Once a medical wonder that began the era of modern medicine, antibiotics are a far cry today from what they used to be. The overuse of antibiotics has created a global crisis in modern medicine because it caused bacteria to evolve and become drug-resistant. With more and more bacteria strains resistant to all known antibiotics (often called “superbugs”), drug companies are slowing down their investments into developing new antibiotics, worried that any new drugs would soon be found just as ineffective.
Thankfully, there is a branch of medicine that isn’t falling into crisis in the face of superbugs but is instead regaining its thousand-year-old reputation: natural medicine. There are hundreds of research papers looking into antimicrobial herbs and other natural remedies for bacterial infections that commonly require the use of antibiotics. This article highlights the very best natural antibiotics that are safe for dogs and backed by science!
Unfortunately, the rise of drug-resistant bacteria strains hasn’t stopped the over-prescribing and mis-prescribing of antibiotics in veterinary medicine. Aside from the impact this practice has on the evolution of superbugs, antibiotics affect the health of our dogs in very direct and often immediate ways.
They can indeed be powerful agents against some bacterial infections, but they're a double-edged sword. Antibiotics can't differentiate between the bad and the good bacteria — so they eradicate it all. In other words, antibiotics might get rid of the problematic bug … but they'll also eliminate all the microorganisms crucial for the homeostasis in your dog's gut. They disrupt (or completely destroy) the diverse microbiota in the canine gut.
Studies show that it's hard for the gut to restore its original microbiota after a round of antibiotics. Restoring healthy bacteria can take several months, even up to a year, and it may never be the same. It’s incredibly important to replenish your dog’s gut microbiota with probiotics and prebiotics after they’ve been through a round of antibiotics! Even if you think a lot of time has passed since their treatment, their gut might still be affected and in need of extra help. A tell-tale sign of this could be a recurring infection that keeps coming back.
Messing with the gut is messing with canine health. The most concerning side effects from antibiotics include chronic diarrhea, weakened immune system, higher risk for developing allergies, lowered levels of serotonin (leading to neurological side effects), increased chance of obesity, impaired functioning of kidneys and the liver, heart arrhythmias, and lung disease.
The number of research papers exploring, reviewing, and showcasing the potent antibacterial properties of natural remedies continues to grow. In a way, it feels like science is playing catch-up here — anecdotal evidence reporting their effectiveness far predates modern science, spanning back thousands of years. Plants, fungi, and even animal products have all been used throughout history to ward off or kill harmful bacteria. With modern research now catching up, studies continually confirm that natural remedies are effective against multiple bacteria strains, including those that are resistant to antibiotics!
Some studies have even looked into using them alongside medicinal antibiotics in an attempt to boost the drugs’ effectiveness. But unlike synthetic antibiotics, natural remedies don’t destroy the beneficial bacteria in the gut! They work selectively, targeting only specific bacteria, thanks to their natural chemicals called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are the plant’s protective mechanism that naturally recognizes pathogens and can leave the other microorganisms alone.
It’s worth noting that the complete list of natural remedies is inexhaustible. The following list highlights the ones that are safe for dogs, have the most research backing them up, and are proven to be effective against bacteria commonly causing infections in dogs. Here are the best dog-safe and science-backed natural antibiotics that need to have a place in your home pharmacy!
The medicinal use of honey dates back 5000 years, all the way to Ancient Egypt! It was used for healing wounds and soothing respiratory or digestive illnesses. In modern times, research has shown that raw honey has incredible antimicrobial properties against many bacteria, especially the ones that tend to attack the skin — including E. coli, MRSA, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, all common in canine skin infections.
This makes honey a great topical treatment for various skin conditions, especially where antibiotics weren’t successful. Honey is safe and not toxic to dogs if ingested, so you don’t have to worry about them potentially licking it off! In veterinary medicine, it has already been used in horses for its wound-healing properties.
The biggest rockstar in the honey field is definitely manuka honey, which has been confirmed effective against all bacterial pathogens it was ever tested against! Researchers even tried to artificially create a pathogen that could resist it, and they failed! It works against 50+ infectious microorganisms, including drug-resistant pathogens. Perhaps the most incredible thing about manuka honey is that it's selectively toxic to bacterial cells — it hurts the bad microorganisms but (unlike antibiotics) doesn't hurt the good ones! It's considered a great option for kennel cough and other respiratory infections, as it's safe for dogs to ingest.
In addition to honey, propolis, and royal jelly also have antibacterial functions, but they’re better for dogs topically than directly ingested.
Got a pup with a respiratory infection? Don’t sleep on Echinacea, one of the best natural antibiotics for your dog’s lungs! One study gave powdered Echinacea to 41 dogs with different upper respiratory tract infections, some of them chronic. The treatment was given once a day for 8 weeks. All dogs except two showed an almost complete resolution of the symptoms (92% improvement) after only 4 weeks! What’s more, a different study published in 2021 showed that Echinacea extract reduced antibiotic prescriptions for respiratory infections in children by a whopping 76%!
If your dog frequents dog parks a lot, it’s good to have Echinacea in stock — kennel cough is highly infectious, and the germs can linger for weeks. The best thing about natural antibiotics is their power of prevention, so Echinacea can offer immune support to your dog before they get sick!
Echinacea supplements mostly come in a powdered or liquid form. For the most accurate dose, stick to the manufacturer’s instructions when buying a product developed specifically for dogs. In the study mentioned above, the researchers gave the dogs 1 g of powdered Echinacea per 10 kg of body weight. This translates to 100 mg/kg or 45 mg/lb.
E. coli is the cause of many urinary tract infections in dogs, but thankfully, cranberries are a natural way to fight against it. They contain a compound called proanthocyanidin that prevents E. coli from sticking to the walls of the bladder. A paper that reviewed decades of research, combing through 50 studies with over 8000 participants combined, concluded that cranberry products reduce the risk of developing a UTI. As for the treatment of existing urinary infections, cranberry products are comparable to medical antibiotics — studies showed they are just as effective!
I can attest to this result personally, too. A beloved family dog of mine had recurring UTIs in her old age (a consequence of Cushing’s Syndrome) and was put on several rounds of antibiotics. She did extremely poorly on them, so we began to search for a safer, natural alternative. Enter cranberry juice! We took her entirely off antibiotics and began supplementing a tablespoon (she was a big dog) of cranberry juice to her regular diet every day. Not only did the juice clear her existing UTI, but it also finally stopped the vicious cycle of recurring UTIs. The infections did not come back!
Research does show variation in effectiveness between different forms in which cranberries are supplemented. Cranberries come in capsules, tablets, as a powder, or juice. They all have different concentrations of proanthocyanidin, which directly relates to how effective they will be, so if you find one form was not effective for your dog, try switching it up!
Essential oils are incredibly well-studied for their antimicrobial powers. They’re effective against a host of bacteria, including many antibiotic-resistant strains. When using essential oils on dogs, it’s important to have the guidance of a professional holistic veterinarian who is familiar with your dog and will show you the proper use and dilution.
Essential oils are incredibly potent because they’re very concentrated, a fact that many people underestimate. With essential oils, less is more. Their dose makes the difference between treatment and toxicity, so it’s wise to be cautious. When diluting essential oils for antibiotic purposes, coconut oil is a fantastic choice! It’s safe for dogs and can naturally help fight off bacterial infections (even all by itself) thanks to its high lauric acid content.
Some of the essential oils mentioned below can be used in their other herbal forms (fresh or powdered), but they have mostly been studied as essential oils in the context of their antimicrobial properties. Research tells us that the oils work exceptionally well when used in combination, so don’t be shy about mixing them!
All oils listed here can be used both topically or internally, with professional guidance and proper dilution. General guidelines advise a 0.5% to 2% dilution, depending on the size of your dog. That equals 1-3 drops of EO per 10 mL (2 tsp or 0.3 oz) of carrier oil. For ingestion, use gel capsules that will protect the oil until it reaches the gut.
Here are the most powerful dog-safe essential oils that work as natural antibiotics:
- Oregano → Effective against at least six bacterial strains that cause infections in dogs, especially ones linked to skin, lungs, and the urinary tract.
- Myrrh → Proven to kill infectious bacteria. It also strengthens the immune system so it can make more white blood cells, the body’s natural bacteria fighters. Effective against drug-resistant microbes, myrrh has been widely used to treat oral infections and skin wounds. One study showed that myrrh essential oil diluted only at 0.1% killed dormant Lyme disease bacteria! This surpasses the effectiveness of many antibiotics. Myrrh is also antiparasitic, with research confirming it can effectively treat giardia in animals!
- Cinnamon → Effective both as an essential oil and in powder form. It is often used in dental infections due to its antimicrobial activity against the bacteria causing gum disease. Look for Ceylon cinnamon! It’s safer for dogs than regular (cassia) cinnamon because of the low levels of coumarin (a potentially toxic compound).
- Thyme → Has great potential to treat bacterial and fungal infections in dogs, such as yeast infections caused by Candida.
- Rosemary → Antibacterial and antifungal, successfully tested against 20+ microorganisms and shown to be more effective than ethanol!
- Garlic → Garlic works amazingly well against bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Studies show that it’s most powerful when fresh, followed by powdered, and then as an essential oil. It effectively kills Candida and E. coli, making it a great weapon against a whole host of canine infections.
- Ginger → Confirmed with multiple studies as antimicrobial because it stops the growth of bacteria. In its fresh and powdered form, it's also easily accessible, budget-friendly, and convenient to use.
Turmeric is golden in more than just color. It’s a powerful antioxidant known to have both preventative and medicinal effects on many serious medical conditions that are very prevalent in dogs, such as cancer and arthritis. But how does it hold up against bacteria?
Studies confirmed that curcumin, the main component in turmeric, has antibacterial effects on at least four types of bacteria that cause skin, respiratory, and urinary tract infections in dogs. It works by damaging the membranes of bacterial cells, eventually killing the bacteria and clearing the infection. Where antibiotics fall short, turmeric has massive potential — research found that it boosted the effectiveness of antibiotics when used in combination with them!
The only caveat is that turmeric has low bioavailability, which means higher doses of turmeric are often needed to see results. That said, research highlights that exposure time plays a role in efficacy in addition to the dose. A consistent supplementation over a longer course of time could achieve the desired results, especially when it comes to preventing bacterial infections.
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Luna’s passion for learning about canine psychology and behavior began when she adopted a severely reactive puppy from a local shelter. She is now a big advocate for positive reinforcement and compassionate training. As a writer, she strives to spotlight the topics that fly under the radar and be the voice for all who cannot speak for themselves.