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Neosporin for Dogs: Is It Safe?

Person holds up Neosporin ointment
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Medication details

  • Medication type: Antibiotic
  • Form: Topical
  • Prescription required? No
  • FDA approved? No
  • Brand names: Neosporin
  • Common names: Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Available dosages: Typically includes 3.5 g Neomycin / 400 IU Bacitracin / 5000 IU Polymixin B per gram
  • Expiration range: Long shelf life

When you have pets—particularly ones that are prone to getting in trouble—it’s a good idea to keep your first aid kit stocked to tackle minor illnesses and injuries. One of the staples of every home first aid kit is triple antibiotic ointment, also known as Neosporin. You may have already used this product for cuts and scrapes on your human family members and wondered whether Neosporin for dogs is safe and effective.

Using a small amount of Neosporin on your dog may be OK if your veterinarian recommends it, but there are a few important caveats. Before you break out a new tube for that minor injury, make sure you know the potential risks of using Neosporin on a dog and are aware of alternatives to Neosporin that may be better options for your pet first aid kit.

What Is Neosporin?

Neosporin is a topical antibiotic ointment that is available over the counter at most human pharmacies. The ointment contains three antibiotics: neomycin sulfate, polymixin B sulfate, and bacitracin zinc, typically in a petroleum base. These antibiotics make the ointment effective against many common bacteria, but it will not treat other infectious agents such as viruses, fungi, or parasites. However, increased bacterial resistance is a growing concern with widespread use of topical antibiotics (1). Some studies also show that long-term use of neomycin can lead to hearing loss (2). Because it is an over-the-counter product, Neosporin is not reviewed or regulated by the FDA.

Can You Put Neosporin on a Dog?

Putting ointment on a dog

Neosporin can be used topically to treat minor cuts and scrapes in dogs, just like in humans. However, it is best to check with your veterinarian before using any over-the-counter medication intended for humans on your dog. Applying a light layer to the affected area may help prevent infection and encourage faster wound healing. However, it is only for use externally (on the dog’s skin) and should only be used on areas where the dog cannot lick it off. This is because Neosporin is not safe for dogs to consume, and can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects if ingested (more on this to come). Since you can’t completely prevent your dog from licking it off, you may want to consider an alternative to Neosporin for dogs. Neosporin should never be used in the ears, eyes, or mouth.

Neosporin may be good to have on hand in a pinch, but it is not designed for pets and should not be used often. There are more appropriate products specifically designed for pets. It should not be used to treat large or deep wounds or applied to large areas of the body. If your pet’s cut or scrape is swollen, red, painful, or has discharge, then your dog should be seen by a veterinarian rather than being treated at home. You should also seek veterinary care if your pet’s cut does not improve within a few days after using Neosporin.

Is Neosporin Safe for Dogs?

Used in small amounts on the skin, Neosporin is generally safe for dogs. However, some dogs may experience contact dermatitis—a local inflammatory condition at the site where the ointment was applied. If this occurs, gently wipe away any residual ointment with a warm washcloth and discontinue Neosporin use. If the irritation does not improve in 24 hours, see your veterinarian for further care.

If your veterinarian gives you the green light to use Neosporin on your dog, it should only be used topically on your dog’s skin and may not be safe for your dog if used inappropriately. It should not be used in the ear canal as it may damage the eardrum and worsen existing ear infections. It is also important to note that Neosporin is not the same as triple antibiotic ophthalmic ointment and should never be used in your pet’s eyes. Ophthalmic problems can worsen quickly, so if your pet is having eye issues it is best to see your veterinarian right away rather than trying to treat the problem at home.

Neosporin also should not be given to your dog by mouth. Not only is this ineffective, but it may also cause digestive upset for your dog if given in large quantities. When using Neosporin topically, make sure to only apply it in areas that your dog can’t reach. Alternatively, you can lightly cover the area (a T-shirt or sock works great for this!) or use an Elizabethan collar—or a dog cone alternative—to stop your from dog licking the area. Not only will licking the area allow your dog to ingest the ointment, it may also make the cut or scrape you are treating worse by introducing additional bacteria and moisture from your dog’s mouth to the area.

Neosporin Side Effects in Dogs

Dog licking wound on paw

If using Neosporin, it is important to look for potential side effects, such as allergic reactions or contact dermatitis. Signs of an allergic reaction may include red, scaly, or itchy skin. More severe side effects are rare but may include:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea if ingested
  • Irritation if used in the eyes
  • Hearing loss, infection, and irritation if used in the ears
  • Development of resistant infections

Neosporin should not be used in combination with other topical medications unless you are directed to do so by your veterinarian. Because Neosporin is only used externally, there is little risk of it interacting with any medications your pet takes by mouth.

Neosporin Alternatives for Dogs

Other topical antibacterial treatments available over the counter include silver sulfadiazine (SSD) ointment, bacitracin ointment, and polysporin ointment. However, there are topical antibacterial products specifically formulated for dogs, such as Silver Honey, Vetricyn, and Sulfodene, that can be purchased over the counter at pet stores or your veterinary clinic.

These products should only be used externally on small areas of the skin and should not be used on large or deep wounds. If the scrape or cut you are treating does not improve within 24-48 hours, see your veterinarian for further care.

Over-the-counter topical products should not be used for significant injuries and are not substitutes for appropriate veterinary care. If your pet has a large or deep wound, or a skin infection over a large area of the body, then it is best to see your veterinarian.

He or she may prescribe oral antibiotics, medicated shampoos, a stronger topical ointment, or other targeted treatments to help your dog heal more quickly. For extensive or severe skin infections and wounds, a topical therapy could be used in combination with oral antibiotics.

Editorial credit for featured image: ZikG / Shutterstock.com

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