How to Apply a Topical Medication to Your Cat

Following a few simple guidelines will make applying a lotion, ointment or patch to your cat’s skin much easier — and less messy. Read on for detailed instructions.

The Basics

There are many reasons your veterinarian might prescribe a medicine that’s applied to the skin. Whether your cat is dealing with a skin problem, a pain condition or something else, you should always put your health and safety—and that of your pet—first. So if your cat becomes so agitated that you feel you’re at risk of being bitten or scratched, or if the procedure seems excessively painful for your pet, stop and get your veterinarian’s advice.

Follow Recommendations

Topical medications come in several forms, such as creams, ointments, lotions, and patches. It’s important to use only the medicine your veterinarian has prescribed, and to use it exactly as advised. Even if the problem seems to be resolved, you should treat your cat for the full length of time prescribed. On the other hand, you don’t want to use the medication too frequently or aggressively, as doing so can make your pet’s problem worse, especially if your pet has sensitive, already-inflamed skin, which can be further damaged by overtreatment.

What You Need

Before you get started, you’ll want to find a safe work area and gather the following basic supplies:

  • Medication prescribed by your veterinarian
  • Latex or other gloves, if recommended
  • Elizabethan collar, if necessary

Specific Techniques

Your veterinarian will recommend the best technique for applying the medication, depending on whether it’s a cream, ointment, lotion, or patch. If the medication comes with an applicator, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use the applicator.

When applying topical medications, be aware of the following issues:

  • Some medications should be allowed to dry before people (especially children) or other pets come in contact with the treated cat. Follow instructions on how long to wait before allowing your cat to interact with family members.
  • If you’re applying medication to inflamed or damaged skin, be careful not to further irritate the area with too much rubbing.
  • If you’re using a patch (they’re often prescribed for pain control), be very careful that it doesn’t come off and get stuck to a person or another pet.
  • If your cat consistently licks the medication off, ask your veterinarian about using an Elizabethan collar—a cone-shaped collar that fits over your cat’s head to prevent licking.
  • If your cat won’t sit still while you apply the medication, you may find it easier to hold your cat on your lap. You may want to place a folded towel across your lap to reduce the chance of being scratched. Alternatively, cats can be wrapped in a large towel and held against your body, exposing only the head and the area to be treated. Be sure not to wrap your cat too tightly.


This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.

Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!