Antibiotics have been an important part of human and animal health care for almost 100 years. Without them, there would have been many more deaths from bacterial infections. Antibiotics have been used so extensively and for such a long period of time that many of the bacteria they are supposed to kill have become resistant to them. This has made the drugs less effective.
What causes bacterial resistance? Some bacteria mutate and learn to tolerate antibiotics so they aren’t affected by them. If an antibiotic is used to treat a bacterial infection and there are some survivors, those bacteria will multiply and create a population of resistant microbes.
Bacteria may also become resistant to drugs through gene transfer – they can acquire genes for resistance from other bacteria. A recent worrying discovery is that of a gene that makes bacteria resistant to the type of antibiotic that is the last resort treatment for resistant infections. Bacteria with this resistant gene have been identified in humans and pigs in China. The gene has also been shown to have already spread to other bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, which are relatively common causes of human and animal infections. If this gene continues to spread through the bacterial population, we could be facing infections with bacteria that we can’t kill. This is scary.
A major cause of resistance is the inappropriate use of antibiotics. It’s not uncommon for people to want to treat an illness in themselves or their pets, such as a respiratory infection, with antibiotics. If the illness is caused by a virus, the medication won’t make any difference to the progression of the disease, and it will give any bacteria in their system the opportunity to get used to the drugs. The next time these drugs are used to manage an infection, they won’t have the desired effect.
There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of bacterial resistance. First, don’t be upset if your vet doesn’t prescribe antibiotics for your sick pet. This is because they feel that the cause of their illness isn’t bacterial, and antibiotics won’t help. Using antibiotics for a viral infection is a waste of your money and a potential cause of resistance.
Second, use antibiotics correctly. Give your pet the prescribed dose and follow the recommended dosing schedule. Finish the course completely even if your pet seems to have recovered. Don’t give your pet any antibiotics that haven’t been prescribed for them and similarly, don’t pass on any leftover tablets to a friend for their animal.
Third, keep your pet in good condition with quality food and parasite control. Some types of antibiotics need a strong immune system to work effectively, and a healthy body gives them the best chance to do their job.
Antibiotic resistance is a major problem worldwide in all species. This group of drugs needs to be treated with respect and used correctly. Only by doing so will they retain their effectiveness in fighting bacterial infections well into the future.