Antibiotics Losing Their Effectiveness in Dogs, Too

New guidelines in place to help preserve antibiotic potency.


You’ve probably heard of antibiotic resistance — the ability of bacteria that are causing an infection to resist the workings of the antibiotics prescribed to kill them. That means the antibiotics have a reduced chance of curing an illness brought on by the growth of harmful bacteria, whether it’s a respiratory infection that is causing breathing problems, a gastrointestinal infection causing diarrhea or vomiting, or some other type of infection.

Part of the reason bacteria come to be able to resist the power of antibiotics and keep multiplying at an infection site rather than die off is that antibiotics are overused. The more they are used, the better the chance the harmful bacteria have of “catching on” to them and mutating so that the next bacterial generation has the genetic makeup to ignore or withstand the drugs.

It’s a growing threat not only to human health but also to canine health, says the American Animal Hospital Association. That’s why it has just helped introduce Antimicrobial Stewardship Guidelines that urge veterinarians, and by extension people with dogs, to follow principles set forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association that will help tamp down on antibiotic resistance. “Antimicrobial” is a term that encompasses “antibiotic.”

Nuts and bolts of antimicrobial stewardship

The new guidelines outline a number of steps that should be taken to prevent the overuse of antibiotics, which could lead to antibiotic resistance among harmful bacteria. Among the most salient ones:

Consider “watchful waiting” to ascertain whether a dog truly needs antibiotics. Just because a dog has an infection doesn’t automatically mean he requires antibiotics to vanquish it. Antibiotics are not even helpful with viral infections because they don’t kill viruses. Sometimes even with bacterial infections, the canine body’s immune system can mount a successful enough attack against the invader on its own. Veterinarians should provide pet owners with instructions on when and why to follow up with the doctor and also give recommendations for non-antibiotic approaches to improve their dog’s comfort. This will help people remain vigilant in looking for important signs as well as in determining whether a follow-up assessment is needed to see if their pet does in fact require an antibiotic prescription.

Employ antimicrobial “time outs.” This is a reassessment of the choice of antibiotic and whether it continues to be needed 48 to 72 hours after it is first administered. That’s because two to three days later, the clinical picture becomes clearer and more diagnostic information becomes available. In some cases it is found that antibiotics may be stopped because the updated information demonstrates that they are no longer necessary.

Use alternatives to oral antibiotics when possible. Sometimes a dog doesn’t need to take an antibiotic by mouth that will have an impact on his entire body. Antiseptic baths, sprays, and ointments may be able to do the trick. Even changes to the diet can in certain cases help lick an illness.

Rule out illnesses for which an antibiotic would prove useless. Antibiotics kill bacteria. Not only don’t they kill viruses, they are also ineffective in vanquishing parasites and other foreign invaders that cause illness.

As part of antimicrobial stewardship, it’s important for people to practice proper hygiene and other preventive health care when it comes to their dogs: regular teeth brushing, keeping vaccinations up to date, and avoiding poor ventilation. Not engaging in these tactics provides environments where harmful bacteria can thrive.


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