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If your cat is injured or in pain, it’s only natural to want to try and do whatever you can to help comfort them and make sure they feel better quickly. While cats are masters at hiding when they are not feeling well and in pain, sometimes the cause is obvious, such as in the case of a cut or skin abrasion.
We humans have a plethora of over-the-counter topical remedies that we can use to achieve relief from our pain quickly and safely prevent any wounds from getting worse by becoming infected. We often reach for products like Bactine®, rubbing alcohol, or other antiseptics in our medicine cabinets to help prevent infection and offer some relief from the stinging pain.
However, would those same common household products work on cats as well? More specifically, can you use Bactine® on cats?
Bactine® is not considered safe for cats because it contains benzalkonium chloride as one of the main ingredients. While benzalkonium chloride could be safe if it’s only used on the skin, cats are very likely to lick Bactine® when grooming and ingest the toxic benzalkonium chloride.
Instead, products containing hypochlorous acid are a better choice for most pets and are widely available. However, it’s always a good idea to consult your veterinarian with an injury to your cat, even if it appears to be minor.
Below we’ll go into more detail on the product Bactine® and its general use for people, and then break down its common ingredients to see how each ingredient may affect cats. We’ll also discuss safer alternatives for cats compared to the antiseptics geared towards their human owners.
Let’s get started!
What Is An Antiseptic?
Antiseptics are medical-grade products that are used to stop, slow down, or prevent infection from various microorganisms. They are used in hospital settings pre- and post-surgery, at schools to help treat a scuffed-up knee from a fall at recess, and in veterinary clinics to help prevent infection during clinical procedures such as a spay or neuter.
Stronger antiseptics, such as what is used in medical settings like a hospital or vet clinic, are generally not available for the average consumer to purchase over the counter. However, there are various brands of antiseptics and antiseptic compounds that are considered first aid kit necessities in every household.
There are several kinds of antiseptics, and products are available for both humans and pets. Antiseptics are generally considered safe for humans and are most often applied topically. For pets, certain antiseptics may cause adverse reactions if accidentally ingested.
This is especially true for cats, who are sticklers for keeping themselves clean and who will attempt to remove anything out of the ordinary on their body by licking and grooming, thus ingesting the substance.
Common types of antiseptics (for both pets and people) include rubbing alcohol, chlorhexidine, hydrogen peroxide, povidone-iodine, and benzalkonium chloride. All of these antiseptics are available as both generic products and various brand name products, and some products, like Bactine®, are a mix of an antiseptic and another ingredient geared towards pain relief or infection prevention.
What Is Bactine®?
Bactine® is a brand name drug that is used as a germ-killing antiseptic and local anesthetic to numb the skin to reduce pain or discomfort. Bactine® contains the antiseptic Benzalkonium Chloride and the numbing agent Lidocaine HCL. It does not require a prescription, so it is available over the counter.
Generic forms do exist, though you are more likely to find products that contain only lidocaine or only benzalkonium chloride, and the mix of the two (along with any other inactive ingredients) may be a proprietary blend of ingredients exclusive to Bactine® and its parent company.
The medication is considered generally safe for humans, but it can cause severe side effects (including death) if too much is applied to the skin and the medicine is absorbed into the body, or it is consumed by mouth.
However, this is pretty hard to do in most cases.
To determine whether Bactine® is safe for cats, we must first break down whether lidocaine and benzalkonium chloride by themselves are safe for cats, and if either ingredient is even effective at treating pain or preventing infection in cats.
What is Lidocaine?
Lidocaine is a numbing agent used for pain relief and it’s also one of the primary ingredients in Bactine®. It is applied topically and is available over the counter in various low-dosage forms, including sprays, patches, gels, and creams. It is considered a local anesthetic and can provide relief for joint pain, pain caused by inflammation, and irritation caused by burns, insect bites, or poisonous plants.
Products containing higher doses of lidocaine are only available with a prescription through your doctor’s office.
Lidocaine Usage in Cats
In cats, lidocaine has many uses though most are restricted to veterinary use rather than home use. It can be used as a topical analgesic, an intravenous analgesic, and it can even be used to treat heart problems.
Lidocaine patches, similar to what people use, can also be used on cats for pain relief and are generally considered safe when left on for short periods of time. Lidocaine products for pets are not available over the counter, so a veterinarian must be contacted for a prescription.
Due to different dosages for pets and people, the use of products containing lidocaine that are geared towards people should not be used on pets unless specifically directed by a licensed veterinarian to avoid any unintended adverse reactions and side effects.
Lidocaine as a Treatment for Heart Issues
Lidocaine is a go-to medication for treating heart issues in several species, but due to the relative rarity of clinically significant or life-threatening incidences of heart issues in cats, lidocaine is usually unnecessary in most treatment plans for cats suffering from mild heart problems.
If a veterinarian deems the use of lidocaine necessary, cats are usually given a starting dose of 0.25 to 1mg/kg of the cat’s weight intravenously. The dose can be increased per the veterinarian’s discretion, but it must occur slowly as cats are much more prone to toxic levels of the drug that can result in additional heart-related or central nervous system issues.
Lidocaine as a Treatment for Pain
Emerging research and studies support the use of lidocaine patches and creams to help reduce pain in several species, including cats. The medication is most commonly applied using a transdermal patch that is placed as close to the site of pain as possible, and patches should be left on for no longer than 72 hours due to the concern of the lidocaine being absorbed through the skin and entering the bloodstream.
Creams that contain lidocaine can also be used, though the cream must remain in place for 60-90 minutes before the cat feels any relief from the medication. With both options, accidental ingestion of the medication is a concern and cats should be monitored or given a recovery cone or body suit to prevent them from attempting to lick the patch or cream.
What is Benzalkonium chloride?
Benzalkonium chloride is a common disinfecting agent used in various medical products, household cleaning products, hand sanitizers, and of course Bactine®. It is considered a broad-spectrum chemical which means it is effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It is one of several antimicrobial chemicals, so when you see the term “antimicrobial” on a household product it probably contains benzalkonium chloride!
The safety of this chemical is currently being studied and there is a mixed consensus on just how safe it might be, but there is mounting evidence that benzalkonium chloride can pose a significant risk to pets, people, and the environment in large amounts or for people and pets with immunocompromised conditions.
Benzalkonium chloride Usage in Cats
Unlike lidocaine, benzalkonium chloride has no medical use in cats and it’s considered a toxic substance and can cause severe adverse reactions if consumed.
Besides being a main ingredient in Bactine®, this ingredient is also commonly found in many household cleaning products, all of which are toxic to cats if ingested. Cats can accidentally ingest this chemical after walking upon a surface that was recently cleaned with a product containing benzalkonium chloride and then cleaning their paws, licking it off a person who recently applied a product like Bactine® to their body, or by the cat grooming off any topical product containing benzalkonium chloride that was applied to the cat’s body.
While the amount of benzalkonium chloride is found in smaller amounts in products like Bactine® than what would commonly be found in cleaning products, the possibility of your cat becoming ill from accidentally consuming Bactine® is probably a risk you do not want to take.
Symptoms of benzalkonium chloride poisoning in cats include heavy drooling, lack of energy and interest in eating or drinking, and breathing difficulties. One of the more common symptoms of benzalkonium chloride toxicity in cats is hyperthermia, or an increased body temperature that is different from a typical fever.
Cats exposed to high doses of benzalkonium chloride may begin exhibiting symptoms similar to heat stroke and begin panting, drooling, and vocalizing loudly to help bring attention to their unwell state of being. Many of these are the same symptoms you’d expect from other toxic exposures like ingesting oil paints or some types of acrylic paints.
What Can I Use If Bactine® Is Not Safe For Cats?
If your cat is injured or in pain, a trip to the vet is your safest bet. Cats are pros at hiding their pain, so taking them to the vet is the best way to understand what is wrong with your cat and how you can help him. Your vet may suggest different medications or therapies to help with whatever issue your cat is currently experiencing.
For minor cuts and abrasions, there are a few over the counter products you can use to help prevent infection. Products containing chlorhexidine, ketoconazole, or hypochlorous acid are generally considered safe for use on cats, though there is evidence that chlorhexidine can cause respiratory distress in cats so a veterinarian should be consulted before using products containing that ingredient.
Ketoconazole, which is often included as an ingredient in most chlorhexidine products, is useful for helping clear up bacterial and fungal infections, and it is also available in sprays, wipes, and shampoos.
Products containing hypochlorous acid are quickly becoming a popular choice in many vet clinics as the chemical is naturally produced in all mammals and is generally considered nontoxic and inexpensive. It is widely available over the counter and is available in a spray or gel form.
Of all cat-focused topical first aid products on the market, products containing this chemical would probably be considered one of the safest options in comparison to other chemicals like chlorhexidine or ketoconazole. However, your veterinarian should always be the final word.
The antiseptic cleanser Betadine (also known by its generic name of Povidone-Iodine) may also be used to help clean and disinfect a wound, though it should be diluted before being used on a cat and the area should be rinsed thoroughly afterwards so that the cat does not ingest any of the solution.
Povidone-Iodine is used in much the same way as chlorhexidine in veterinary settings, and tends to be a safer option for cats due to the potential side effects of chlorhexidine. While this product can be purchased over the counter, it is recommended for veterinary and hospital use only, so you should consult with your vet before purchasing and using on your cat.
Due to the sensitivity of a cat’s immune system and response to toxic substances, products not explicitly stated for use on cats should be avoided, unless used under the direction of your veterinarian. Hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, and Neosporin® should not be used due to the risks associated with accidental ingestion from the cat, and the increased risk of actually making the wound worse rather than better.
While you may want to reach for the Bactine® in your medicine cabinet if your cat is injured, it’s best to get the cat to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Bactine® and products containing chemicals such as benzalkonium chloride are considered toxic to cats, and you don’t want to accidentally cause further injury to your feline friend in your attempts to help him out. For minor cuts and skin irritations, products made specifically for cats can be used safely, but when in doubt, contact your vet!