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Finish Your Meds: Antibiotic Resistance in Pets

Posted 06.05.19 by Lee Ann Newman, DVM

So why is it such a big deal if I don’t give ALL of my pet’s doses of antibiotic? She’s so hard to give medication to! She spits it out and I find it on the floor later. It’s hard to remember to give it on time. It’s hard to get her to eat when it’s time for her medication. If she doesn’t eat at the right time, then I have to wait around until she eats before I can give the antibiotic. If I give her antibiotic when she didn’t eat first, she vomits!

Poodle and pill pocket

Every single one of these issues is one I have with my own dog. My poodle, Poppy, hates taking medications. I have to get creative getting her take them. Sometimes it comes down to the old “poke it down” method, which neither of us enjoys. As veterinarians, we understand. We totally get why giving medications, especially antibiotics, is hard for many pet owners.

It’s not easy for most of us. But it’s important.

Giving antibiotics can be so frustrating to get everything right, so as soon as your pet seems like she’s feeling better, you may be tempted to just stop giving the antibiotic. She feels better so she must be better, right? Plus, you can save those antibiotics for another time she needs them in the future. What could possibly go wrong?

Antibiotic resistant bacteria is what can go wrong. Just like in human medicine where they have to deal with Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus (MRSA), in veterinary medicine we have our own version called MRSP, mostly found on the skin. We also find too many antibiotic resistant urinary tract infections. Imagine having a bladder infection that just won’t go away, or gets better then worse, better then worse, etc. It’s miserable and gets expensive to treat.

Dr. Chandler with pill bottleWhen bacteria are exposed to an appropriate antibiotic, they die over a course of days to weeks (depending on the particular infection). The weakest bacteria or the ones with the highest or longest exposure to the antibiotic die the soonest. As time goes by, the tougher bacteria finally go.

But what if we stopped giving the antibiotic before those tough guys died? They have had more time to adjust to the antibiotic, and possibly pass on to their progeny the ability to find away around that antibiotic. So the next time we give that same antibiotic, it won’t work. Probably all the antibiotics in the same drug family are now useless too.

Now what? Now we have to perform a bacterial culture to identify exactly which antibiotic will work for us. We hope that it will be one that is very useful, easy to administer, and not terribly expensive. Sometimes, this is unavoidable, but if we can avoid it by giving the full course of antibiotic, that’s ideal.

So next time your vet prescribes days, or even weeks, of an oral antibiotic, know that we understand what we’re asking. Know also that it’s important to give all the doses on time (as much as possible) and to finish the prescription. Ask us if a long-acting injectable antibiotic might be a good alternative, or if an oral liquid might be easier to administer than a pill. We also can have medications compounded into different formulations, such as flavored treats. We’re very willing to help you find the easiest method for giving required medications.

We’re on your side in the fight to help keep your pet healthy and happy, and to make your job easier making sure that happens!

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