 a dog's 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 (21).

Vet Approved Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs

While hydrocortisone products designed for people technically can be used on dogs, we currently have no studies to know proper and safe dosage for dogs. However, Food and Drug Administration does have some recommendations for hydrocortisone spray uses.

Dog-friendly hydrocortisone products are approved by the FDA and are safe to use, especially when treating a rudimentary skin issue like tiny rash without the need for guidance of a veterinarian. (Note that you should only do this if the inflamed skin is not paired with additional symptoms.)

Below are a few well-known brands and products available over-the-counter for pet owners to consider if you are looking to try hydrocortisone for your dog's skin problem.

1. Zymox Topical Spray with Hydrocortisone for Dogs (1%)

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Zymox Topical Spray with HydrocortisoneZymox 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 for Dogs (0.5%)

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Remedy & Recovery Hydrocortisone Lotion for Dogs (0.5%)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. Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Itch Relief Spray for Dogs

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Veterinary Formula Clinical Care Itch ReliefAnother very popular hydrocortisone spray for dogs is made by well-known brand, Veterinary Formula Clinical Care.This is a dye-free anti-inflammatory spray meant to be used for minor skin ailments in dogs, and most commonly used by dog owners for itch relief and hot spots. It can also be used for healing of wounds on dogs, reducing swelling and redness, and for insect bites. For hot spots, dermatitis and similar skin problems, it's recommended to use this alongside their antiseptic shampoo and itch supplements.

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.

How to Safely Apply Hydrocortisone Cream

How to Safely Apply 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:

1. Get a recovery cone/collar

Every dog owner should use an inflatable collar or a 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Use cotton-tip applicator

You 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.

6. 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.

READ NEXT: Top 7 Best Dog Foods for Itchy Skin

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Science-based Guide on Hydrocortisone Cream for Dogs