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Using Antibiotics Appropriately is Better for All of Us

Dealing with any type of chronic infection can be frustrating for both the client and the veterinarian involved.  Our goal is the same: we both want what is best for the patient, but sometimes it may not be clear what is best.  “The antibiotics worked last time so why can’t you just prescribe me more Doc?  Why do I have to come in for another exam?!”  The value of the recheck exam is more important than may be realized.  This purpose of this blog post, is to provide some insight on the topic of Antimicrobial Resistance and why our veterinary team stresses the importance of appropriate antibiotic usage.

Our veterinarians always have the patient’s best interests at heart; we never want an animal to needlessly suffer and if antibiotics are warranted, we will prescribe them.  However, inappropriate use of antibiotics has become a global problem; not just in the animal population, but from a human and public health standpoint as well.  Examples of inappropriate use of antibiotics refers to when antibiotics are prescribed for a problem that is not bacterial (ie. it is actually viral, fungal, allergy or an immune-mediated condition that is not responsive to antibiotics), when the wrong type of antibiotic is used to treat a specific infectious agent, or when the antibiotic prescription is not given to the pet as directed. Inappropriate use of antibiotics and the shedding of resistant bacteria by your pet can ultimately impact you and your family's health.  Veterinarians have great responsibility when it comes to being careful with how and when we use antibiotics.  The reality is, making this call requires a proper examination.  We need to see your pet before antibiotics can be prescribed!

What do we mean when we talk about “resistant” bacteria?  Let’s break bacteria down into two categories to start: “wimpy” vs. “resistant”.  Wimpy bacteria are the average bacteria that respond well to antibiotics and can usually be treated with one course of therapy.  The problem is that bacteria reproduce very fast.  Certain bacteria are also smart enough to transmit resistance genes to their relatives!  This means resistant bacteria not only reproduce on their own, but they can pass these traits on to non-resistant bacteria.  In other words, bacteria actually evolve at an alarming rate.  When we use antibiotics inappropriately (at the wrong dose, for the inappropriate length of time, or it is not the right antibiotic for the type of bacteria) we are essentially breeding resistant bacteria and are making these bacteria stronger and smarter.  How does this work?  When antibiotics are used in an inappropriate manner, we essentially kill off the “wimpy” bacteria and leave the strong resistant bacteria to reproduce and flourish….scary!  If we perpetuate this antimicrobial resistance by using antibiotics inappropriately, what it means for our future is that pretty soon there won’t be any antibiotics left for us to use.  Let that sink in for a moment… we won’t have any antibiotics at our disposal because they won’t work.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind if your pet is prescribed an antibiotic:

Always finish the entire course of antibiotics.  This may be the most important thing you take away from this post.  Always follow label instructions as prescribed by your Veterinarian.  This means you should never have “left over” medications.  If you do, you have used the medication inappropriately and are contributing to antimicrobial resistance.  If you haven’t used the medication for the full course of treatment there is the potential that you have left the strongest bacteria to survive, thrive and multiply.

If signs do not improve on medication or return once medications are finished, let your Veterinarian know.  This means more testing needs to be done to assess why the antibiotics aren’t working.  This sometimes includes culture and sensitivity testing to get more exact information on the type of bacteria present and which antibiotics are effective at treating it.  This becomes incredibly important with chronic infections that are no longer responding to treatment.  We may have a resistant bug on our hands and the more antibiotics we use without checking a sensitivity profile, the further we are contributing to resistance.

Don’t use antibiotics like candy.  If you did use antibiotics in an inappropriate manner and you find that old bottle sitting in your medicine cabinet, please do not give these to your pet at your own discretion.  Please bring the bottle in to our hospital so we can dispose of the drugs properly for you.  Also, please don’t use these medications in other pets in your household (yes, this does actually happen!)  Always, always, consult with your veterinarian if you are worried about an infection in any of your pets.  It is unsafe and irresponsible to self-diagnose and use “leftover” medications you have accumulated at home.  Remember that antibiotics are powerful drugs that if used inappropriately can have significant, and possibly irreversible, consequences.

We hope this post serves as an important reminder to be respectful to your Veterinarian and other healthcare professionals when we are unable to just “give” antibiotics for your pet’s condition without an appropriate examination; it is not that we don’t want to help. Instead, we are trying to protect our patients by prescribing appropriately, and also trying to protect you and your family from the rise in these resistant infections; because, a world without antibiotics would be a very terrifying world to live in.  As always, if you have any additional questions regarding appropriate use of antibiotics or your pet’s prescription, please feel free to speak with one of our registered veterinary technicians or veterinarians.

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