Watching your dog deal with some intense itchiness and irritation is never fun. Whether it's because of allergies or fleas, that constant scratching can cause tons of trouble for your canine companion.
That irritation could result in wounds that increase the risks of infection. Scratching can also keep your dog up at night and create some unsavory mood changes.
There is no shortage of topical products on the market to address itchiness in humans. One of the most trusted is calamine lotion. This over-the-counter lotion has a long history of medicinal use, helping treat itchiness and skin irritation caused by bug bites, sunburn, poison ivy and more.
You may have used it a million times before. But is it safe to use on your dog?
What is Calamine Lotion?
Before we get into canine safety, let's review what calamine lotion is. Calamine lotion is a topical medication. It comes in many forms, but the most common is a pink-colored lotion.
You can apply it to irritated spots on your skin, and you'll feel a cooling sensation as it evaporates.
It provides relief in a few different ways. It soothes irritation and creates a protective barrier on the skin to prevent further damage. The lotion can also prevent pus formation to promote healing.
The main active ingredients in calamine lotion are zinc oxide and ferric oxide.
The zinc oxide serves as an antiseptic and astringent. It absorbs moisture, preventing pus from forming and making the irritation worse. Zinc oxide is also what protects the skin from more damage and external irritants.
The ferric oxide gives calamine lotion its signature pink color. The ingredient is antipruritic, so it's also what relieves itchiness.
Calamine lotion may also contain other ingredients. Some manufacturers add phenol and calcium hydroxide. Phenol is an antiseptic that can prevent infection. Meanwhile, calcium hydroxide works as a disinfectant.
Caladryl is a popular version of calamine lotion. While many consider caladryl to be the same as calamine, it usually contains antihistamines like Benadryl.
Is Calamine Lotion Safe to Use on Your Dog?
Calamine lotion dates back thousands of years. People love the stuff, and its ingredients make it very effective for treating a wide range of human skin conditions. But should you use it on your dog?
Unfortunately, no. Calamine lotion is not safe for dogs. Here's why.
While there's no problem with calamine lotion as it sits on a dog's skin, issues will arise when your dog ingests it. Dogs don't know what calamine lotion is, and they'll continue to try and get relief even after you apply it.
How do they treat wounds and get relief? By licking and biting. That's when calamine lotion can do considerable damage.
Why Calamine Lotion is Dangerous to Dogs
Ultimately, calamine lotion's danger comes down to zinc oxide.
Zinc itself is not harmful to dogs. In fact, canines need zinc to stay healthy. It plays a role in skin health, immune system function, and hormone production. Without zinc, your dog would suffer many health issues. That's why it's present in most high-quality dog foods.
The problem is that calamine lotion contains too much zinc.
If your dog licks up the calamine lotion, it consumes a considerable amount of zinc. It can lead to an issue called zinc toxicosis.
It doesn't take as much as you think for your dog to experience zinc toxicosis. Consuming as little as a penny-sized amount of calamine lotion can cause trouble.
When zinc toxicosis occurs, it damages your pup's red blood cells. They can rupture, resulting in both short- and long-term issues. In the short term, your dog may deal with seemingly benign issues like vomiting and diarrhea.
Gastrointestinal trouble is a common symptom of zinc toxicosis. These issues can cause noticeable lethargy, dehydration, gum discoloration, and more.
While the symptoms seem mild, they're just the beginning. If you don't treat zinc toxicosis, or your dog consumes even more calamine lotion, it could experience liver damage, kidney failure, and heart failure.
Those aren't issues you want to deal with. Failing to address them could result in your dog's death.
Other Reasons to Avoid Applying Calamine Lotion to Your Dog
Zinc toxicosis can occur when your dog consumes calamine lotion. But what if you use a cone or apply it to a spot where your dog can't lick it?
That's not a great idea either because your dog can absorb the zinc into their body in other ways.
For example, applying the calamine lotion close to the ears and eyes will allow your dog's body to absorb the zinc through nearby mucous membranes.
Furthermore, your dog may experience allergic reactions. The lotion can trigger unwanted reactions because of the zinc or other ingredients in the formula.
Those reactions can cause even more rashes and irritation, defeating the purpose of getting relief with calamine lotion.
Prolonged use of calamine lotion can be problematic, too. When it sits on the skin for a week or more, the zinc oxide can increase the amount of clotting material and debris on the skin. The result is, you guessed it, even more irritation!
Ultimately, there are far too many risks with calamine lotion. Despite all the good it does for humans, it's not made for canine use. Applying the lotion to your dog's skin can lead to more trouble than it's worth.
Alternatives to Calamine Lotion: Canine Edition
Fortunately, there are many great products to help your dog get relief. Leave the calamine lotion to you and your family! If your pup is dealing with some irritation and itchiness, you can resort to pet-safe products.
Many stores sell dog-specific products like antiseptics. Hot spot sprays and itch-relieving creams are your best bet. They provide many of the same benefits as calamine lotion without the risks.
If you prefer a more natural or DIY approach, you can also use ingredients you have around the home. For example, a bath with oatmeal is a fantastic way to put an end to incessant scratching.
The oatmeal soothes the skin and promotes healing. Meanwhile, you can use lemon for its anti-inflammatory properties or basil and mint to reduce the urge to scratch.
If all else fails, you can go to your vet. Vets can recommend prescription-strength topical products that are safe and effective.
You can't and shouldn't use calamine lotion on your dog. It doesn't matter whether your furry friend is dealing with painstaking allergies or is trying to get relief from a simple insect bite. Calamine lotion is not the way to provide relief.
Calamine lotion has ingredients that aren't safe for dogs. They can easily lick up the lotion and experience zinc toxicosis, leading to debilitating health problems.
Do yourself and your dog a favor and leave the calamine lotion in your medicine cabinet.
Instead, go for dog-safe topical creams and sprays. They'll give your pup the much-needed relief they want while protecting their health.