What antibiotics are used for upper respiratory infections in cats?

The question in the title incorrectly presupposes that the cat has a secondary bacterial infection. The question is jumping the gun because bacteria might not be the cause of the cat’s symptoms. Initially, upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats are normally caused by two viral groups: herpesvirus and calicivirus. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses.

Pink eye cured by a course of antibiotics
Pink eye is caused by a secondary bacterial infection after the viral and is cured by a course of antibiotics. Photos: Elisa Black-Taylor.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats


As for human colds, the best initial treatment for feline URIs is to nurse your cat by keeping her comfortable, and administer non-antibacterial medications prescribed by a vet. However, the vet may play safe and prescribe antibiotics as a precaution in case there is a bacterial infection as well as a viral infection.

It is a kind of quick fix or insurance policy. The modus operandi is, ‘if in doubt as to the cause of the infection prescribe antibiotics’. It can be hard to tell the difference between the two. Although, the classic secondary bacterial infection is pink eye (conjunctivitis). I have a page on how this is cured if it interests you (click here).

Vets tend to do treat URIs in this rather imprecise way, because of time and cost constraints I suspect, but antibiotics are specific for certain bacteria and they kill the good bacteria of the gut, which can lead to disease. Also both the dosage and the length of time the drug is administered are important for effectiveness. Get these wrong and the bacterial infection won’t be controlled.

I wrote about overprescribing antibiotics leading to obesity some years ago.

Vets normally prescribe a wide spectrum antibiotic such as doxycycline in the USA against feline nasal pathogens. Apparently cats tolerate this drug well. But seek your vet’s advice, please.

The basic tenet is to avoid using antibiotics unless you have to. Cat owners should not dive in and use them as a first line of treatment. Antibiotics should only be used when necessary and always used appropriately. But I understand the desire to play safe and treat as fast and as cheaply as possible.

Pasteurella multocida
Pasteurella multocida is a bacteria which can cause an infection in humans when bitten by a cat or dog. The picture is here for illustrative purposes only.

Apparently in China the citizens tend to use antibiotics too frequently and inappropriately which can lead to strains of bacteria developing resistance to these drugs which in turn will negatively impact human health in the long term. There is a general concern among all doctors and perhaps vets that humankind is sleepwalking towards a world where the magical cure-all antibiotics no longer work. At that point there will be many more deaths than today. Research is being conducted to find alternatives to antibiotics for this reason.

P.S. Antibiotics kill bacteria by a attacking the wall of the pathogen or interfering with its reproduction.


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