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Chloramphenicol for Dogs, Cats, and Horses

By Barbara Forney, VMD

Last reviewed: 7/12/2022

Commonly prescribed for: Infections

Species: Dogs, Cats, and Horses

Therapeutic Class: Broad-spectrum Antibiotic

General Drug Information and Indications

Chloramphenicol is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that is effective against a wide variety of bacteria. Chloramphenicol palmitate is the oral form. It is well absorbed orally and reaches high drug concentrations in most tissues in the body including difficult to penetrate areas such as joints, the prostate, the central nervous system, and the eyes. Chloramphenicol is used in a wide variety of infections in dogs, cats, and horses. Unfortunately, a major drawback to chloramphenicol is a rare but very serious health risk for humans who handle this drug. See precautions.

Chloramphenicol is FDA-approved for use in dogs, but it is not approved in cats or horses. When the appropriate form or dose of this drug is not available through a veterinary pharmaceutical manufacturer, it may be compounded by a specialty pharmacy.

How to Give This Medication

Give this medication to your pet exactly as your veterinarian prescribes. If you miss giving your pet a dose of chloramphenicol, give the next dose as soon as you remember or, if it is close to the next scheduled dose, return to the regular schedule. Do not double dose to catch up.

Gloves and masks should be worn when handling this drug. Wash your hands after giving your pet this medication. If you are handling a powder form of this drug, such as an opened capsule, do not inhale the powder and use in a well-ventilated room.

Chloramphenicol is very bitter tasting and giving your pet this medication can sometimes be a challenge, depending on your skill and your pet's personality. Compounding pharmacies can compound chloramphenicol in a variety of flavors and textures, including pastes and suspensions, that may be easier to administer.

Side Effects

Chloramphenicol may cause bone marrow suppression (a serious blood disorder) in animals. It should be avoided or used with caution in animals with a pre-existing blood disorders such as anemia.

Loss of appetite is the most-common side effect. Other side-effects include vomiting, diarrhea, and depression.

Cats have a higher risk of side effects than other species because chloramphenicol is not cleared from their blood stream as quickly as in other species.


Keep this and all drugs out of reach of children.

PRECAUTION FOR HUMANS: Chloramphenicol can cause permanent damage to the bone marrow in about 1 in 10,000 people. For these people, even skin contact can cause permanent damage. Because this aplastic anemia is not reversible, chloramphenicol should only be used when other suitable antibiotics are not available and with extreme caution. Gloves and masks should be worn when handling this drug. This drug should be used in a well ventilated location. If your pet vomits or has an accident indoors, you should wear gloves while cleaning up the accident. Children and pregnant women should not come in contact with this drug.

Chloramphenicol is metabolized in the liver. It should be used with care in patients with liver or kidney disease. Dose adjustment or monitoring of antibiotic blood level may be necessary.

Chloramphenicol should be avoided or used with caution in very young or premature animals. Kittens in particular may have difficulty metabolizing this drug.

Chloramphenicol may be used in older animals with normal kidney and liver function.

Chloramphenicol crosses the placenta and is present in milk. There are reports of both bone marrow suppression and birth defects. It is not recommended for use during pregnancy or in mothers that are nursing.

It is illegal to use chloramphenicol in animals that may enter the food chain.

Drug Interactions

Be sure to review with your veterinarian any medications or supplements your pet may be receiving.

Chloramphenicol is not compatible with some other antibiotics (penicillin, cephalosporins and aminoglycosides).

Chloramphenicol can interact with some of the drugs used to treat epilepsy such as phenobarbital and primidon.

Other potential drug interactions include: drugs that affect bone marrow, barbiturate anesthetics, lidocaine, cimetidine, propofol and rifampin.


Overdose with chloramphenicol could cause significant bone marrow toxicity. If you suspect your pet or another animal was overdosed accidentally or has eaten this medication inadvertently, contact your veterinarian or the A.S.P.C.A.'s Animal Poison Control Center at 888.426.4435. Always bring the prescription container with you when you take your pet for treatment.

If you or someone else has accidentally ingested this medication call the National Capital Poison Center at 800.222.1222.


Different strengths or dosage forms of chloramphenicol may have different storage requirements. Read the labeling or ask your pharmacist for the storage requirements of the prescription you receive.
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