It is not uncommon for veterinarians to prescribe antibiotics to dogs to treat an infection. When used properly, antibiotics are highly effective, and an important part of treating disease. At the same time, the over-use of antibiotics can also contribute to antibiotic resistance. Dog owners need to be aware of this, and should be open to treatments other than antibiotics.

What is Antibiotic Resistance?

To put it simply, antibiotic resistance occurs when infection persists even in the presence of an antibiotic that is expected to kill the bacteria responsible. This renders the antibiotic useless and a new treatment must be found to treat the original infection.

What Causes Resistance?

A significant cause of antibiotic resistance is the incorrect use of this group of drugs. Many people want to treat their dogs with antibiotics, whatever the nature of their illness. However, if your dog’s condition is caused by a virus, antibiotics will do nothing to resolve it. For example, many respiratory infections in dogs are caused by viruses, and treating them with antibiotics is a waste of time and money. Not only that, but bacteria can learn to tolerate the antibiotics and are no longer killed by them. When your dog has a definite bacterial infection, the antibiotics may have no effect at all because of this antibiotic overuse.

Some bacteria can mutate and become resistant to some antibiotics. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the best known of these. An infection with these bacteria can be very difficult to treat.

Lastly, your dog’s general health can influence how well he responds to antibiotics. Some drugs actually rely on a healthy immune system to be effective. Keep him free from parasites and feed a good quality balanced diet, and he will be in the best position to fight off bacterial invaders.

What You and Your Dog Can Do to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance

Dog owners should follow the advice of their veterinarians and treat their dog appropriately. If your vet does not prescribe antibiotics, then accept that and do not be perturbed if you leave the clinic without them. If antibiotics are prescribed, make sure that you do not stop the treatment until the entire course is completed. When treatment is stopped mid-way through, the bacteria then have the opportunity to become resistant to the antibiotic. This makes it difficult to clear this and future infections and a stronger antibiotic may be needed to complete the job.

Don’t treat your dog with any medication not prescribed for him by your vet. You could accidentally use the wrong antibiotic that will not only not clear up the particular bacteria, but also potentially help other bacteria build up resistance to the antibiotic.

There is some evidence that antibiotic resistant bacteria can be transferred between humans and their pets. Following simple hygiene practices, such as hand washing, can help prevent this.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern all over the world and one that affects both animals and humans. Treat antibiotics with the respect they deserve and this useful group of drugs will be effective in treating disease well into the future.

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Dr. Susan Wright, DVM shares her love of dogs through freelance writing on topics that teach owners how to be better caregivers and friends to their loyal companions.