Skin Care for Your Cushing’s Dog 

What are the causes of skin and hair problems in your Cushing’s dog? 

Cushing's syndrome is caused by long-term, elevated levels of cortisol (typical Cushing’s syndrome) or other corticosteroids (atypical Cushing’s syndrome) in your dog.  Cushing’s dogs are especially susceptible to skin and hair problems due to a number of effects of Cushing’s syndrome, including:   

Skin changes— In the short-term, corticosteroids can actually reduce hair loss.  However, long-term exposure to cortisol and/or other corticosteroids can result in thinning of skin and weakness of blood vessels, which can lead to hair loss over time. 

Frequent Skin Infections—One of the main effects of cortisol is to tamp down the body’s immune and inflammatory systems—this is why humans apply or take corticosteroids (such as cortisone creams or prednisone).  Without those defenses, skin infections become much more common, severe and longer lasting than they otherwise would be. 

Poor nutrition—A hallmark of Cushing’s syndrome is increased appetite, which can lead to increased eating and improper balance of nutrients.  This too can contribute to skin conditions and hair loss. 

Hormonal imbalance—In addition to (or in lieu of) excess cortisol levels, many Cushing’s dogs also have elevated levels of androgens such as androstenedione and testosterone.  Androgens are the primary regulators of hair growth.  Accordingly, dysregulation of these critical hormones can lead to hair loss and other changes in hair texture, color and other attributes. 

Medication-- Some medications used in the treatment of Cushing’s dogs list skin and hair conditions as side effects, and may themselves be the cause of hair and skin conditions.  

So, what can you do to treat your dog’s skin and hair conditions?  

What is the role of ointments in skin care for your Cushing’s dog?  

First of all, you can address some or all of the underlying causes by:  managing your dog’s cortisol and related hormone levels (such as with lignans and melatonin or other medical treatments), keep your dog as clean as practical so as to limit its exposure to infectious agents, adjust your dog’s diet with the help of a veterinarian or veterinary dietician, and/or switch your dog’s medication to one that does not include skin and hair conditions as a side effect.  No one-size-fits-all approach will work for every dog, so you should select the combination of the above interventions that your dog responds to.  And, of course, any such changes should be undertaken in consultation with your veterinarian, who can take into account your dog’s overall health and health history. 

You may also consider topical treatments for your dog.  These treatments are the focus of the rest of this post.   

Hydrocortisone ointments are among the most popular types of ointments used for dogs with Cushing's syndrome. Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid.  As such, it will help alleviate inflammation and itching, which are common in dogs with Cushing's disease.  

However, your Cushing’s dog already has high levels of corticosteroids, so adding more corticosteroids to the mix may be counterproductive and should only be undertaken with a veterinarian’s supervision, if at all.  Other options may be tried first, including: 

Tea tree oil-based ointments 

Tea tree oil is both an anti-inflammatory agent and an antiseptic. Thus, this natural ingredient, can be of prime importance in soothing the itchy and irritated skin of your dog.  Please note, however, that, at very high quantities, tea tree oil can be toxic if ingested.  So, if you are administering tea tree oil that has not been compounded into an ointment, it is important to dilute it before using it as a skin ointment for your dog. 

Aloe vera-based ointments  

For dogs with itchy and irritated skin, aloe vera can be very soothing for your dog. Aloe vera moisturizes and soothes your dog’s scaly and/or dry skin. Moreover, aloe vera is an anti-inflammatory agent that can reduce your dog's risk of having secondary or even knock-on effect systemic infections. 

What ointments are available for the skin care of your Cushing's dog? 

Both tea tree oil and aloe vera can be purchased as stand-alone products.  However, there are many non-corticosteroid-based ointments available in the market for the skin care of your Cushing's dog. Here are the ones that we have found and that have been well-reviewed: 

Sulfodene dog skin care ointment 

The salient features are: 

  • Helps to prevent secondary topical bacterial infections on your Cushing’s dog skin.  
  • Provides a barrier from flies that might lead to the transmission of harmful germs 
  • Best for dog skin care that is facing itching, dryness, and irritation 
  • Works as an analgesic which means it helps to relieve the pain of your dog 

Dr. Maggie dog skin care ointment 

The salient features are: 

  • It helps to rehydrate your Cushing dog’s skin without clogging pores and acts as a protective barrier 
  • Provides protection of hot spots and wounds that results from skin lesions on your Cushing’s dog 
  • Calming ingredients and oils assist in soothing irritated skin 
  • Not even harmful if licked by your dog 

Quick Derm dog skin care ointment 

The salient features of this skin care ointment include: 

  • It promotes rapid healing of the skin lesions and wounds of your Cushing’s dog 
  • Suitable for both dry and itchy skin and helps to reduce inflammation 
  • Most of the ingredients are of natural origin 

Moreover, there are other ointment options to treat specific conditions that your dog may have from time to time: 

  1. Antibacterial ointments 
  1. Antifungal ointments 
  1. Corticosteroid ointments (but, see the discussion above) 
  1. Zinc oxide ointments 
  1. Emollient ointments 

All of these have their own specifications that function in different dog skin conditions. Your veterinarian can better guide you in this regard. 

What are other options for the skin care of your Cushing’s dog? 

You can also provide skin care to your Cushing’s dog by following these tips in addition to applying ointment. 

  • Providing regular baths as soon as needed 
  • Using dog shampoo that includes only or primarily natural ingredients, especially essential oils 
  • Brushing on a regular basis to keep the coat shiny and healthy 
  • Closely monitoring your dog's skin to rule out serious infections and to treat any conditions identified sooner rather than later 
  • Protection from insects and fleas 

Final thoughts 

The right ointments can provide comfort, relief and protection for your Cushing's dog, especially when used as part of an overall treatment and skin care program. Ointments of or containing tea tree oil and aloe vera are most suitable for general care of the skin of your Cushing dog.  These can be supplemented from time to time with more specialized ointments to treat specific conditions as they arise.  As with any product, you should use them with caution and under the guidance of a veterinarian.