November 13-19 is World Antibiotic Awareness Week. I can’t believe any of my readers need to be made aware of the importance of antibiotics in both veterinary and human medicine, but we all need to be aware of how to protect these precious medical resources.
Antibiotics have been around for less than 100 years and yet as a class of drugs, their discovery revolutionized the practice of medicine. Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic, in 1928, and in 1945 won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery. Since then, dozens of antibiotics have been identified in nature or synthesized in the laboratory. Even though antibiotics save millions of people and pets every year, misuse and abuse are rendering them less effective every day. Antibiotic use should be reserved for patients who are likely to benefit from their administration and not be prescribed just because you or your pets are feeling sick. For some diseases, antibiotic treatment would be a poor therapeutic choice.
Good Uses of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are especially effective in treating bacterial infections. Common bacterial infections in pets include skin, ear and urinary tract infections. Veterinarians base their selection of an antibiotic on several factors: the location of the infection and the typical bacteria causing that type of infection. Additionally, a sample taken from the site of infection can be observed under the microscope and the antibiotic can be chosen based on the type of bacteria seen. The best indicator of correct antibiotic choice is to sample the infection, grow the causative bacteria in the laboratory and actually test which antibiotic best kills the bacteria. This takes a few days and usually we make an educated guess about which antibiotic is likely to work and prescribe that until the laboratory gives more specific results.
How AMC Uses Antibiotics
Antibiotics are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in veterinary medicine. I checked with our systems administration and for the past three years running, and probably in 2017 as well, AMC veterinarians have written over 7,000 antibiotic prescriptions per year, or 20 antibiotic prescriptions per day. This number does not include antibiotic ointments for eyes, antibiotic drops for ears, and any topical antibiotic creams. The most frequently prescribed antibiotics will be familiar to many pet owners as I suspect they are commonly used by many veterinarians: Clavamox®, Convenia®, Simplicef™ and Baytril®. Since skin disease is one of the most common reasons pets are seen by veterinarians, the antibiotics on the list are no surprise; they all are good antibiotic choices for the treatment of skin disease. The top four antibiotics prescribed by AMC veterinarians comprise over half of all the antibiotic prescriptions at AMC and should convince you how important a role antibiotics play in making your pet better.
What Antibiotics Can’t Do
Bold face name antibiotics like amoxicillin, Keflex® and the eponymous Z-pack® treat a variety of different bacterial infections. If your pet has a viral infection like feline herpes virus or canine influenza virus infection, no antibiotic will help. Viruses need to run their course in order for your pet to feel better. Using antibiotics in viral diseases only creates antibiotic resistant bacteria without improving your pet’s health.
Bad Ideas When it Comes to Antibiotic Therapy
- Don’t use your dog’s antibiotic for your cat, or vice versa. While not wasting this precious medical resource seems reasonable, the differences in canine and feline metabolism prevent safe swapping of antibiotics between pets of different species.
- Don’t use antibiotics prescribed for one pet on another, even if they are both the same species. Veterinarians carefully select the antibiotic based on the type of infection being treated and the size of the patient and you may end up doing more harm than good.
- Keep to the prescribed medication schedule and finish every last one of the pills. Tedious, I know, but if you are having trouble keeping to a medication schedule, confess to your veterinarian. There is a good chance a different treatment plan can be implemented.
- Dispose of unused antibiotics appropriately. Check the Food and Drug Administration for guidance.