Judicious Use of Antibiotics
Misuse of Antibiotics Is a Public Health Problem
Antimicrobial resistance is a public health challenge. Recognized in September 2014 by a Presidential Executive Order, this challenge emphasizes that detection, prevention and control of antibiotic resistance requires a strategic, coordinated and sustained effort as well as the collaboration of human medicine, agriculture and companion animal medicine. Antimicrobial resistance has accelerated because of antibiotic overuse, resulting in severe infections, complications, longer hospital stays and increased deaths.[I]According to the Infectious Disease Society of America et al.2011[ii], infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—a bacterium that is resistant to commonly used antibiotics—is responsible for more deaths annually than emphysema, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and homicide combined. Owners and veterinarians involved with companion animals have a responsibility to ensure judicious antimicrobial use in pets.
The History of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are substances produced by fungi or bacteria that kill or reduce other bacterial populations and have been around as long as there have been bacteria. In 1928, Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician and microbiologist, noted that bread mold inhibited bacterial growth. Over the next 13 years, scientists purified and extracted penicillin, which saved many lives in World War II. Fleming, who with others received the Nobel Prize in Medicine, correctly predicted that bacteria would develop resistance to penicillin.
Preventive Health Care Reduces Frequency of Antibiotic Use
Timely wellness exams are important for your pet’s welfare, and open communication with your veterinary team is critical. Proper nutrition and routine preventive health care that includes appropriate vaccinations and early detection of infections reduces the likelihood of the development of disease and, hence, the need for antibiotic therapy. Antibiotics are very effective tools essential to disease management in companion animals, but as with any tool, they can be misused.
Antibiotics Should Not Be the “Shotgun Approach” to Treatment
After examining a sick pet, your veterinarian may recommend further diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the illness. These tests can be time-consuming and expensive. Refusing to take advantage of these tests may result in an imperial treatment plan that often includes a “shotgun approach” using antibiotics. However, antibiotics are fairly specific in the bacteria they will control and are ineffective for viral infections. For example, ear infections can be associated with different bacteria, parasites and viruses. Identifying the agent causing the infection will make treatment more effective, increasing the likelihood the patient will recover and decreasing the chances of developing complications, which in turn stresses the importance of diagnostic tests.
Administering Antibiotic Treatment
If antibiotics have been shown to be most effective for targeting the diagnosed condition, it is the appropriate treatment option. Treatment should be for the shortest effective period possible to minimize unnecessary therapeutic exposure to antibiotics. Always follow the oral and written directions given by your veterinarian and give the correct dosage by the directed route and for the specified time. If your pet is not improving as expected, contact your veterinarian immediately. A re-evaluation of the pet’s health condition and changes in medication may be warranted.
Protocol for Handling Antibiotics
Never “save back” unused antibiotics that were prescribed to you or your pet for a later anticipated emergency. Many pharmacies as well as veterinary facilities will dispose of unused drugs. Avoid environmental contamination, always dispose of all medications in an approved manner, and never flush antibiotics or other prescription drugs down the sink or toilet or dispose in household garbage. We must all do our part to reduce antibiotic resistance in companion animals.
[i]Llor and Bjerrum, 2014
Thomas Hairgrove, DVM, Ph.D., is an associate professor & Extension Specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.