Is chlorhexidine safe for cats?
Chlorhexidine is safe to use on cats for the treatment and prevention of minor skin infections, wounds and abrasions, gingivitis and gum disease.
What is chlorhexidine?
Also known as chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG), chlorhexidine is a broad-spectrum antiseptic and disinfectant discovered by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in the 1950s that belongs to a class of drugs known as antimicrobials.
- Human formulations: Betasept, Hibiclens, Oro Clense, Peridex, Periogard, PerioRx and Perisol.
- Veterinary formulations: Chlorhexiderm otic flush, Hexoral rinse, VetOne, Novalsan Solution, Novalsan Scrub and Microshield
Chlorhexidine is effective against gram-positive and gram negative organisms, facultative anaerobes, aerobes and yeasts and is included in the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.
Mechanism of action
Depending on the concentration, chlorhexidine has both bacteriostatic (inhibits bacterial growth) as well as bactericidal (kills bacteria) and works by disrupting the cell membrane which allows leakage of intracellular material and allows chlorhexidine to enter the cell causing cell death.
- Minor skin lacerations
- Gum disease
- Otitis externa (under close veterinary supervision as it is ototoxic, which can cause deafness)
- Pre and post-surgical antiseptic
- General purpose disinfectant for instruments and equipment
Chlorhexidine is for external use only, do not administer it internally or to the eyes. Do not use on cats with known hypersensitivities to chlorhexidine. Symptoms of hypersensitivity include pruritis, urticaria, contact dermatitis, difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis.
Do not administer without first consulting your veterinarian.
How is chlorhexidine supplied?
Chlorhexidine is available in the following preparations:
- Otic (ear) solution
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Liquid solution
How to use chlorhexidine on cats
Only use on minor wounds and scrapes. Deep wounds and lacerations longer than 1 inch should be treated by a veterinarian.
- Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water and dry with a clean towel
- Chlorhexidine is available in 1% or 2% strength, dilute 2% at a ratio of 2 tablespoons per 1 gallon of water
- If the wound is still bleeding, apply firm pressure with clean gauze or a sanitary pad until bleeding stops, it may take up to ten minutes for bleeding to stop, if possible keep the wound above the heart which to reduce blood flow
- Apply a water-soluble lubricant or wet sterile sponge to the area and clip away the hair surrounding the wound, once the hair has been clipped, sterile saline to remove the lubricant
- Fill a syringe (minus the needle) with sterile saline (or clean tap water) and flush over the wound to remove debris and always flush from the inside out
- After flushing out the wound, apply chlorhexidine (diluted if supplied as a concentrate) using a spray bottle or cotton gauze
- Once you have disinfected the wound, dab it dry with gauze pads.
Can chlorhexidine be used on all cats?
Chlorhexidine is safe to use on cats and kittens, however, it is recommended you contact a veterinarian before using chlorhexidine on pregnant or lactating cats.
What other antiseptics can I use on cats?
Most antiseptics safe for use on people are toxic to cats. Chlorhexidine and Betadine are the only products safe to use on cats. Do not use phenols (products that turn white in water such as Dettol), Savlon, Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree or alcohol.
How to store chlorhexidine
Store in the original container, out of the reach of children and under 25C.
When to see a veterinarian
- Cuts that are longer than 1 inch
- Lacerations with jagged edges
- Wounds that contain debris (grit, glass etc)
- Bleeding which has not stopped within ten minutes
- Wounds caused by animal bites
- Signs of allergy or anaphylaxis
- If the cat is in obvious pain
- Any which is not showing signs of healing within 24 hours
- Wounds that are resistant to home treatment
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