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The essentials

  • Antibiotics help treat many ailments — These medications kill bacterial infections internally and externally.
  • Common antibiotics include amoxicillin and cephalexin — These are broad-spectrum antibiotics that treat a variety of conditions.
  • Use antibiotics as directed — Always follow your vet’s directions and give the medication until finished.

Antibiotics are a common medication prescribed to dogs to treat various ailments, including urinary tract infections (UTIs), skin infections, and upper respiratory infections.

If your pet is prescribed antibiotics, it’s helpful for pet parents to know the risks and possible side effects. Additionally, antibiotic use that defies your vet’s instructions can lead to antibiotic resistance , making future infections even riskier for your dog. 

Here’s what you need to know about common antibiotics for dogs.

The most common antibiotics for dogs

Some of the most common antibiotics for dogs are ones you’ve likely heard of before. These include amoxicillin, metronidazole, doxycycline, clindamycin, and a few others. Here are the most common ones:

  • Amoxicillin/Clavulanic acid. Also known by its brand names Clavamox, Amoxil, Bimox, Moxatag, and Novamoxin, it’s 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 gastrointestinal upset.
  • Cephalexin. Often known as Keflex, Rilexine, and Vetolexin, it’s typically prescribed for skin infections, including pyoderma. It comes as a capsule, chewable flavored tablet, liquid suspension, or paste.
  • Enrofloxacin. Known by the brand Baytril, this antibiotic is used to treat more severe or resistant infections. Due to its ability to cause antibiotic resistance, it’s used sparingly. It can treat severe UTIs, soft tissue infections, skin infections, and pneumonia. It’s available in chewable tablets and an oral suspension.
  • Gentamicin. This antibiotic is used to treat ear infections, skin infections, and eye infections. It comes in a topical spray, eye drops, and an ear formula. It’s also available to be combined with antifungals and corticosteroids. 
  • Metronidazole. Also known by the brand names Flagyl, Metizol, Metrogel, and Protostat, this antibiotic is prescribed to treat bacterial infections, giardia, and conditions that often cause diarrhea
  • 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.
  • Doxycycline. This broad-spectrum antibiotic is prescribed for viral and fungal infections, upper respiratory infections, and tick-borne diseases. It must be given with food as nausea and vomiting will likely occur if given on an empty stomach. It comes in an oral suspension, tablet, or capsule form.
  • Clindamycin. This antibiotic is used to treat wounds, abscesses, and bone and dental infections. It can be given with or without food and comes in capsules, tablets, and an oral solution.

Why your dog might need antibiotics

Veterinarians prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections. Bacterial infections occur in all parts of the body and, if not treated, can lead to serious, life-threatening conditions. 

Infections occur when your dog’s immune system is too weak to fight them. Similar to humans, this commonly occurs in puppies and older dogs since they have naturally weaker immune systems. 

Your dog comes in contact with bacteria every day, and while they’re usually strong enough to fight it off, infections can still happen. Bacteria are everywhere: in water, feces, outside, on surfaces, and pretty much anywhere you can think of. Some bacteria are harmless, while others can cause illness and disease.

Here are some common infections that could require antibiotics for treatment:


Common, painful abscesses include dental, skin, and anal sacs. Antibiotics, pain medication, and anti-inflammatories are prescribed to help your dog heal. They can be caused by a number of things, including dental disease, fractured teeth, wounds, excessive licking, and a blockage in the anal duct. 


Urinary tract infections are common in dogs and require antibiotics for treatment. Dogs acquire UTIs 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

Some dogs get ear infections because of the shape of their ear canals, which can trap moisture and encourage bacterial growth. Yeast, mites, and foreign objects can lead to bacterial infections requiring antibiotics. Dog breeds like cocker spaniels, bloodhounds, and basset hounds are prone to these due to their long, heavy ears.

Skin infection

Once a dog’s skin becomes broken from itching, scratching, etc., it creates the ideal environment for bacteria. Skin infections often require antibiotics for treatment. For example, if it’s caused by bacterial pyoderma or Staph, 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.


Antibiotics are not always needed for diarrhea. Many things can cause it, and it usually clears up within a week, even untreated. However, metronidazole is typically used to treat acute cases of diarrhea, infections, and inflammatory conditions.


Pneumonia can have a number of causes, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. In the case of bacterial pneumonia, long-term antibiotics are prescribed. For mild cases, it can be managed at home, but more severe cases will need hospitalization. 

Kennel cough

While kennel cough is viral, antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent any secondary bacterial infections from occurring. Secondary bacterial infections like pneumonia could be more serious and life-threatening.

Potential side effects of antibiotics

As with any medication, there are potential side effects to consider, mostly seen as stomach upset, vomiting, and/or diarrhea — 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 (888) 426-4435 if you suspect your dog is reacting negatively to an antibiotic.

Antibiotic resistance

While antibiotic resistance may not have been a thing in the past, it’s seemingly prevalent today. Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria develop resistance to the drugs made to get rid of them. Many bacterial skin infections, types of ear infections, and resistant strains of E.Coli and salmonella are being found. 

While these infections can occur naturally, they’re often thought to result from inappropriate antibiotic use due to overprescribing of them to pets. Unfortunately, dogs that are frequently prescribed medications for chronic or frequent medical conditions are more at risk of developing these infections. This includes dogs with diabetes, skin allergies, and Cushing’s.

Giving your dog antibiotics

When giving your dog any medications, especially antibiotics, make sure to follow the veterinary instructions on the label. Rather than trying to search for medications online, it’s best to visit your vet. They can make sure your dog gets the right dosage and medication for their specific condition. 

Visiting your vet avoids any unnecessary complications or side effects and any extra trips to the vet. Antibiotics come in injectables, oral, and topical forms, and how you give them will depend on the type.

Injectable antibiotics — Injectable antibiotics are only given by your vet at the vet’s office. This may be for dogs that can’t be medicated at home or if the infection is severe. 

Oral antibiotics — These come in pills, tablets, creams, and liquids. Some dogs will gladly take the pill in a piece of cheese, a pill pocket, or a little bit of peanut butter. If your dog is crafty, a pill launcher may be helpful.

Topical antibiotics — Many infections are treated with antibiotics applied topically. These could be eye drops, sprays, wipes, creams, or ear solutions. Depending on the condition, your dog may need a combination of antibiotics.

If you’re looking to help ease some of your dog’s 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.

Antibiotics can help treat many bacterial infections ranging from mild to more severe. Watch for an allergic reaction, such as hives or swelling accompanied by diarrhea or vomiting. When giving medication, always finish the prescription and follow the instructions to help prevent bacterial infections from returning.

Frequently asked questions 

What is the most common dog antibiotic?

Some of the most common dog antibiotics include amoxicillin, 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, and any current medications. 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.

What human antibiotics are safe for dogs?

Amoxicillin, clindamycin, ceftriaxone, metronidazole, doxycycline, and cefixime are commonly prescribed to dogs. 

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.

Can I get antibiotics for my dog without seeing a vet?

While you can buy over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotics at a pet store or online, different bacteria can cause similar symptoms. So, it’s best to consult your vet to find the root cause and get the appropriate antibiotic to keep your dog safe and healthy.