Can You Use Hydrocortisone Cream on Dogs? Which Is Safest?

© smrm1977/

Written by Amber LaRock

Updated: August 23, 2023

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If you have ever had an itchy bug bite, you know just how relieving hydrocortisone cream can be. This cream is known to stop the itch and reduce inflammation, and it often works immediately after application. This cream works well for our minor bug bites and skin irritation, so can we use it on our dogs as well?

It turns out that hydrocortisone cream can be used for dogs, but there are a few guidelines you will need to follow to keep your pup safe! We want your pup to soak in the benefits of this popular cream, so let’s break down everything you need to know about hydrocortisone cream for dogs below!

What Is Hydrocortisone Cream?

Hydrocortisone is a skin cream that contains a low dose of steroids. Most over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams contain anywhere from 0.1% to 1% of hydrocortisone in each gram, and some even contain antimicrobial properties that fight off bacteria. When using this cream on minor bug bites and itchy skin irritation, most creams work within 30 minutes. They stop the itch and reduce inflammation. Many different forms of hydrocortisone cream can be found over the counter at your local drug store or pharmacy, but there are prescription strength steroid creams that you can find at your vet’s office as well.

hyrdrocortisone cream

Hydrocortisone is a skin cream that contains a low dose of steroids.

©Walter Eric Sy/

Is Hydrocortisone Cream Safe for Dogs?

Hydrocortisone cream is generally safe for dogs when following a few safety guidelines. Most over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams are safe for dogs, as long as you apply it to the skin in small amounts in an area they cannot lick.

When it is used on minor skin inflammation and swelling, this type of cream is quite effective for dogs. Many vets will even prescribe hydrocortisone cream for dogs. However, there are some limitations when it comes to the use of this itch-relieving cream for our canine friends. We break down the specific uses below.

Which Types of Hydrocortisones Are Safe for Dogs?

As we mentioned above, you will likely see a variety of hydrocortisone cream options on the shelf at your local pharmacy. We want to make sure you choose the safest option for your pup, so we list a few of our favorites below.

While most over-the-counter creams you find at a local store are likely just fine, there are a few hydrocortisone creams and sprays that are created specifically for dogs.

Some of our favorite hydrocortisone creams for dogs include:

  • Pet MD Hydrocortisone Spray
  • Veterinary Formula Hot Spot & Itch Relief Spray
  • Zymox Veterinary Strength Hydrocortisone Cream

The above creams and sprays are best for our canine friends as they are free of any ingredients that can make them sick if they lick the applied area. Because of this, we suggest keeping one of the above options in your pet’s first aid kit!

If you need some hydrocortisone cream in an instant and you do not have any dog creams on hand, you can typically choose any option from your local drugstore. Just keep in mind that you will need to make sure your dog cannot lick the cream once it has been applied, especially if it contains alcohol.

dog licking itself

If you apply hydrocortisone cream to a dog and he licks himself, he could get sick.

©Rattanapon Ninlapoom/

When Can You Use Hydrocortisone Cream on Dogs?

Hydrocortisone cream is only a suitable option for dogs with minor skin irritation, as well as those dealing with an acute form of skin irritation. To make sure you have a clear understanding of when it is safe to use hydrocortisone cream on your dog’s skin, let’s list a few examples of safe use below.

Hydrocortisone cream can be used in dogs for the following skin irritations:

  • Ant bites, mosquito bites, bee stings, and any other bug bites or stings that cause irritation
  • Minor rashes such as heat rash, poison ivy, poison oak, and other irritating plants
  • Minor hot spots that are not showing signs of an active infection such as swelling, odor, or severe pain
  • Skin irritation from allergies, as long as you are not applying it on any open wounds

While we still suggest giving your vet a call for approval, it is typically safe to use hydrocortisone cream for your dog in the above situations. Just make sure you are only applying it twice a day at most. If your dog is still experiencing irritation between doses, it may be time to reach out to your vet for a prescription strength option.

When Not to Use Hydrocortisone Cream on Dogs

There are a few situations in which we always suggest reaching out to your vet before using this cream, so let’s list these situations below.

Do not use hydrocortisone cream without veterinary guidance if your dog:

  • is pregnant or nursing
  • is experiencing irritation around the eyes or mouth
  • has a chronic skin condition
  • is currently taking any other medication
  • has irritation that has persisted for more than 72 hours, or it appears to be getting worse
  • has open wounds
  • is showing signs of an infection, such as oozing wounds, swelling, pain, or odor
  • is showing signs of an allergic reaction such as facial swelling, skin redness, hives, changes in breathing, or GI upset. You might still be able to use hydrocortisone cream, but your pup will likely need other medical support as well.

If your dog is dealing with any of the symptoms or situations listed above, you should not apply hydrocortisone cream until you get approval from your vet.

How to Use Hydrocortisone Cream on Dogs

Now, let’s discuss the instructions for safe skin application.

  1. Make sure you are only applying the hydrocortisone cream to areas with minor skin irritation.
  2. Apply the cream directly to your dog’s skin, not their fur.
  3. Rub the cream into their skin so there is not a thick layer sitting on the surface.
  4. Make sure to apply the cream around any existing scabs. The cream can potentially break down scabbing and slow down the healing, and you don’t want that.
  5. Make sure your dog does not lick the cream before it has a chance to dry. Rubbing it into the skin will also reduce the risk of ingestion.
  6. Do not apply the cream more than twice per day. If they need it more than twice per day, it is time to reach out to your vet for a more suitable treatment option.

What Happens if My Dog Eats Hydrocortisone Cream?

Even when you do everything right, sometimes your pup can sneak a lick of the hydrocortisone cream. This can cause immediate concern for the owner. Thankfully for most pups, licking a small amount of hydrocortisone will only lead to minor symptoms, if any.

Most dogs will only experience an increase in thirst, drooling, or panting. It is rare for a small taste of hydrocortisone cream to cause serious harm to your pup, but we still suggest keeping a close eye on them for the 24 hours that follow. If you want to prevent any possibility of your dog licking the hydrocortisone cream, you can always put an e-collar on him for a few hours following the cream application.

If your dog accidentally chews a hydrocortisone cream bottle or consumes a large amount of the cream, we suggest reaching out to your vet for guidance. Dogs that eat a large amount of hydrocortisone cream can experience more severe symptoms such as agitation and vomiting, so we suggest seeking veterinary care in these situations.

vet with dog

If your dog ends up eating hydrocortisone cream, take him to the vet.

©Ermolaev Alexander/

Final Thoughts

Hydrocortisone cream can soothe any minor skin irritation in your canine companion. As long as you follow the safety guidelines we discussed in detail above, your pup should find relief and be back to her normal self in no time!

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About the Author

Amber LaRock is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics surrounding pet health and behavior. Amber is a Licensed Veterinary Technician with 12 years of experience in the field, and she holds a degree in veterinary technology that she earned in 2015. A resident of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Amber enjoys volunteering with animal rescues, reading, and taking care of her two cats.

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