Applying Ointments, Creams, and Lotions on Cats

By Courtney Barnes, BSc, DVM; Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Ernest Ward, DVM

Topical medications may be prescribed for wounds or other skin conditions. Applying topical medications can be a challenge for you or your pet. This information may help to make treating your pet with topical medications easier.

What is the difference between creams, ointments, and lotions?

Ointments, creams, and lotions are for external use only. Ointments have an oily base. Creams are non-greasy. Lotions are liquid preparations. The application process is similar with each preparation. Most topical preparations work better if they are gently massaged in for a few moments during the application.

It is important to prevent your cat from licking and swallowing any of these external preparations as they may contain ingredients that could be harmful if swallowed. Many veterinary formulations are designed for rapid absorption to minimize this problem. Ask your veterinarian about any precautions with your pet’s ointment, cream, or lotion. 

“It is important to prevent your pet from licking and swallowing any of these external preparations as they may contain ingredients that could be harmful if swallowed.”

Some veterinary preparations may be irritating to human skin or eyes. Be sure to follow all directions concerning application of the product, e.g., using gloves, avoiding the eyes, etc.

My cat becomes agitated when I apply the medication.

In the early stages of treatment, the area may still be painful, and/or the medication may cause some mild but temporary discomfort such as stinging or burning.

It is always a good idea to get someone to help hold your cat, especially when applying medication on a sensitive or painful area. Gently wrapping the cat in a warm towel can also aid in restraint while applying ointments, creams, or lotions. Your veterinarian may recommend using a pheromone-type sprays (such as Feliway®) to help calm your cat prior to applying the medication. Distracting your cat with some extra-tasty treats may ease the application process.

If your cat still seems very uncomfortable, contact your veterinarian as additional pain medication may be needed.

My cat licks off the medication as soon as it is applied.

Try applying the topical medication just before feeding your cat. Giving your cat treats during the application may divert their attention and make the experience more enjoyable.

If you still have trouble keeping your pet from licking the medication, contact your veterinarian to get your cat fitted for an Elizabethan collar (cone). These collars can be used to prevent your cat from licking at the affected area.

I have tried an Elizabethan collar, but my cat goes crazy with it on!

Most cats are initially upset by the collar because it is unfamiliar, and it limits their field of vision. Try giving your cat a special treat to distract them from the collar. Most cats learn to accept the collar within a few hours, especially if they are rewarded for good behavior. There are several styles of Elizabethan collars, some may be more comfortable for your cat than others. Specially designed outfits (recovery suits or “onesies”) can also be used, depending on the location of the treatment area. Contact your veterinarian if you are still having difficulty applying the medication; they can recommend an alternative solution for your cat.

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