Applying Ointments, Creams, and Lotions on Dogs

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Ernest Ward, DVM

Applying topical medications to your pet can sometimes be a challenge. The information provided in this handout may help make treating your pet easier - for both of you.

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

Creams are non-greasy. Ointments have an oily base. Lotions are liquid preparations. All are similar as far as application is concerned.

Creams, ointments, and lotions are for external use only. It is important to prevent your dog from licking and swallowing any of these external preparations, as they may contain ingredients that could be harmful if swallowed. Many veterinary formulations are specially 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 dog from licking and swallowing any of these external preparations, as they may contain ingredients that could be harmful if swallowed."

Be sure to follow any directions concerning application of the product, e.g., using gloves, avoiding the eyes, etc. This is important since some veterinary preparations may be irritating to human skin or eyes. Most topical preparations work better if they are gently massaged in for a few moments after application.

My dog is perfectly fine until I try to put the medication on and then he becomes very agitated.

In the early stages of treatment, the wound 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 dog, especially when applying medications on a sensitive or painful area. If you prefer, your veterinarian can recommend several types of comfortable muzzles that you can use when treating your pet. Your veterinarian may also be able to suggest a soothing pheromone spray (such as Adaptil®) that might make things less stressful for your dog.

I can apply the preparation but my dog licks it off as soon as it is applied.

A good tip in this case is to apply the product just before feeding your dog. You could also give your dog treats during treatment to divert its attention and make the experience more enjoyable. Another solution is to take your dog for a short walk immediately after applying the medication. If you still have trouble keeping your pet from licking the medication, contact your veterinarian and they can supply you with an Elizabethan collar (cone), such as the one shown in the photo, to prevent your dog from licking at the affected area.

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

The majority of dogs are initially upset by the collar because it is unfamiliar and limits their field of vision. Try giving your dog a treat or taking him for a walk to distract him from the collar. Most dogs learn to accept the collar within a few hours, especially if they are rewarded for good behavior. There are also several styles of Elizabethan collars available, and some may be more comfortable for your dog than others.

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