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Can You Give Cats Human Antibiotics? Vet-Approved Risks & FAQ

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

cat at vet with owner and veternarian

Vet approved

Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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As any pet owner will tell you, cats are masters at hiding signs of illness. After all, one of the first things they do when they’re sick is to hide. That makes it even harder to tell what’s going on with your kitty. Surprisingly, our feline companions share 90% of our DNA even though we split off evolutionarily 94 million years ago.1 Does that mean you can give your cat human antibiotics?

The short answer is no, you should not give your cat human antibiotics, even though you might recognize some medications as “people drugs.”

Understanding how antibiotics work and their side effects will help you understand why those decisions are best left to your pet’s veterinarian.

How Antibiotics Work

Doctors and veterinarians prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial conditions, whether it’s strep throat your child caught at school or the developing infection your cat is experiencing from a fight. Bacteria enter your pet’s body and immediately start to multiply. It will try to kill the pathogens or disease-causing organisms. Sometimes, your cat needs to bring in reinforcements, i.e., antibiotics.

Vets typically prescribe them for a specific dose individual to your pet and a time range, calculated to overwhelm the bacteria and wipe them out quickly. That’s why you need to keep giving them to your pet even if the symptoms have subsided. They work the same in people, cats, dogs, and horses. The differences are the types, strength, and side effects. These are the things that can take human antibiotics off the table for your pet.

Vetericyn Plus Feline

Common Feline Antibiotics

While some overlap exists between canine and feline meds, it’s best to stick to the correct formulations, if just for the proper dose. Some ingredients in dog products are potentially lethal to cats, particularly with flea and tick treatments. Felines also have different issues that call for other types of meds, such as toxoplasmosis. Some of the most commonly prescribed ones include:

  • Metronidazole
  • Enrofloxacin
  • Cephalexin

You’ll likely recognize the last one on the list. It offers several benefits for both cats and humans because it’s broad-spectrum and gentler on the body. However, that doesn’t mean you should give your drugs to your pet for several critical reasons.

The Problems with Human Antibiotics

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, there are four guidelines for using antibiotics. First, it’s imperative to make the correct diagnosis to rule out other issues and choose the best treatment. Bear in mind that antibiotics are not effective against viruses, which may have similar symptoms.

Second, the correct dosage is essential to kill the pathogen or disease-causing agent. Too little won’t help your cat get better. Too much can have severe consequences, according to the Pet Poison Helpline. It’s not just a matter of the amount. It’s also considering other factors, such as your cat’s age, life stage, and other meds that you give your pet.  Vets are legally bound to prescribe responsibly following a cascade of when certain medications can be used.  They must first prescribe a formulation that is tested and approved for the treatment of that particular condition in that particular species.

ginger cat with the owner
Image Credit: Yuriy Seleznev, Shutterstock

Third, your veterinarian must decide the course of the treatment, balancing getting rid of the bacteria with your cat’s response to the potential side effects. Finally, it’s vital that you provide the appropriate supportive care. Some pets experience vomiting or GI distress when taking antibiotics. That makes ensuring that your kitty has plenty of water available a crucial part of the recovery plan.

All these factors play a role in preventing antibiotic resistance. Giving your cat human antibiotics without a definitive diagnosis can lead to further and unnecessary complications. There’s also a risk of toxicity if other ingredients are present in your antibiotics that usually aren’t included in pet meds. Remember that off-label or unapproved FDA use is a decision only a professional can make.

Signs of an adverse reaction to any antibiotic include:

  • Facial swelling
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Drooling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures

Final Thoughts

It’s tempting to think that you can give your cat human antibiotics when your pet is sick and save you the expense of going to the vet. However, we strongly urge you not to try and diagnose your pet’s health issues. Many things can affect whether an antibiotic is the most appropriate choice or even if it’s safe. Besides, isn’t your cat’s welfare the most important deciding factor?

Featured Image Credit: 4 PM production, Shutterstock

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