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Owner giving a cat an antibiotic pill

The essentials

  • There are a variety of reasons why your cat may need antibiotics — From post-surgical care to treating infections, cats may need antibiotics for various reasons.
  • Some antibiotics cause side effects — Look out for things like hives, digestive problems, and itching or swelling.
  • Diet changes and other natural remedies may be great alternatives to antibiotics — Honey and juniper berries can help with infections.

What is an antibiotic?

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections and viral infections that your cat may have developed for various reasons. Antibiotics work by killing off bacteria and preventing them from spreading.

It’s important to note that to give your cat an antibiotic, it must be prescribed by your veterinarian. If you suspect your cat has an infection, you should take them in right away for a diagnosis.

Common types of antibiotics for cats

The type of antibiotic your cat needs to clear up their infection depends on what kind of bacteria their body is working to fight off. There are plenty of common antibiotics for cats that your vet may prescribe.

  • Amoxicillin. Amoxicillin is used to treat skin, respiratory, and urinary tract infections. It’s available in tablet, capsule, and liquid forms. Vets tend to use potentiated amoxicillin like Clavamox to make them broader spectrum.
  • Cephalexin. This antibiotic effectively treats skin infections, like pyoderma, in cats. It’s usually given as an oral antibiotic.  Vets tend to use third-generation cephalosporins for their increased effectiveness.
  • Clindamycin. Clindamycin is especially effective at treating wounds that might develop into infections or dental diseases that cause oral infections. It’s also typically given to cats orally, but something to note is its sour taste. Try disguising the medication in your cat’s food if they’re picky about taking it.
  • Doxycycline. Doxycycline has a range of uses. In cats, it’s used to treat upper respiratory pathogens. This medication is usually given in a liquid form.
  • Enrofloxacin. Used for a range of infections, this antibiotic is known for its ability to combat infections that can be especially hard to treat. Most commonly, it’s used to treat severe UTIs and skin infections. Typically administered in pill or liquid form, it’s best to feed it to your cat on an empty stomach to avoid unwanted side effects.
  • Gentamicin. This is a particularly powerful antibiotic, and it’s often prescribed for cats by vets when other medications don’t seem to be working. It’s not a medication that you should expect to give your cat at home — it’s usually administered at the hospital via an injection. This medication shouldn’t be given to animals with certain diseases (notably kidney disease).
  • Metronidazole. This is the antibiotic that will commonly be prescribed to clear up your cat’s tummy troubles or diarrhea. You can give it to your cat by tablet or liquid, or your vet can administer it via an infusion.
  • Orbifloxacin. Administered by liquid, this antibiotic may be used to treat kidney and prostate infections (as well as UTIs and skin infections). It’s commonly fed on an empty stomach, though if your cat is sick after taking it, you can give them a small amount of food.

Why cats need the right dosage

Administering the correct dosage of antibiotics to your cat ensures the medication can fight off infection effectively without causing unnecessary side effects or discomfort. It also plays a critical role in preventing the development of antibiotic resistance, a significant concern in veterinary medicine.

Your vet will determine the perfect dosage for your cat based on their size, age, and the severity of the infection, tailoring the treatment to your pet’s specific needs.

For your part as a responsible pet owner, it’s crucial to:

  • Follow your vet’s instructions precisely, giving the medication at the recommended times.
  • Complete the full course of antibiotics, even if your cat appears to have recovered.

Monitor your cat’s response to the medication and report any adverse reactions to your vet immediately.

When and why might a cat need antibiotics?

Cats, like all pets, sometimes face health challenges that can lead to infections. Whether it’s a skin issue, a respiratory problem, a urinary tract infection (UTI), an upset stomach, or a complication from surgery, the underlying cause often requires the same solution: antibiotics.

It’s essential to recognize these signs early and consult with your vet. They’re equipped with the knowledge and tools to diagnose the issue properly and prescribe the right antibiotics to get your furry friend back on their paws.

Potential side effects of antibiotics in cats

It’s normal for your cat to experience some side effects when they’re taking certain antibiotics. Some side effects are nothing to worry about, while others may be more severe reactions due to allergy.

Minor side effects of antibiotics in cats

Minor side effects of antibiotics include:

  • Minor hives and rashes
  • Digestive problems like stomach irritation
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

The most common side effect we see with antibiotics is GI upset, especially diarrhea. Giving a probiotic supplement along with an antibiotic can help a lot with this! If more severe side effects are noted, like vomiting or a rash, your veterinarian may want to switch to a different antibiotic.

Dr. Jennifer Schott

Severe reactions of antibiotics in cats

In rare cases, your cat may have a more severe reaction to antibiotics. If they’re allergic to the medication, have an underlying condition, or if it interacts poorly with another medication, reactions may occur. Lastly, sensitive immune systems can react badly to an antibiotic. Severe side effects of antibiotics include:

  • Excessive itching or swelling
  • Repeated bouts of diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty or inability to breathe
  • Fever

Special precautions for tetracycline

Antibiotics like tetracycline play a crucial role in fighting off various infections, but it’s important to approach their use with knowledge and caution. Tetracycline, while effective, comes with specific considerations that every cat owner should be aware of.

  • Teeth discoloration in kittens. Tetracycline can cause a permanent yellow discoloration of teeth in young cats. This side effect is especially relevant for kittens whose teeth are still developing. Because of this, veterinarians often recommend alternative treatments for our younger feline friends.
  • Pre-existing conditions. Cats with liver or kidney disease may face additional risks when taking tetracycline. These organs are vital for processing and eliminating medications, and if they’re not functioning properly, tetracycline could potentially worsen the condition.

Navigating allergic reactions to antibiotics in cats

Allergic reactions in cats to antibiotics aren’t a one-size-fits-all situation. They can range from mild to severe, but knowing what to look out for can make all the difference. Here’s a quick rundown of what to watch for:

  • Skin irritations. Just like people, cats can get itchy, too. If you notice your cat scratching more than usual or if they develop a rash, it might be a sign of an allergic reaction.
  • Gastrointestinal issues. A tummy in turmoil is no fun. Symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea are not only uncomfortable for your cat but could also indicate an allergy to medication.
  • Respiratory changes. Keep an ear out for any changes in breathing. Wheezing, rapid breathing, or difficulty catching their breath could be a red flag signaling an allergic reaction.
  • Swelling and redness. Swelling, particularly around the face, ears, and lips, can be a telltale sign of an allergic reaction in cats. Redness in these areas is another symptom to watch for.

👉 If you suspect your cat is having an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, it’s crucial to act quickly and consult with your veterinarian.

Alternatives to antibiotics for cats

You may be wondering if there are more natural remedies you can use to treat your cat’s infection. While the following suggestions aren’t always the most effective on their own, they can help soothe and treat an infection.

As always, speak with your veterinarian before giving your cat any of these to ensure it’s the right choice for your feline friend.

  • Manuka honey. It’s not typically recommended to feed your cat certain types of honey, however, one of the exceptions is manuka honey for its medicinal qualities. It has antibacterial properties and may sometimes be suggested for wound management to avoid infection and to help granulate tissue form.
  • Juniper berry. Juniper berries are specifically known for their ability to help combat UTIs in cats. They increase blood flow to the kidneys and increase urination, thus helping your cat to flush out the infection. Use it with caution because it can cause some GI upset for cats.
  • Diet change. Diet is one of the most powerful ways you can enhance your cat’s health.  Specific diets can be tailored to promote a cat’s immune system, and the best food regimen looks a little different for every cat.  Vets say a healthy diet is the best suggestion for boosting immunity. A well-balanced meal plan from one of the big three companies (Purina, Science Diet, Royal Canin) and sometimes omega-3 supplements can help keep a cat healthy.
  • D-mannose. This sugar can adhere to E. coli bacteria — a common UTI culprit — preventing them from attaching to the urinary tract walls and helping to eliminate them through urination.

How to prevent cats from getting an infection

Sometimes, there’s not much you can do if your cat develops an infection. It happens. There are some preventative steps you can take, however. Notably, make sure your cat is up to date on their vaccinations and ensure that their diet regimen is both healthy and regular.

In general, if you suspect your cat has an infection, you should get them to the vet as soon as possible to get them started on their treatment.

Prevention and at-home treatment options

In the journey of pet care, prevention is often as crucial as the cure. Understanding how to prevent infections in your beloved feline, alongside knowing some gentle at-home treatment options, can empower you to support their health effectively.

Preventative care can be beneficial but should never replace professional veterinary care, especially if your cat is showing signs of discomfort. Always seek professional help if you suspect your kitty is suffering from an infection or illness.

Frequently asked questions

Can cats have human antibiotics?

You may recognize the names of plenty of the above antibiotics because humans take them too. However, you should never give your pet medicine that’s been prescribed for human use. They can be potentially toxic and very harmful to cats. Vets prescribe specific dosages depending on things like your cat’s weight and any underlying health conditions.

What if my cat doesn’t like taking pills?

There are plenty of tricks you can use if your cat doesn’t like taking pills. The first thing you can do is gently blow air into your cat’s nose as you feed them their pill. This can trigger swallowing. Another thing you can do is sneak your cat’s antibiotic in with their normal food. As always, applaud them and give them a treat once they’ve successfully taken their pill. They will be more likely to take it next time! You can also use nifty tools like pill pockets.

Do cat antibiotics require a prescription?

Yes. You can’t obtain antibiotics without a prescription from your vet.

What does it mean when an antibiotic is given “off-label” by the vet?

You may notice an “off-label” mark on your cat’s antibiotic. If you do, it’s usually nothing to worry about. Off-label means the med is being prescribed for use in a manner that doesn’t exactly resemble its normal usage. That doesn’t mean it’s harmful. If your vet prescribes it, you should go ahead and assume it’s safe to treat your cat’s infection.