Sometimes found in toners or used as a multi-purpose skincare product, witch hazel is considered to have a variety of uses. While it is effective as an astringent, some of its purported uses are not backed by research.
You may have heard about witch hazel’s canine applications, or you may just be curious about whether or not witch hazel is safe for your dog.
Occasionally applying small amounts of witch hazel to your dog’s skin will not poison them, though it can cause or exacerbate dryness. Witch hazel should not be ingested by your pup. In many cases, other medications may be more helpful than witch hazel.
Let’s look at witch hazel and whether it can safely be used for dogs.
What Does Witch Hazel Do?
Witch hazel—sometimes also referred to as witch-hazel—is a plant with astringent properties. Sometimes referred to by its genus name, hamamelis (or hamamelis virginiana), witch hazel is reputed to be effective in addressing a number of human maladies.
While there is not enough evidence to back up every claim, it is true that witch hazel’s astringent properties can effectively address some skin issues. As an astringent, witch hazel is very drying and may help temporarily combat itchy skin and help decrease inflammation.
Is Witch Hazel Safe for Dogs?
Witch hazel is safe for both humans and dogs in small doses. It should only be used topically on dogs because—as with other toxins—it can lead to stomach upset when ingested. If you apply a small amount to your dog and your dog licks it, they will likely be alright, but you might want to keep an eye on them just in case they do begin to show symptoms of discomfort.
Because witch hazel is drying, you should avoid using it on dogs who have dry skin. While witch hazel can sometimes have a soothing effect, it is very dehydrating for skin, which can cause additional irritation when used on dry patches.
Some products with witch hazel contain other ingredients that are harmful to dogs, so make sure you check the ingredient list before using it on your dog. In some cases, these products may contain witch hazel as a secondary ingredient. You may also want to consider purchasing a product specifically made for dogs.
Because isopropyl alcohol is toxic to dogs, try to pick witch hazel products that are made without it. Products made with grain alcohol or glycerin should be safer, so choose one of those instead.
Safe Ways to Use Witch Hazel for Canine Concerns
There are a number of pet care products—particularly those pertaining to skin or ear care—that contain witch hazel. These types of products may be a bit less harsh on skin than plain witch hazel, which causes significant drying.
You may also find DIY personal care recipes including witch hazel for addressing certain canine concerns. Be careful with those that include essential oils, many of which can be toxic to dogs.
If your dog experiences worsened irritation, itching, redness, or severe skin dryness after using witch hazel, discontinue use of the product. You may need to consult with your veterinarian, who should be able to point you to appropriate products that are less likely to cause side effects.
Witch Hazel for Dogs’ Ears
Witch hazel is not an uncommon ingredient in ear care products for dogs. However, it is not always a good idea to pick a product containing witch hazel to address your dog’s ear problems.
In addition to excess dryness, stinging and additional irritation can arise from the use of witch hazel. Because of this astringent quality, it is best to avoid witch hazel (or products containing it) if your dog has any cuts or abrasions within the ear.
If your dog is experiencing severe ear irritation or ear infections, it would be wise to first consult with your vet before beginning at-home treatment.
Witch Hazel for Dogs’ Eyes
Witch hazel should not be used on its own on or around dogs’ eyes because it can cause painful irritation and dryness. However, there are some tear stain removers that may contain witch hazel that are safe for dogs.
These products are typically available as wipes, which help owners better control the application of witch hazel around the sensitive eye area.
Although there are ways for humans to safely use witch hazel near their eyes (particularly to fight puffiness), there is no need to do the same for a dog. It should be noted that witch hazel should never be used in the eyes and should be applied carefully near the eye area.
Witch Hazel for Skin Irritation
Witch hazel is reputed to be useful for certain skin conditions and irritations in humans, including for acne, psoriasis, eczema, and insect bites, although research has not fully substantiated those claims.
As an herbal alternative to hydrocortisone, witch hazel can soothe some types of skin irritation, including insect bites and itchy skin, and decrease bleeding from minor abrasions on both humans and dogs. (As a side note, hydrocortisone is safe for most dogs, though checking with your vet before using it is a good idea. Use the cream directly on the skin and make sure your pooch doesn’t lick it.)
Apply a small amount–just a few drops—onto a cotton ball, then apply directly to your dog’s skin. You may want to use a cone (or cone alternative) to keep your dog from licking the spot, and make sure you throw out the cotton balls quickly so your dog is not tempted to try to eat them.
Witch hazel may be used short-term on hot spots; however, check with your vet before using it because hot spot have various causes, many of which may not be best addressed with an astringent. Because witch hazel should not be used long-term, recurring skin problems may be better addressed with other products.
Pet-safe wipes with witch hazel may also be useful for cleaning up after anal gland expression, as long as your pooch does not have infected glands or overly irritated skin.
While witch hazel might soothe a dog’s certain skin irritations, clean tear duct stains, or dry up ear problems, it should be used sparingly and infrequently. Any witch hazel product used on a dog should not contain isopropyl alcohol. Additionally, keep your pooch from ingesting witch hazel, as it can lead to stomach upset.
Keep in mind that many of the uses for witch hazel cited online are not proven. If your dog is struggling with a skin, eye, or ear problem, first check with your vet before beginning an at-home intervention, especially one without sufficient scientific evidence to support it.