Pets and Antibiotics: Do You Need to Worry?

My dog, Reggie, tested positive for Lyme disease this summer. When caught early, Lyme disease is easily curable and poses no long term complications. Hearing that was definitely a relief, but there was one catch—she would need to be on antibiotics for a month.

The pros and cons of antibiotics and their use in both human and animal healthcare is an important and somewhat controversial topic. The abundant use of antibiotics—especially broad-spectrum antibiotics that impact more than just the area directly in need of medication—are contributing to an increasing, and increasingly worrisome, rate of antibiotic resistance.

Vets routinely prescribe antibiotics for the treatment of bacterial infections like Lyme disease, kennel cough, and skin and ear infections. But sometimes, as with humans, antibiotics are over-prescribed and offered as an easy “catch all” solution at times when they’re not actually necessary. Over time, the misuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance—a change in the body’s bacteria that reduces or completely eliminates the antibiotic’s effectiveness; a major problem if down the road your pet gets sick with a bacterial infection that actually does require antibiotics but cannot respond to them.

When it came to Reggie’s Lyme disease, I had no problem agreeing to her vet’s antibiotic prescription. But other times, as with a mild ear infection or after a routine dental cleaning, I have opted to treat without them and avoid the possibility of building up antibiotic resistant bacteria. But is it really something worth worrying about? Ashley Rossman, DVM, of Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital in Glenview fills us in on what pet parents need to know about pets and antibiotics.

TAILS: What are the risks and safety concerns when it comes to pets and antibiotics?

Dr. Rossman: Antibiotic resistance is a very real problem in both human and veterinary medicine. Not giving the proper dosage or not consuming the entire course of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, so the medications should always be given for the entire period and dosage prescribed. Antibiotics should be prescribed with the use of bacterial cultures when possible, and veterinarians should try to choose the most narrow-spectrum antibiotic to treat infections, since over usage of broad spectrum antibiotics can lead to resistance.

In what cases should a pet parent be concerned about giving their pet antibiotics?

People with pets who have known allergies should be cautious of antibiotics. It is uncommon, but possible, for pets to have allergic reactions to antibiotics. Some antibiotics also have the potential to react with different medications, so it’s important that you discuss all possible interactions with your vet. If your pet is placed on an antibiotic for a long duration (more than two weeks), and is not improving, inform your veterinarian immediately. It is also always good practice to ask your veterinarian to run culture and sensitivity tests when possible. These tests help reveal if the infection is in fact bacterial and, if so, what antibiotics it will be responsive to.

Is it worth getting a second opinion if your pet is prescribed an antibiotic?

It is very important that you have a good relationship with your vet and understand why he or she is prescribing antibiotics for your pet. There are many circumstances when antibiotics are warranted. If you are concerned that your pet does not need to be on antibiotics, let your vet know. A second opinion is only warranted if you are uncomfortable with both giving antibiotics and with your vet’s reason for why they are being given.

If a pet does need to take an antibiotic, what should a pet parent be doing to make sure the experience is as safe as possible?

Different antibiotics can have different side effects, with the most common side effect being gastrointestinal irritation. Antibiotics should always be given with food unless otherwise recommended by your veterinarian, but ask if it is acceptable to put the antibiotic in the food itself. Probiotics are recommended when patients are on antibiotics to help maintain a good balance of bacteria in the gut, so ask your vet about those as well. Always give your pet the full course of antibiotics, even if they seem to be better before they’re done with their prescription.

What else do people need to know about pets and antibiotics?

Antibiotics are still the very best way to treat bacterial infections and can save your pet’s life. There is not one antibiotic that is effective for all organisms, which is why there is such a wide variety of antibiotics that are commonly used. Veterinarians are trained to determine if antibiotics are warranted. They are also trained to choose which antibiotic to use in each particular circumstance. Always carefully follow the directions given by your veterinarian.

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