Question your veterinarian about prescribing antibiotics without proof of a bacterial infection

I’m going to be slightly provocative. But I think cat caregivers should sometimes, gently and politely, challenge their veterinarian. And there’s one particular treatment where this attitude may be important. It is the prescription of antibiotics.

I think it is probably known that veterinarians tend to prescribe antibiotics as a precaution. They don’t know whether a cat has a viral or bacterial infection. Their patient might have both because a viral infection may have developed into a secondary bacterial infection. The veterinarian plays safe. They can’t treat viral infections but they can treat bacterial infections. And the patient’s caregiver wants something to take home. The vet knows this. Another reason to prescribe antibiotics.

Don't accept antibiotics from your veterinarian unless they are clearly indicated
Don’t accept antibiotics from your veterinarian unless they are clearly indicated. That is the advice. The Infographic is by MikeB at PoC and it is free to use if you want to under a creative Commons licence. The ‘vet’ in the infographic is a model.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The cat’s caregiver thinks that this is fine and often it is. However, antibiotics are not the great panacea that they are sometimes declared to be. People tend to over rely on antibiotics which is not a good thing because there are downsides.

It isn’t just about antibiotic resistance. You will find many scientific studies on antibiotic use in humans. The same basic principles apply to domestic cats.

Gut microbiota

Research indicates that gut microbiota is an intricate network of metabolically interdependent microorganisms. Long words what that means essentially is that the good bacteria in the gut of a human or cat performs several vital functions.

Not only does it aid digestion but it also stimulates and regulates the immune system. Of course, the immune system is vital to the health and welfare of a domestic cat. It fights invasive disease and prevents the growth of pathogens.

Arguably, if veterinarians overprescribe, they are both potentially benefiting their patient by killing off a bacterial infection and also potentially doing something which is detrimental to the patient’s health by disrupting their gut microbiota.


One study published in 2014 entitled Antibiotics and the Gut Microbiota, states that antibiotics can have an effect on the gut microbiota which is “rapid and sometimes persistent”. Note the word “persistent”. Not a good sign. They go on to state that “broad-spectrum antibiotics reduced bacterial diversity while expanding and collapsing membership of specific indigenous taxa”. Big words again but essentially it means that antibiotics kill off good bacteria in the gut and reduce the genetic diversity of the good bacteria making it less effective.

In summary, I think it’s fair to argue that negatively impacting the gut microbiota can also have a negative impact on health by potentially introducing diseases beyond the digestive tract in a domestic cat.

Human research

A lot of research on gut microbiota takes place on humans. Humans are mammals and so are cats. Therefore, that research can be used to assess the effect that antibiotics have on cats.

Veterinary attitudes

My research also indicates that more work needs to be done on this aspect of veterinary treatment. I sense, and this may be unfair, that sometimes veterinarians conveniently ignore the negative impact of antibiotics as described and overprescribe them because they don’t know the precise nature of the disease they are faced with in their patient. It’s a sort of scattergun approach, playing safe.

Other potential side effects

There are other potential side effects to antibiotic use other than the one described. These are, diarrhoea, vomiting, skin rash, joint pain, autoimmune disease and behavioural changes.

Social media post

There is a post on the website about the use of antibiotics in a cat to clear up a dental infection. Clindamycin was prescribed. The cat owner administered the antibiotic for seven days and said that the swelling went down after the first day. Their cat, they said, was a hundred percent fine and they wanted to stop the treatment a little early. They said that their cat was sneezing as a consequence of the antibiotic treatment.

The sneezing would appear to be a side effect. But there might be an underlying reason for that sneezing which the owner didn’t see. This is the case where antibiotics were the correct treatment. And the advice is always to follow the complete course to prevent infection returning. But the posting does hint at this competition between risk and reward, benefits and detriments.

Don’t pressure doctor

Antibiotic use should be minimised despite their great usefulness. They should be only given for bacterial infections. It is wise to let mild illnesses and illnesses caused by viruses to run their course and to treat them with excellent general caregiving by treating the symptoms.

One veterinarian says that you shouldn’t pressure “the doctor to prescribe antibiotics. Don’t accept antibiotics unless there is a clear indication that they are necessary”. Seek advice and ask questions.

Below are some more articles on antibiotics.

2 thoughts on “Question your veterinarian about prescribing antibiotics without proof of a bacterial infection”

  1. I took my cat in for constipation, and after she had an enema, the vet said “She MIGHT have a UTI, so I’m giving her an antibiotic.” {There was no indication of this.) No tests were run, and I was at the beginning of having any knowledge that vets were very fallible in their diagnosis, coming from their OPINIONS.


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