If you maintain a well-stocked medicine cabinet in your home, it probably contains a tube of Neosporin®. Given how often you may use this ointment on your own cuts and scrapes, you might find yourself tempted to also use Neosporin on your cat’s wound or abscess.
However, there are unique risks associated with using Neosporin in cats, making this a poor option for feline wounds.
What Is Neosporin?
Neosporin is an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment that is commonly used to treat superficial wounds. Neosporin is often referred to as triple antibiotic ointment, because it contains three separate antibiotics: neomycin, polymyxin B, and bacitracin. In some formulations, Neosporin also contains an additional drug for pain relief – pramoxine hydrogen chloride.
Neosporin is used to treat minor cuts, abrasions, puncture wounds, and other wounds. The antibiotics present in Neosporin help prevent bacterial infection and may even be effective at treating mild infections. In humans, these antibiotics are safe and well-tolerated, providing antibacterial benefits with a very low risk of side effects.
Is Neosporin Safe for Cats?
Cats do not tolerate Neosporin as well as their human owners. While there are certainly scenarios in which cats receive Neosporin without any negative effects, serious side effects may occur in some cats that are treated with Neosporin.
When it remains on your cat’s skin, Neosporin is relatively safe. Some cats may have a mild allergic reaction to the ingredients, but these reactions are relatively uncommon with topical application. Neomycin and polymyxin B are more frequently associated with allergies than bacitracin.
Unfortunately, Neosporin rarely stays on the skin in cats.
Cats love to groom themselves, especially when they find a sticky ointment on their skin and in their coat. The same antibiotics that can cause a mild allergic skin reaction (neomycin and polymyxin B) can cause a much more severe allergic reaction when ingested.
While most cats that ingest Neosporin only experience mild gastrointestinal upset, a small percentage of cats can experience a significant allergic reaction. In some cats, this reaction can include anaphylactic shock and can even be fatal.
The risk of life-threatening reactions leads most veterinarians to recommend against the use of Neosporin in cats.
Effects of Neosporin on Cats
A cat that is experiencing a topical reaction to Neosporin will show signs of skin irritation, confined to the area where Neosporin was applied. The skin may become red, swollen, and itchy, causing excessive licking at the affected area.
If you see any of these signs develop, you should attempt to wash off any Neosporin that was applied to your cat, using a gentle pet shampoo.
Additionally, you should avoid using Neosporin on your cat in the future. If signs of an allergic reaction do not resolve with removal of the medication, you may need to see your veterinarian for prescription medication to treat the allergic reaction.
If your cat has ingested Neosporin, you should monitor your cat closely. A brief episode of vomiting may occur, although this will usually resolve relatively quickly. If your cat experiences continued vomiting, diarrhea, or refusal to eat, contact your veterinarian for guidance.
You should also contact your veterinarian if you notice any other signs of a severe reaction, such as lethargy, weakness, or shortness of breath.
Alternatives to Neosporin for Cats
Topical antibiotics can present a significant challenge in cats because cats are so fastidious in their grooming. Any topical ointment that you apply is likely to be licked off before it can offer much benefit.
Additionally, a cat that is trying to lick Neosporin or another ointment off his skin or coat may actually do more damage to the underlying wound than if the wound had simply been left untreated.
If your cat has a skin wound that you are concerned may become infected, the best option is to thoroughly clean the wound with mild soap and water.
If the wound becomes infected despite this basic first aid, skip the Neosporin and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can prescribe oral antibiotics that will be far more effective at treating a wound infection than a topical ointment.
Although Neosporin is very safe for use in humans, it can present significant health risks when used in cats. While you may hear reports of cat owners who have used this medication in their cats without incident, life-threatening problems can occur. Given that cats tend to lick this medication off soon after it’s applied, the benefits of Neosporin do not outweigh the risks.
Frequently Asked Questions
What antibiotic ointment is safe for cats?
Unlike dogs, cats can have life-threatening allergic reactions to antibiotics that are commonly included in topical antibiotic ointments. For this reason, it’s best to avoid antibiotic ointments in cats and seek veterinary care for infected wounds.
What can I put on my cat's wound?
If your cat develops a new skin wound, clean the wound thoroughly using a mild soap and water. Avoid putting topical ointment on the wound, because these ointments often encourage cats to lick at the wound and cause further problems with healing. Instead, clean and monitor the wound, seeking veterinary care if you notice signs of infection.
Can you use Neosporin on a cat?
Neosporin is not recommended for use in cats. While most cats can tolerate topical Neosporin relatively well, some cats may experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.