Is Neosporin Safe For Dogs?

Neosporin On Dogs

Moms have dabbed Neosporin on their kids’ grazed knees and elbows since it was invented in the 1950s. So If your dog gets a minor scrape or cut, you might think about using it for him too. 

What could be the harm, right? It’s just a bit of ointment to stop the wound from getting infected. 

Well … I did a bit of research into Neosporin ingredients. And what I found was a lot worse than I expected.  

You really don’t want this stuff on your dog. It can cause a lot of problems … not just for your dog, but for the planet!

So I’ve got some information on why you should avoid Neosporin for your dog. And I’ll share some natural, safer alternatives. 

Note: A similar product called Polysporin is no longer sold in the US. It’s available in other countries (including Canada). I’ll mention that as well where it’s relevant. 

What Is Neosporin?

Neosporin is a triple antibiotic first aid ointment. It helps prevent infection in minor cuts, scrapes or burns on the skin.  It only works for bacteria, so won’t help with viral or fungal infections. 

Neosporin has three main ingredients. Each one of them comes with some worrying side effects I want to tell you about.  

The three Neosporin ingredients are neomycin, polymyxin B and bacitracin. : 

1. Neomycin

Neomycin is a topical and oral antibiotic. Orally, it works by stopping the growth of bacteria in the intestines.

There are known cases of neomycin causing loss of hearing. Neomycin can also damage the kidneys. People taking the oral drug must have their kidney, nerve and muscle function tested regularly.

Other common side effects include irritation or soreness of the mouth and rectal area. And there’s a long list of more unusual side effects. These include digestive issues, weakness, difficulty breathing,

So … why am I bothering to mention the side effects of the oral medicine when I’m talking about a topical product? 

Well, we’re talking about dogs here. And if you put Neosporin cream on a dog, he’s quite likely to lick it. So … what was a topical medication becomes an oral one for him. The topical medicine has side effects too, but the oral ones are more serious. 

And the topical medicine can also be harmful. Wound irrigation with neomycin can cause kidney failure.  And topical neomycin can also cause hearing loss. These are serious side effects!

Don’t use neomycin if your dog has …

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Myasthenia gravis (an autoimmune disease-causing weakness and fatigue)
  • Parkinson’s (which can sometimes affect dogs).

Neomycin can also harm unborn fetuses in pregnancy. And it’s not safe to use with some other drugs. 

2. Polymyxin B

Polymyxin B is an ingredient in Neosporin and Polysporin. 

It’s best known as an injectable antibiotic. It treats meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis and urinary tract infections. 

It can cause serious kidney and nerve problems. And it can interact badly with many other drugs. Those include neomycin and bacitracin, the other ingredients in Neosporin!

Again, I’m mentioning these problems with the internal drug … because there’s always a chance your dog can lick the medication off his skin. 

So what about topical use?  Well, it can cause allergic contact dermatitis … with burning, redness, skin irritation and “hair bumps” (foliculitis).

And like its fellow Neosporin ingredient, neomycin … even the topical drug can cause hearing loss and balance problems. These aren’t things you’d expect from using a bit of cream on the skin … but they happen! 

Prolonged use of polymyxin B can also cause a fungal infection … or a different bacterial infection. 

3. Bacitracin

This is another injectable drug. It treats staph infections and pneumonia in infants. It’s harmful to the kidneys, so babies getting this drug need their kidney function tested daily. 

In fact, this drug is risky enough that … in February 2020, the FDA asked all manufacturers to withdraw their products from the market

The ban doesn’t include topical or ophthalmic products with bacitracin. But again, what if your dog licks Neosporin off his skin? Licking bacitracin could really harm him! 

So … how about topical bacitracin?  Well, it comes with warnings that you shouldn’t use it orally, or near mouth, nose and eyes. That’s not surprising, considering the injectable drug is so risky. 

But even with just topical use, the results can be life-threatening. One study of contact dermatitis from bacitracin concluded: 

“Mass usage has resulted in an increasing number of clinically relevant allergic contact dermatitis reactions and near fatal anaphylaxis.”

Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergic reaction that can cause death. One case study described a patient who suffered anaphylactic shock immediately after applying bacitracin ointment to his foot. When the EMTs arrived 5 minutes later, he was unconscious and had no pulse. (He survived after being resuscitated at the hospital.)

And the more I researched, the more articles and papers I found. There are a lot of cases of anaphylaxis from bacitracin. Other minor side effects include skin irritation, rash or other allergic reactions. 

So all of these side effects in Neosporin (and Polysporin) ingredients are scary. They’re certainly enough to make me say “I’ll never use those on my dog.”  (Or myself, for that matter). 

What Do Vets Say?

You may have had a vet tell you it’s OK to use Neosporin on your dog … occasionally, in small amounts. But other vets (even conventional ones) warn that the drug is only approved for people, not dogs. 

The link to hearing loss is a warning sign to avoid Neosporin. And vets also warn that if your dog licks it, it could have more severe side effects. As well as the others I’ve mentioned, it could damage your dog’s gut bacteria. 

These harmful effects convince me never to use Neosporin on my dog, But if you still think it’s no big deal … read on for some bigger issues.  

More Problems With Neosporin

In case the risks of the Neosporin ingredients aren’t enough to put you off … there are some other powerful reasons not to use any kind of topical antibiotic on your dog. 

Skin Microbiome

You may be familiar with the microbiome in your dog’s gut. He has trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi in his gastrointestinal tract. The gut microbiome plays an essential role in your dog’s immune system and overall health. That’s why it’s so important to keep your dog’s gut microbiome balanced and healthy.

RELATED: Feed your dog’s microbiome …

But did you know your dog also has a microbiome on his skin?  The skin is the largest organ. It communicates with the rest of the body through the organs (like kidney and liver), as well as the digestive, immune and nervous systems. 

The skin’s main role is obvious. It provides a wall between your dog’s other organs and the outside world. (I remember a childhood song, “skin … keeps your insides in.”)  Skin is a barrier that protects the body from infection, pollution and parasites. 

But it’s not just a physical barrier.  A big part of its function is invisible. Just like the gut, the skin has a population of good and bad bacteria, viruses and fungi.  And these microorganisms form an extra layer of protection for your dog.

Protective Skin Bacteria

When the skin bacteria are balanced, they protect against infection on the skin. Just like the gut bacteria protect the internal body against pathogens. Good bacteria on the skin help heal wounds, combat allergens. They even slow the aging (oxidation) process. 

So … when you kill off these skin bacteria with an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin … it has the same effect oral antibiotics do in the gut.  

Antibiotics kill bacteria indiscriminately. They destroy the good bacteria along with the bad. So your dog’s natural defense system against infection is wiped out. And sometimes that destruction is permanent. 

So … any short-term Neosporin benefits in preventing wound infection … can be a long term recipe for wrecking your dog’s skin microbiome. That means your dog will be more susceptible to skin infections in the future. 

And there’s another general problem with antibiotics. 

Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Through overuse of antibiotics, we’re developing antibiotic-resistant bugs. And this isn’t just about oral antibiotic medications. Research shows that multi drug resistant organisms (MDROs) are becoming resistant to topical antibiotics as well. 

A 2011 study reported that ointments like Neosporin and Polysporin may be a factor in a very severe MRSA strain called USA300.

USA300 is a MRSA strain that’s very common in the US. It’s not only resistant to any antibiotics, but it also creates deep, pus-filled sores. It’s a very dangerous infection that can spread to blood, lungs and other organs. It also blocks the body’s ability to make white blood cells (that fight infection). Hospitalizations for USA300 strains tripled between 2004 and 2008. 

Drug companies aren’t developing new antibiotics … and there’s an ever-growing list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria don’t respond to treatment. And that means serious infections can’t be healed. 

This is a dangerous threat to all of us … not just your dog!

Never use antibiotics frivolously. By that I mean … don’t ever use antibiotics if you have another alternative. And there are many natural alternatives to Neosporin. 

RELATED: Three things every dog owner should know about antibiotics …

Does Neosporin Even Work?

Well … millions of people rely on it. But one study found that irrigating with two of its ingredients, Polymyxin and Bacitracin, didn’t kill Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli bacteria in vitro. 

And after the study (mentioned above) that found Neosporin and Polysporin may contribute to antibiotic resistance … here’s what one UC Davis professor said, 

Patrick S Romano MD commented: 

“The primary effect of the ointment is probably to act as a physical barrier to bacterial entry and as a moisturizer.” 

Romano explained that moisture helps cuts and scrapes heal faster. This means other non-antibiotic topicals may do the job just as well. (And I’m going to give you a few suggestions.)

Before I do that … there are several different products under the Neosporin name. So I wanted to mention a few Neosporin “relatives.”

Other Neosporin Products

Neosporin antibiotic cream has some cousins you should also avoid.  These are a few of them … and I’ve provided links to articles that provide natural alternatives to these products. 

Neosporin + Pain Relief 

It has the same ingredients with the addition of pramoxine. Pramoxine is a numbing/anesthetic medicine.  Its side effects include local burning, stinging, pain and redness. 

One 22 year-old man used this product on his leg. He immediately developed severe flushing, itching and lip swelling. EMS found him with a high heart rate and low blood pressure. He needed epinephrine at the hospital before he recovered. He’d used regular Neosporin before with no reaction … so it’s likely the pramoxine was to blame. 

RELATED: Top 10 herbs for pain relief …

Neosporin Anti-Itch 

This cream contains 1% hydrocortisone. Hydrocortisone is a steroidal cream that treats conditions like eczema or psoriasis. But it’s best to avoid all steroid products on your dog. Steroids work by suppressing your dog’s immune system. So they can cause long-lasting damage to your dog’s health.  This product has many bad side effects, including skin rashes and other problems, hair loss, high blood sugar, eye cataracts, glaucoma, headache, skin ulcers, adrenal problems like Cushing’s.

RELATED: The itch fix – Heal your dog’s itchy allergy symptoms…

Neosporin Ophthalmic

This medicine treats eye infections like conjunctivitis. It contains neomycin and polymyxin B as well as gramicidin. Gramicidin is a potent antibiotic. It has hemolytic effects (meaning it destroys red blood cells, causing anemia) … so it’s only for topical use.  Side effects can include eye pain, redness, itching, crusting, drainage, blurred vision, light sensitivity. 

RELATED: Manage your dog’s eye problems naturally …

Neosporin Wound Cleanser

This contains benzalkonium chloride. There are so many cautions about this product I wouldn’t go near it! It’s harmful if swallowed. It’s not safe while pregnant or nursing. And it can cause allergic reactions like hives, peeling skin, itching, swelling, blistering, trouble breathing or swallowing, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue or throat. Ugh! 

RELATED: Treating dog wounds …

So … what can you use instead of Neosporin antibiotic ointment? 

Natural Alternatives To Neosporin

The antibiotic ointment is the most common Neosporin product. But there are so many better choices for your dog’s minor wounds or abrasions. These are all natural … and none of them will harm your dog if he licks them. 

Calendula 

Calendula is a wonderful herb that can even help heal deep wounds. 

You can use a calendula tea or diluted tincture to clean wounds or help heal hot spots. Use a cotton ball to dab the liquid several times a day on the wound or irritated area to help with itching, pain and healing. 

Calendula cream, ointment or salve can soothe and heal cuts, scrapes, burns or insect bites.  Apply it regularly (just like you would use Neosporin!). 

You can buy calendula products at health stores.  Or you can make your own salve using this recipe.  

Manuka Honey

Manuka honey has proven antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. In fact, research shows it can even help control MRSA … one of those antibiotic resistant bacteria. That makes Manuka honey a powerful and safe natural substance! 

Spread Manuka honey on scrapes, cuts and puncture wounds.  You can also buy wound care products that contain Manuka honey with other healing ingredients.

RELATED: Manuka honey for dogs …

Plantain

Plantain is a super-useful herb to use for minor skin injuries… because it’s everywhere. So it’s great for emergency wound care. Look for it if your dog gets a cut or scrape out on a hike!  

Find a plantain plant, chew up the leaves and put them on your dog’s wound. Simple as that! 

Plantain can help with minor injuries such as cuts, scrapes or insect bites. 

PRO TIP

You can also use plantain if you over-trim your dog’s toenails and cut the quick. It’ll stop the bleeding and ease the pain.

Garlic

You already know garlic has many health benefits when you feed it to your dog. But it can also be a good topical home remedy for cuts and scrapes. 

The easiest way to use it is to take a raw clove or two of garlic. Chop or crush it to release the allicin. That’s the healing substance in garlic. Let it sit for a few minutes, then place in a jar with a couple of tablespoons of virgin olive oil. Shake vigorously and apply to the sore spots with a cotton ball. 

Keep the mixture refrigerated and make a new batch daily. The allicin won’t be effective after 8-12 hours. 

RELATED: Can dogs eat garlic …

Goldenseal

Goldenseal is a natural herbal antibiotic. You can use it topically as well as internally. 

To disinfect bites, cuts and grazes, dab some tincture on a cotton ball or washcloth. Apply it directly to the area 3 times a day.

Yarrow

Yarrow is another wound-healing herb that helps prevent infection. 

Dab some yarrow tincture on the affected area a few times a day. 

Ozonated Olive Oil

Olive oil (or other oils) that have been infused with ozone (O3) have many therapeutic uses. Research shows wounds heal faster with topical O3 oil.

It’s available at many health stores as well as online. Buy an O3 salve in a dark glass jar. Apply to the affected area 2-3 times a day. Rubbing the oil into the skin helps with absorption. 

Other Herbal Salves

There are many natural herbal salves available that can help with wound healing.  A full spectrum hemp salve can help heal many types of wounds and sores – even tumors! And you’ll find many other good herbal salves at health stores. Make sure the product you buy is safe for dogs in case your dog licks it. 

Follow directions on the label … but generally you can apply these salves a 2-3 times a day to speed healing. 

Healing Clays

There are several different types of clay that can help with healing. These include Bentonite, Montmorillonite, Illite or Redmond clays. Clay can help stop bleeding and prevent scabs from forming. It’ll help dry up an oozy wound, prevent infection and itching.

You can sprinkle dry clay directly on a wound. Gently wash the powder off and reapply a fresh sprinkling daily or as needed. 

RELATED: Healing clay for dogs …

PRO TIP

Clay is great to dry up hotspots that are oozing pus. Clean the area and clip hair away, then sprinkle clay straight on the hotspot. Or for a more potent effect … combine the powdered clay with an equal amount of powdered yarrow, plantain or echinacea.

Sugar

If you have none of these remedies in your cabinets … you almost certainly do have some sugar. And that’s great for emergency first aid. Yes, I mean good old granulated table sugar.  

Research shows sugar has some amazing anti-bacterial effects. One study even showed topical sugar inhibited growth of antibiotic-resistant MRSA/Staphylococcus bacteria. 

You probably do want to use a bandage with sugar, so your dog doesn’t lick it. While it likely won’t harm him, sugar isn’t really a healthy snack! 

To use, sprinkle some granulated sugar on the wound and bandage over it. The granules soak up moisture and stop bacteria from growing. 

So … now that you know about all the natural alternatives, you can throw the Neosporin away.  You don’t need it … and I think you’ll agree, it’s not worth the risk – to your dog or your family! 

References

Masur H et al. Neomycin toxicity revisitedArch Surg. 1976 Jul;111(7):822-5. 

Manuel MA et al Nephrotoxicity and ototoxicity following irrigation of wounds with neomycinCan J Surg. 1979 May;22(3):274-7.

Vattimo Mde F et al. Polymyxin B Nephrotoxicity: From Organ to Cell Damage. PLoS One. 2016 Aug 17;11(8):e0161057.

Falagas, M.E. et al. Toxicity of polymyxins: a systematic review of the evidence from old and recent studiesCrit Care 10, R27 (2006). 

Goswami K,  et al. Polymyxin and Bacitracin in the Irrigation Solution Provide No Benefit for Bacterial Killing in Vitro. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2019 Sep 18;101(18):1689-1697. 

Jacob SE, James WD. From road rash to top allergen in a flash: bacitracin. Dermatol Surg. 2004 Apr;30(4 Pt 1):521-4. 

Lin FL et al. Near-fatal anaphylaxis to topical bacitracin ointment. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Vol 101,Jan 1998. 

Suzuki M et al. Antimicrobial Ointments and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus USA300.Emerg Infect Dis. 2011 Oct;17(10):1917-20. 

Alice N. Neely, PhD et al.  Are Topical Antimicrobials Effective Against Bacteria That are Highly Resistant to Systemic Antibiotics?  Journal of Burn Care & Research, Volume 30, Issue 1, January-February 2009, Pages 19–29.

Jenkins R et al. Manuka honey inhibits cell division in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureusJ Antimicrob Chemother. 2011 Nov;66(11):2536-42. 

Uysal B. Ozonated olive oils and the troublesJ Intercult Ethnopharmacol. 2014;3(2):49-50. 

Kim HS et al. Therapeutic effects of topical application of ozone on acute cutaneous wound healingJ Korean Med Sci. 2009;24(3):368-374. 

Murandu M et al. Use of granulated sugar therapy in the management of sloughy or necrotic wounds: a pilot study. J Wound Care. 2011 May;20(5):206, 208, 210.

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