Is Neosporin Safe for Cats?

Picture of a grey cat sleeping on the floor

Cats are known to be a little more sensitive compared to dogs, and while there are a variety of medications initially designed for humans that you can use on your canine friends, you can’t do the same with your feline buddy. In fact, many human medications trigger allergic or toxic reactions in cats. 

If you’re wondering whether Neosporin is safe to put on a cat, this article will give you the answer. We couldn’t help noticing that there are many posts out there on the Internet that actually recommend the ointment. It’s a little more complicated than that and here’s why you should, in fact, avoid using it for your feline companion. 

It’s illegal

While this reason doesn’t necessarily relate to the safety of the product, the fact of the matter is that in the United States, it is illegal to use medication on a pet, no matter if it is prescription or over-the-counter in a way that is inconsistent with its labeling. Obviously, Neosporin isn’t made specifically for cats, which means that you are not using it correctly when applying it on an animal. 

What is Neosporin, anyway? Is it safe?

Neosporin is a triple antibiotic, which means that it is a combination of three different medications. Neomycin is the first (and it’s where part of the commercial drug’s name is inspired from), but the product also contains bacitracin, and polymyxin B. Here is where the problem truly lies – polymyxin B has been linked with anaphylaxis and death in cats in the past. 

Granted, these kinds of cases are somewhat rare, and they usually happen when the ointment is administered ophthalmically, not cutaneously. However, one can never be too sure when it comes to cats. You might try to cure your cat’s scabs or just a minor cut and she could end up licking the area and accidentally rubbing her face on her paw several minutes later. That’s how Neosporin could end up in your cat’s eyes.  

A review study which analyzed the cases of 61 cats between the years 1993 and 2010 has found that 87% of the animals that were treated with ophthalmic antibiotics which contained bacitracin, neomycin, and polymyxin B or a mix of oxytetracycline and polymyxin B suffered from anaphylactic events. In all of these circumstances, polymyxin B was present. In 56% of all of the cases, anaphylaxis happened within just 10 minutes after the drug application. Fortunately, over 80% of the cats that were unlucky enough to have received this medication did survive, but 18% of them did not. 

Pain relievers in the ointment?

Neosporin is available as a commercial product in the form of a cream or as an ointment. It’s said that the cream has more additives compared to the ointment, and since Neosporin is widely considered a first-aid antibiotic, it can contain several anti-inflammatories such as human NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). And these can be dangerous for cats. 

Pet parents have to understand that the composition of Neosporin largely varies from one product to the next and that’s because there are several pharmaceutical companies that are allowed to manufacture it, and sometimes, they add ingredients to the original ‘recipe.’ 

How else can Neosporin be toxic to cats?

We’ve already noted how this triple antibiotic is dangerous when it comes in contact with a cats’ eye tissue, but it can also be dangerous when it is ingested. It goes without saying that cat owners aren’t going to willingly feed or even allow their feline friends to swallow Neosporin, but as you can expect, accidents do happen once in a while.

If you have decided to use Neosporin on your cat to treat a cut or some scabs, it is highly recommended that you use a vet wrap or a so-called ‘cone of shame’. Naturally, we advise against using Neosporin at all, but there are moments in a pet parent’s life when one has to resort to all kinds of solutions. It would be ideal if you could take your pet to the vet’s office and get a diagnosis and the right treatment. Unfortunately, many people do not have pet insurance, and that’s why they are tempted to use medications designed for humans on their pets. 

The important thing to keep in mind in such a situation is that the cat shouldn’t have the ability to reach the area where you’ve applied the cream or ointment. To avoid any extra problems, make sure that the product does not specify that it contains any pain relievers or anti-inflammatories at all. 

The dangers of self-medication

Cats have unique metabolisms, and most drugs that are safe to use on humans and dogs are not safe to use on them. This is the reason why self-medicating pets can be so dangerous. Even though some cats aren’t going to suffer a reaction to polymyxin B, there are serious adverse reactions that need to be taken into account, as emphasized by the study that we referenced above. 

Self-medicating your cat is often not worth it, especially with products containing ingredients that could cause anaphylaxis or even death. You can’t predict the way your feline companion will react when ingesting or getting Neosporin in his or her eyes. In the end, using pet-specific products is a lot safer, and it’s just the correct way of caring for your friend. 

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Cristina Vulpe PhD

Cristina Vulpe PhD

With a PhD in Veterinary Oncology, Dr. Cristina Vulpe loves researching and writing about the things that she’s passionate about. These range from animal nutrition and welfare to pet behavior, infectious diseases, and parasitology. In her spare time, she’s always in the company of her cat and a good book.

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