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dog taking medicine

The essentials

  • Antibiotics help treat many ailments — These medications are prescribed for bacterial infections internally as well as on the surface of a dog’s body.
  • Common antibiotics include amoxicillin and cephalexin — There are several common antibiotic treatments for urinary tract infections (UTIs), skin infections, and ear and eye infections.
  • Use antibiotics as directed — Always give them until finished,  as your dog’s infection will likely return if the medication is stopped too soon.

Antibiotics are a common medication prescribed to dogs, and they can help treat various bacterial infections. Antibiotics, like Clavamox, cephalexin, and doxycycline, are used for various ailments, including UTIs, skin infections, and upper respiratory infections.

If your pet is prescribed antibiotics, it’s helpful for pet parents to know the risks of antibiotics and the possible side effects. Just like in humans, antibiotic use that goes outside of your vet’s instructions can lead to antibiotic resistance, making future infections even riskier for your dog. Here are the most common antibiotics for dogs that your vet might prescribe, plus any risks associated with these medications.

🚨Although it’s important to follow a vet’s orders and complete the prescribed course of antibiotics, call them right away if your dog experiences any side effects.

The most common antibiotics for dogs

Different types and classes of antibiotics treat various ailments in a pup, so your doggie will need to see the vet to determine what kind of medication they need to start feeling better. If your dog’s veterinarian has prescribed antibiotics, it’s likely one of the following medications:

  • Amoxicillin/Clavulanic acid. Known by brand names Clavamox, Amoxil, Bimox, Moxatag, and Novamoxin, this medication is often used for treating UTIs, skin infections, and respiratory infections. It’s available in pill or liquid forms and should be taken with food to avoid GI upset.
  • Cephalexin. Cephalexin, often known as Keflex, Rilexine, and Vetolexin, is typically prescribed for skin infections, including pyoderma. It comes as a capsule, chewable flavored tablet, liquid suspension or, paste. This medication should be given with food.
  • Enrofloxacin. Known by the name brand Baytril, this antibiotic is used for treating more severe or resistant infections. It is used sparingly to avoid resistance to this antibiotic. It has the capability of treating severe urinary tract infections, soft tissue infections, skin infections, and pneumonia. Enrofloxacin is available in chewable beef-flavored tablets, unflavored tablets, and an oral suspension. This medication should be taken without food.
  • Gentamicin. This antibiotic is used to treat bacterial ear infections and comes in an ointment that is to be administered into the ear canal. These ointments, such as Mometavet, also contain other active ingredients like an antifungal medication and steroid to treat ear infections. Apply it per vet instructions, as gentamicin should not be applied with certain other acidifying ear cleaning products and certain antibiotics.
  • Metronidazole. Also known by the brand names Flagyl, Metizol, Metrogel, and Protostat, this antibiotic is prescribed to treat bacterial infections and Giardia that often cause diarrhea.  This medication is very bitter tasting, and it is best to hide the medication in peanut butter, cream cheese, or pill pocket to mask the taste. Also, this medication should be given with a meal.
  • Sulfamethoxazole-Trimethoprim. This antibiotic may be prescribed for bladder and prostate infections, and you may notice brand names such as Bactrim, Co-trimoxazole, Novo-Trimel, Primsol, Sulfatrim, or Septra.  It comes in a liquid suspension and a tablet form and can be given with or without food.
  • Doxycycline. This antibiotic is prescribed for the treatment of upper respiratory infections and tick-borne diseases, such as Ehrlichia, Lyme disease, Anaplasma, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It must be given with food as nausea/vomiting will likely occur if given on an empty stomach. It comes in an oral suspension, tablet form, or capsules.
  • Clindamycin. This antibiotic is used to treat skin, bone, and dental infections. It can be given with or without food and comes in capsule form, tablet form, and an oral solution.

Why your dog might need antibiotics

Bacteria are essential for human and doggie health, but not all bacteria are beneficial. If your dog’s immune system changes because of, say, another illness or a skin condition, harmful bacteria can easily reproduce and cause infections. Bacterial infections can occur in many places inside or on the surface of the body. To get your dog back to good health, antibiotics are often prescribed. These antibiotics are meant to kill problematic bacteria.

Common infections that could require antibiotics for treatment include:

  • UTI. Urinary tract infections are common in dogs and require antibiotics for treatment. Dogs acquire urinary tract infections when bacteria ascend the urethra and into the bladder.  Dogs with hooded vulvas, diabetes, bladder stones, and urinary incontinence are more prone to recurring UTIs.
  • Ear infection. Dogs are prone to ear infections because of the shape of their ear canals, which can trap moisture and encourage bacterial growth. 
  • Skin infection. Dogs’ skin infections often require antibiotics for treatment. For example, folliculitis is an uncomfortable condition where the dog’s hair follicles become inflamed. If this is caused by bacterial pyoderma, a vet will likely prescribe antibiotics.
  • Eye infection. Eye infections can occur for many reasons, including allergic conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers. Antibiotic eye drops or ointment are prescribed to treat bacterial eye infections.

How to get antibiotics for your dog

If you suspect that your doggie has a bacterial infection, you’ll need to take them to the vet. The vet will be able to determine the best treatment to help your dog feel better. If the treatment is antibiotics, you’ll need a prescription. While you can purchase antibiotic medications online, trustworthy sites will require prescriptions to make the purchase.

A vet visit may cost $50 to $500, depending on your pet insurance (if you have it) and what is wrong with your pup. The cost may be higher if your vet requires skin tests to determine the issue. Larger dogs will require a higher dose of an antibiotic to treat an infection compared to a small breed dog.  The cost of the antibiotic will also depend on the type of antibiotic, how often the antibiotic needs to be taken daily, and the length of treatment. If a bacterial infection is caused by a pre-existing condition, pet insurance may not cover treatments, but if you have accident and illness coverage, your pet insurance plan may cover antibiotics.

Potential side effects of antibiotics

As with any medication, there are potential side effects to consider, especially if your pet is taking other drugs, vitamins, or supplements that could interact with antibiotics. When you take your dog to the vet, make sure to let the doctor know about any medications, topical treatments, and supplements that your dog is taking.

Some antibiotics may trigger sensitivities or allergies in your pet, too. For example, dogs allergic to penicillin should not take amoxicillin, a common antibiotic for dogs. Side effects can vary from skin irritation and gastrointestinal upset to seizures.

🚨 Call your vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Phone Number (888) 426-4435 if you suspect your dog is reacting negatively to an antibiotic.

These are some common side effects of antibiotics:

  • Allergic reaction. Some dogs may be allergic to certain antibiotics and can experience an allergic reaction. Symptoms may include rashes, difficulty breathing, fever, or swelling in the face.
  • Digestive upset. Antibiotics may kill off “good” gut bacteria, which may lead to gastrointestinal upset such as diarrhea, vomiting, or a loss in appetite.
  • Neurological problems. Some antibiotics, particularly Metronidazole, can cause neurological side effects in some dogs when given at high doses or for a long time. Symptoms include an unsteady gait, lethargy, weakness, head tilting, dilated pupils, tremors, seizure-like episodes, or uncontrollable rapid eye movements.
  • Antibiotic resistance. It’s important to follow the prescription instructions closely, and never misuse antibiotics. Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, especially if they are overprescribed or used improperly.

If you’re looking to help your dog heal from minor infections or hoping to ease some of their discomforts while you wait for your appointment with a vet, you may try some natural products that have antibacterial properties. While these products aren’t a substitution for prescribed medications, they may offer some relief with less risk of leading to antibiotic resistance.

Frequently asked questions 

What is the most common dog antibiotic?

Some of the most common dog antibiotics include Amoxicillin/Clavulanic acid, Cephalexin, Enrofloxacin, Gentamicin, Metronidazole, Sulfamethoxazole-Trimethoprim, Doxycycline, and Clindamycin.

What is the best antibiotic for a dog?

The best antibiotic for your dog depends on the location of the bacterial infection, allergies, diet, any current medications, and medication-taking preferences. Some medications are available in chewable flavored tablets, capsules, and liquids, while others are only available in capsule form, which some dogs struggle to take. If you’re trying to determine the best antibiotic for your pup, talk with your vet.

Can I give my dog human amoxicillin?

You shouldn’t give your pup medications that aren’t prescribed to them. Some amoxicillin medications made for humans contain xylitol, which is dangerous for dogs. It’s crucial to get amoxicillin or other antibiotics your vet prescribes specifically for your dog.

What kind of antibiotics can I give my dog at home?

Your vet will prescribe antibiotics for you to give your dog at home. You will need a prescription to order the antibiotics, and you should never attempt to give your pup antibiotics without first consulting with the vet. Improper usage of antibiotics may make your dog sicker and, in some cases, contribute to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.