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Since many cats and dogs love spending time outside exploring, playing and sometimes getting dirty, it’s no surprise that bacterial infections in pets can be quite common—but they’re also very serious. Left untreated, they can even be fatal. If your pet needs to clear a bacterial infection, doxycycline is one possible course of treatment your vet may recommend.

Doxycycline for cats and dogs is only available by prescription from your veterinarian and can be ordered through our pet pharmacy. The entire course of antibiotics should always be given through completion of all doses prescribed—even if your pet starts to appear better after a few days. Read on to learn more about this drug and how to administer it.

What does doxycycline treat in dogs and cats?

Canine and feline doxycycline is used in veterinary services to help treat certain bacterial infections in pets. However, it will not be effective against viral or fungal infections. For instance, it can be used to treat certain cases of bacterial kennel cough in dogs, but it will not help cure viral kennel cough. Only your veterinarian can diagnose which type of infection your pet has, which can involve respiratory sampling as well as blood, urine and X-ray testing.

Doxycycline for dogs and cats may be prescribed to treat the following illnesses:

  • Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis—all tick-borne diseases
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bacterial respiratory infections
  • Infected skin or wounds
  • Heartworm disease
  • Gum infections
  • Bacterial kennel cough
  • Leptospirosis—an infection spread via contaminated water and soil

Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list of uses for doxycycline. It may be recommended by your veterinarian for reasons other than those listed above. This medication is often prescribed for extra-label purposes—meaning it can be prescribed for diseases that it is not specifically indicated to treat.

Is doxycycline a strong antibiotic?

Doxycycline is strong enough to treat a wide range of bacterial infections and diseases. While your pet’s condition may not noticeably improve for a few days, doxycycline gets to work quickly, helping stop the reproduction of harmful bacteria typically within one to two hours. If your pet is not improving or is becoming worse after taking doxycycline for several days, check in with your veterinarian—certain infections may not be susceptible to this medication.

Doxycycline dosage guidelines

It’s important to begin an antibiotic regimen as soon as possible after an infection is detected, as eliminating infections is a key part of your pet’s vital care. Just make sure that you follow the doxycycline veterinary dosage carefully as prescribed by your veterinarian. The average adult doxycycline dosage for cats and dogs is usually between 5 to 10 mg a day.

What should you do if you miss a dose? If you realize you’ve forgotten to administer your pet’s dose within two hours of their scheduled time, you can distribute it late and then get back on track. Any amount of time more than that, you will want to skip the missed dose and resume your regular dosage routine at the next scheduled time. Never double up a dosage of this powerful medication, as it could lead to illness.

Don’t change your pet’s doxycycline dose amount without guidance from your veterinarian. While it may be tempting to up their dose if you don’t see results, this might result in your pet acquiring antibiotic resistance and reduce the efficacy of antibiotics in the future.

How to administer doxycycline

You can give the medication to your pet via tablet, liquid or capsule form. Tablets and capsules are often easier to administer because you don’t need to manually measure the doses as you do with a liquid medication. If your vet prescribes a liquid doxycycline dosage for dogs or cats, use a dropper to measure carefully and drop the medicine directly into your pet’s mouth.

Doxycycline is recommended to be given with food—it may upset your pet’s stomach if given alone. Because it has a bitter taste, you shouldn’t crush it and try to mix it into soft food—your pet will probably detect the medication and reject it. Instead, try hiding the pill in a pill pocket or other treat. Doxycycline should not be given in cheese or any dairy product, as dairy can inhibit absorption of the medication.

Possible doxycycline side effects

Doxycycline typically won’t cause problems for your dog or cat in the long term. Antibiotics are usually well-tolerated in pets, and any adverse reactions tend to be mild and resolve themselves once your pet finishes their course of the antibiotic.

Despite being relatively harmless, there can be some minor side effects of doxycycline in cats and dogs. Keep your eyes peeled for the following signs:

  • Nausea and Vomiting: This side effect can often be lessened by making sure you offer enough food when you administer the drug.
  • Diarrhea: Antibiotics can also cause loose stools. If your dog or cat has temporary diarrhea, make sure they drink a lot of water to remain hydrated—especially if you’ve been prescribed doxycycline for a cat’s UTI. You can also provide food with lots of fiber to help with this side effect.
  • Loss of Appetite: Because antibiotics may lead to an upset stomach, you may notice that your dog or cat is not as eager to eat. Try tempting them with savory food or treats to make sure they are eating enough.
  • Sun Sensitivity: Doxycycline can make your pet more sensitive to the sun and more likely to suffer a sunburn while they are taking it. Consider keeping sensitive parts—like their nose—away from direct sun for long periods. You can also try dog sunscreen if your dog is spending time outdoors.

In rare cases, pet parents may see more severe side effects of doxycycline in dogs and cats. It can increase liver enzymes in canines—an issue that may lead to liver failure in pups who have underlying liver problems. Pets may also have an allergic reaction to this drug—especially if they have shown a previous allergy to tetracycline antibiotics. Some pets may also have trouble swallowing after taking this medication. Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice these more severe side effects.

Drug interactions with doxycycline

Doxycycline for dogs and cats may interfere with other treatments. Your pet may not be a good candidate for this antibiotic if they are currently taking iron supplements, antacids, some dewormers, other antibiotics, blood thinners or certain anti-seizure medications. If your pet is taking one of these drugs, your veterinarian may either offer an alternative or change your dosage instructions to make sure the drugs don’t interfere with each other. Give your vet a full list of anything your pet is taking—even over-the-counter supplements—before you administer doxycycline for cats or dogs.

Antibiotics won’t interfere with most standard pet care. You can go ahead with everything from implanting a microchip to bathing and grooming while your pet is on this drug. If your pet has a blood infection or more serious disease, check with your vet about safety for your pet prior to any grooming services.

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Reviewed by Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM

As Petco’s Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Miller is the lead veterinary subject matter expert, overseeing the company’s standards of excellence in animal care and welfare, growth in pet services and much more. Dr. Miller leads Petco’s medical team, supporting over 200 full-service hospitals and mobile vaccination clinics operating in over 1,000 Petco Pet Care Centers nationwide