By: Dr. Juli G., DVM
Pets, especially active pups who enjoy the outdoors, are prone to minor cuts, scrapes, or other skin wounds that can be uncomfortable and make them prone to infection. Most people have a first aid kit in their home or wound care creams to treat minor injuries. It may be tempting to reach into your medicine cabinet when your four-legged friend becomes injured. However, many over-the-counter (OTC) human medications can be dangerous or toxic to dogs. Sometimes, they can exacerbate or prevent a wound from properly healing.
Topical antibiotics, like Neosporin, are popular, cost-effective, and useful for minor skin injuries in people, but are they safe for dogs? The short answer is – it depends. Understanding the uses and ways to keep your pet’s skin safe and cared for will ensure you take the proper steps next time your dog has a minor (or major) skin wound.
What is Neosporin?
Neosporin is the brand name for a popular OTC topical human antibiotic ointment intended for use on superficial skin wounds, like a minor scrape. Neosporin is available in most pharmacies, and generic versions may be labeled as triple antibiotic, describing the three active ingredients in the ointment. Some formulations may contain other components, including a steroid cream, like hydrocortisone, or a topical numbing agent, like pramoxine, to help reduce itchiness or pain. Neosporin generally has a petroleum base, which helps moisten the wound, promotes healing, and provides a physical barrier to prevent bacteria from entering the wound.
The three main active ingredients in Neosporin function to protect against the most common bacteria affecting human skin wounds, which include:
- Neomycin sulfate. This is an aminoglycoside antibiotic that combats gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.
- Bacitracin zinc. This is a cationic polypeptide that fights gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria
- Polymyxin B. This is a cyclic polypeptide antibiotic that covers gram-positive bacteria.
Is Neosporin Safe for Dogs?
Small amounts of Neosporin may be safe to use on your dog but only in some instances and only under the direction of your veterinarian. If your veterinarian advises, a triple antibiotic ointment or cream should only be used on minor, superficial scratches, small cuts, or abrasions. In most cases, minor skin wounds kept clean and dry will heal on their own and do not need any additional topical medication.
In addition to a human first aid kit, it’s always a good idea to have a dog-specific kit available in case of an unexpected accident or injury or when you cannot get to your veterinarian immediately. Pet-specific, veterinary-recommended ointments, like Vetricyn, are more appropriate than an OTC human-intended ointment, like Neosporin.
Risks of Giving Your Dog Neosporin
Using a small amount of Neosporin ointment on your dog’s minor cut or abrasion will likely not cause any problems for your pup. However, your dog’s physiology is different, and many human medications can be toxic to dogs. Neosporin is no exception when it comes to being a potentially dangerous medication for pets.
Risks of using Neosporin on your dog include:
- Allergic reaction. Some dogs may be sensitive to the ointment, leading to swelling, burning, hives, rashes, or other allergy signs. In rare cases, anaphylaxis may occur.
- Gastrointestinal (GI) upset. One of the first things your dog will try to do is lick their wounds. Placing ointment on their wound will also likely cause them to want to lick the area. Ingestion of neosporin can lead to GI problems, including vomiting, diarrhea, or a disruption of the gut flora.
- Antibiotic resistance. Chronic use of an antibiotic, like Neosporin, leads to resistant bacteria that are not easily treated.
- Hearing loss. Using a small amount on your dog is generally safe. However, one study reported hearing loss with intravenous use of Neosporin.
- Localized irritation or delayed wound healing. Never use Neosporin in your dog’s eyes, mouth, ears, or on surgical wounds. Improper use can lead to increased injury, toxic side effects, or delayed healing of an injury or surgical site.
How to Safely Give Your Dog Neosporin
In most cases, applying Neosporin to your dog’s minor injury is unnecessary. However, if you are advised or get the OK from your veterinarian to use Neosporin on your pup’s wound, ensure to follow these steps before applying the ointment:
- Test a small skin area to ensure your dog has no allergic reaction.
- Clean the area with warm water or a dilute veterinary-approved antiseptic like chlorhexidine.
- Carefully clip the fur around the wound to prevent contamination and excess moisture. Wet, dirty hair can cause bacteria to grow in the injury.
- Wash your hands and wear gloves to apply a thin layer of ointment over the affected area.
- Place an Elizabethan collar (a.k.a. the cone of shame) on your dog to prevent them from licking the wound.
- Monitor closely to ensure the wound is healing and not becoming more inflamed or infected.
When to Seek Veterinary Care for Your Dog’s Wound
It’s always a good idea to have your dog examined by a DVM when injured, even if it appears minor. In some cases, the severity of a skin wound or injury may not be immediately apparent. A minor scrape or scratch may not be a cause for immediate veterinary care; however, even minor wounds can become infected and painful for your dog. Additionally, some wounds should never be treated at home and are best addressed and treated by your veterinarian to ensure a skin infection does not occur.
Never attempt to treat or apply Neosporin to the following types of dog wounds or injuries:
- Animal bites or puncture wounds
- Injuries from a cat claw or mouth
- Deep wounds that are bleeding
- Any wound that has green, yellow, white, or bloody discharge
- Wounds caused by rusty, sharp, or dirty objects
- Injuries of the eyes, mouth, or ears
- Wounds with exposed muscle, bone, or tendons
- Wounds that have a deep pocket
- Swollen, red, black, discolored, or inflamed skin
- Wounds that cover a large part of your dog’s body
How to Protect Your Dog’s Skin and Prevent Injuries
Accidents or injuries can occur at anytime, especially if you have an energetic pup that enjoys playing with you or other pets. Although reaching into your medicine cabinet when your dog is injured may be tempting, using any human or OTC medications in or on your dog can be dangerous. Always consult a licensed veterinarian before treating your dog’s wound or injury. Additionally, caring for your pet’s skin and overall health will ensure their immune system can react appropriately and heal if injured.
Follow these tips for optimal skin health and wound care for your pup:
- Provide your pup skin-supporting supplements to support a strong skin barrier and healthy coat.
- Never use human shampoo, alcohol, peroxide, tea tree oil, or other herbal preparations on your dog’s skin unless advised by a DVM.
- Learn pet first aid, and keep a dog-specific kit available to address minor injuries until you can seek veterinary care.
- Regularly inspect your dog’s skin and coat, especially after being outside, to ensure they do not have any wounds or injuries.
- Feed your dog an AAFCO-approved complete and balanced diet so that they remain healthy from the inside out.
- Keep the ASPCA Animal Poison Control number and the closest animal emergency clinic contact available in case of accidental medication ingestion or severe injury.
- Dogs who ingest a small amount of Neosporin may be at risk for GI upset. Giving them a probiotic supplement will help rebalance their gut flora.
- Prevent your dog from licking any wounds. If your dog licks an open wound, they may introduce bacteria and cause the injury to become infected or more traumatized.
While a small amount of Neosporin will likely not harm your dog, it’s generally not optimal for wound care. In most cases, minor scratches or abrasions on your dog’s skin will heal without ointment as long as they are kept clean and dry. Always check with your veterinarian before you apply any medication to your pet to ensure it is safe.
For more information and tips on your dog’s health, check out the Native Pet blog.