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Cat antibiotics

The essentials

  • Antibiotics fight bacteria and infection in cats — Cat antibiotics can come in tablet, liquid, topical, or injectable forms.
  • There are a variety of reasons why your cat may need antibiotics — Your cat may need antibiotics for causes including surgery, infection, or gastrointestinal upset.
  • 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 berry 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 both 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. 

Medications prescribed by your veterinarian may be covered by pet insurance. Check out our guide on the best pet insurance to find the right fit for you and your cat!

When and why might a cat need antibiotics? 

If your vet thinks your cat’s infection won’t clear up by itself, they’re probably going to prescribe an antibiotic. Without antibiotics, some infections can get worse. Here are some common causes of cat infection:

  • Skin infection. Cats can develop skin infections that require the use of antibiotics. The types of infections include things like pyoderma or secondary infection caused by ringworm.
  • Upper respiratory infection. If your cat can’t stop sneezing or has a runny nose or eyes, they might have an upper respiratory infection. These infections can be easily treated by antibiotics.
  • Urinary tract infection. If you notice blood around your cat’s litter box, they could have a UTI. UTIs are infections that affect the bladder, urethra, or kidneys of cats. While there are some natural remedies to treat UTIs in cats, they’re most effectively treated with antibiotics.
  • Gastrointestinal upset. Is your cat having tummy troubles? Diarrhea in cats may be caused by an underlying infection that antibiotics can treat.
  • Surgery. After cats have surgery, they might groom or lick their open wounds to soothe any pain or discomfort. This, however, can cause damage to any stitches they may have and consequential infection. 

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 disease that causes 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 to rid of an infection. 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.

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

Severe reactions of antibiotics in cats

Your cat may have a more severe reaction to antibiotics in rare cases. 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

👉 If your cat shows any of the above symptoms, seek emergency veterinary care immediately. 

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 be used to help soothe and treat an infection.

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 granulation 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.

👉 As always, you should double-check with your vet on how and if you should use these natural remedies to soothe your cat’s infection.

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.

Frequently asked questions

Can cats take 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.