Stop Antibiotic Abuse! It Begins With You…

Dr. Smith, How can I stop antibiotic abuse?  Aren’t you vets the ones prescribing the antibiotics in the first place?

Ahh, great question!!

There are two sides to this problem that must be addressed, but first lets review a little background and history.

There is no doubt that the invention of antibiotics, originally from the mold Penicillium Rubens, was history changing in the fact that simple bacterial infections that were untreatable and led to many deaths, now became curable.

Many antibiotics are originally discovered as natural substances.  They are then isolated and standardized for safe dosing so we can know how much we are giving.  This is extremely important in dogs and cats because their size and metabolism is quite different from humans.

The problem in human and veterinary medicine now is that more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to current antibiotics and when they are truly needed, they can be ineffective against those deadly bugs.  Bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin resistant staph aureus), MRSP (methicillin resistant staph psuedointermedius), E coli, Pseudomonas, etc have names that will make your head spin but will also cause your dog a lot of suffering and cost you a lot of expense.

Antibiotics are still vital in saving lives when a bacterial infection is present but there are actually two problems in today’s world of dog medical care.

Veterinary overuse

Many veterinarians cling to the false belief that antibiotics are harmless and that “I’ll cover my bases” by giving a dog antibiotics when they are not sure what is wrong.  Some will do this almost as a placebo, to give pet owners something to do so they feel they are helping their pet.  In addition, they don’t want to miss a bacterial infection and have the owner come back in a few days, with a dog that is even sicker, and wonder if they had started antibiotics on day 1, would their dog patient be normal by now.

Client demands

On the flip side of the coin, many pet owners are very demanding and get irate if antibiotics are not given to a sick dog.  “Can’t you just give em a shot doc?”, is a common phrase that is heard by veterinarians.  In addition, clients often think that feeling bad or a fever always mean there is an infection and get mad when the veterinarian doesn’t prescribe antibiotics at the first visit.   They will threaten legal action or non payment or will go to another vet if they don’t get their way, despite the fact that antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, and not other illnesses.

What can you do?

You may be wondering what you can do to solve this problem.  My recommendation is to ask this question next time your precious furry friend is ill and antibiotics are being considered:  “Do you think a bacterial infection is causing or is part of this problem?”  Then listen to the answer.

This will help decrease overuse of antibiotics by both sides.  It will give the veterinarian the freedom to prescribe what is right for your dog based on medical judgement, not on fear of criticism and it will help you understand why they may or may not be necessary.  There are certain situations where there won’t be a definite answer, and you should discuss the pros and cons to giving antibiotics.  In some cases such as this, waiting until you are sure there is a bacterial infection could result in much more serious illness, or even death.

In my opinion, there are certain situations where antibiotics are necessary and the full course should be given.  I try to base my decisions on evidence-based medicine, when it is available.  This means that there are clinical trials or research that gives us the best advice for getting your dog better as quickly as possible.  After all is said and done that should be everyone’s goal.

Most veterinarians want to please their clients and keep their patients healthy.  There are very few that want to sell more medications for increased income.  If your veterinarian won’t openly discuss these issues, then find another vet who will!

Remember, you are dog’s best advocate.  Educate yourself by reading and learning.  Pick up and read a few 5 star books on dog health (click here) and work with your veterinarian as a member of your dog’s health care team and you will find the rewards in improving your fur baby’s long term health!

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