Antibiotics for Dogs 101: Your Guide to a Healthier Pup

Four Minutes
Feb 06, 2024

When your dog’s not feeling well, has an injury, or is preparing for or recovering from surgery, they’ll need all the cuddles in the world. They also may need a course of antibiotics. Here’s what you need to know about antibiotics for dogs, including why your pup’s vet may prescribe them, potential antibiotic side effects, and how pet insurance can help cover the cost.

What Are Dog Antibiotics?

Like human antibiotics, dog antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. Because of their broad purpose, they’re among the most common dog medications vets prescribe.1

Why Dogs May Need Antibiotics

Your dog’s vet may prescribe antibiotics for the following conditions related to bacterial infections:

Additionally, your vet may prescribe antibiotics to your dog as a preventative, perioperative, or postoperative measure for surgery.2

A MetLife Pet Policy May Help Cover Antibiotic Costs

See What's Covered

How Do Antibiotics Work?

Antibiotics work by slowing the growth and reproduction of bacteria, or by killing bacteria that's harming your pet.3 If your dog has a viral infection, like distemper, antibiotics will be ineffective at treating it.4

Getting your dog vaccinated and staying current with their shots can help offset the need for antibiotics, as vaccinations can deter bacterial infections. Providing your pup with flea and tick medication can also help inhibit bacterial infections.4

Antibiotic Resistance in Dogs

Antimicrobial or antibiotic resistance can occur when antibiotics are overused, and bacteria begin to resist medication.5 Specifically, the antibiotic fails to kill the bacteria, and it continues to multiply. If your pup’s infection doesn’t respond to antibiotic treatment due to bacterial resistance, it can lead to hospital stays and expensive alternative treatments.5

Your dog’s veterinarian will determine if antibiotics are a necessary part of your dog’s treatment plan. It’s important to always follow the drug administering instructions provided by your vet to help prevent a relapse of the infection or antibiotic resistance.6

What Antibiotics Can Dogs Take?

These antibiotics can help treat infections in dogs or may be prescribed before or after surgical procedures. The most common antibiotics for dogs include:1,7

  • Amoxicillin
  • Cephalexin
  • Metronidazole
  • Clavamox (amoxicillin/clavulanate)
  • Doxycycline
  • Enrofloxacin (also known as Baytril)
  • Gentamicin
  • Sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim
  • Tetracycline
  • Clindamycin

What forms do dog antibiotics come in?

Depending on the antibiotic prescribed to your dog, it may be dispensed in one of the following methods:1

  • Tablet/capsule/pill
  • Liquid
  • Injectable
  • Eye drops
  • Topical

It may also come in a powder or flavored chewable tablet form.8

Check out this article on how to give your pet medication to help make giving your dog their antibiotics easier.

Side Effects of Antibiotics in Dogs

For the most part, antibiotics are generally safe and won’t result in serious side effects. However, potential side effects that can occur with antibiotic use include:1,7

  • Allergic reaction (facial swelling, rashes, fever, difficulty breathing, anaphylactic shock)
  • Gastrointestinal upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Excessive drooling
  • Seizures
  • Neurological issues (involuntary rapid eye movement, head tilt, and dilated pupils)

Difficulty breathing and facial swelling require a trip to the nearest vet or emergency vet immediately.1

A microbiome imbalance can also happen when your dog is prescribed a course of antibiotics. Probiotics can help restore your dog’s gut flora after antibiotics, so ask your vet if this is a good option for your pup.1

Dog Antibiotic Safety and Warnings

You’ll want to follow these safety tips and be aware of any warning signs when your vet prescribes antibiotics to your dog:1

  • Only give antibiotics to the prescribed pet.
  • Reach out to your vet if your dog experiences side effects.
  • Call your vet immediately if your dog overdoses on their prescribed antibiotics (for instance, if they get into the container).
  • Let your vet know if your dog is taking any other medications or supplements to help prevent medication interactions.
  • Make sure your vet knows if your dog has any known antibiotic allergies, such as a penicillin allergy.
Man feeding his dog a pill

Over-the-Counter Antibiotics for Dogs

An over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic like Neosporin® can be used to help heal your dog’s small cuts or superficial wounds. Its ingredients include three antibiotics: neomycin, polymyxin, and bacitracin. Consider bandaging the wound and using an Elizabethan collar (e-collar or cone) to lessen the chance of your dog ingesting the topical aid.

Natural antibiotics for dogs

There are a few natural remedies you can get OTC and administer orally or apply topically to your dog.9 They are not a replacement for antibiotic prescriptions, though, so it’s always best to check in with your vet about alternatives to see if they can be given to your dog.

Some products that have natural antibacterial properties, include:9

  • Honey
  • Coconut oil
  • Oregano oil
  • Turmeric
  • Apple cider vinegar

Can I Get Antibiotics for My Dog Without Seeing a Vet?

Antibiotics typically require a prescription, so you’ll need to get one from your vet, even if you order the medication online.1 A vet visit can help pinpoint which antibiotic is needed to treat your pet’s bacterial infection.

How Much Do Dog Antibiotics Cost?

The cost of antibiotics can vary depending on the medication. Your vet can provide you with cost information upfront if you’re purchasing your dog’s antibiotics through their office. Keep in mind that dogs typically don't get antibiotics without an exam, and possibly diagnostic tests, which can add to the total vet bill.

For a real-life example of how these costs can add up, take Penny, a dachshund in San Diego. She visited the vet for a UTI — an infection that often needs antibiotic treatment — and got a vet bill for $620. Luckily, Penny's parents had a MetLife Pet Insurance policy that covered 100% of the bill.10

Does Pet Insurance Cover Antibiotics?

There’s a good chance your dog or cat may need antibiotics during their lifetime. Luckily, a dog insurance policy from MetLife Pet Insurance can help with the costs. You can also be reimbursed for other types of medication, injuries, illnesses, alternative therapies, and diagnostics.

Learn more about how pet insurance works or see how MetLife Pet compares to other pet insurance companies. When you’re ready, fetch a free quote.

Help Protect Your Dog at Any Age


Dr. Hunter Finn is an integrative veterinary expert first, and social media star second. America’s favorite veterinarian owns Pet Method in McKinney, Texas, where he cares for pets while prioritizing their emotional well-being. When he’s not at his clinic, he’s starring in viral videos on TikTok (2 million followers) and Instagram (500K followers) — where he’s been known to snuggle puppies and conquer the latest dance trends.

**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 “Common Antibiotics for Dogs,” The Spruce Pets

2 “Use of Antibiotics in Dogs and Cats Having Surgery,” Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

3 “Antibiotics in Veterinary Medicine,” University of Minnesota

4 “Antibiotics and Your Pets: What You Should Know,” Wisconsin Department of Health Services

5 “Antimicrobial (Antibiotic) Resistance in Dogs,” American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation®

 6 “Guidelines for the Use of Antibiotic Drugs,” Merck Veterinary Manual

7 “Common antibiotics for dogs,” Betterpet

8 “How to Administer Prescription Antibiotics to Pets,” Wag!

9 “These 6 products contain natural antibiotics for dogs,” Betterpet

10 All claims paid amounts are based on MetLife internal claims data from October 2022. Story altered for illustrative purposes.

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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