Applying Ointments, Creams, and Lotions on Dogs

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

Topical treatments may be prescribed for wounds or other skin conditions. Applying topical medications can be a challenge for your 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 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 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."

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 dog 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 dog, especially when applying medications on a sensitive or painful area. Your veterinarian may recommend using a comfortable muzzle when treating your pet. Your veterinarian may also suggest using a soothing pheromone spray (such as Adaptil®) to use prior to applying the medication. Distracting your dog with some extra-tasty treats may ease the application process.

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

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

Try applying the topical medication just before feeding your dog. Giving your dog treats during the application may divert their attention and make the experience more enjoyable. Taking your dog for a walk immediately after applying the medication can be helpful.

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

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

Many 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 them for a walk. 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, some may be more comfortable for your dog than others. Specially designed outfits (recovery suits or “onesies”) can also be used depending on the location of the treatment area.

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