If you have visited our hospital in the past few months and/or have been following our social media posts, you may have noticed that the topic of antibiotics, particularly their appropriate usage, has been highlighted numerous times by our team. So what is all the fuss about?
The concern is in regards to the appropriate prescribing, dispensing and use of antibiotics relating to our "One Health" concept; meaning there is a global threat to both human and animal health if antibiotics are not more closely regulated and used appropriately. Starting in 2018 in our province, all antibiotics used in animals (both companion and agricultural) will have to be prescribed by a veterinarian. There will be no more going to the local feed store or Co-op to pick up a bottle of tetracycline or penicillin off the shelf to use at one's own directive. In order for a veterinarian to prescribe an antibiotic appropriately, that veterinarian needs to have established a veterinary-client-patient relationship (known as a VCPR) in order to have sufficient knowledge of the patient's condition by way of a thorough history and physical examination. This allows the veterinarian to determine whether or not antibiotic treatment is actually appropriate (ex: if the patient has a viral infection, antibiotics are not the appropriate therapy!) Conversely, if antibiotics are indicated for the patient's diagnosis, the veterinarian is then able to select the appropriate drug for that particular infection. Have you ever heard the metaphor of not bringing a bazooka to a water gun fight? This means that your veterinarian has the knowledge to choose the antibiotic that will eliminate the targeted bacteria judiciously - saving the "big gun" super-powerful antibiotics for severe cases where they are actually needed, and using first-line therapies instead whenever possible. The veterinary team members are then able to discuss with the client appropriate usage and administration techniques for that antibiotic. The importance of the client then following the prescription label as directed is paramount not only to the health of the patient but also publicly, to avoid antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is no joke! Our veterinarians cannot stress enough that this is a real threat. Quoting John Prescott, MA, VetMB, PhD "Antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest global challenges of our time. Modern medicine is built on the ability to control bacterial infections. Without this ability, numerous medical and surgical procedures now regarded as almost routine will become impossible; even infections following minor cuts may become life threatening". The same holds true for our veterinary patients!
So what are some of the ways we can minimize resistance? To start, basic good hygiene (ex: hand washing!) is one of the best ways to prevent both the development and spread of infection. If an infection has developed, seeing your veterinary professional for appropriate diagnosis and treatment is essential. If an antibiotic is then prescribed, finishing out and using the antibiotic as per the label instructions allows the medication to work and kill off the bacteria it's intended to. Stopping the antibiotic too quickly or not finishing out the entire prescription contributes to resistance. Never share "left over" antibiotics (because remember there shouldn't be any left over if you are using as directed!) with another pet or person. Additionally, your veterinarian may also be able to suggest other supportive treatment modalities if appropriate, such as acupuncture or herbal therapy that can reduce or eliminate the need for certain medications. So let's all work together to do our part and protect not only the health of our pets, but human health as well!