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Antibiotics are drugs used to treat infections caused by bacteria, which are tiny organisms that can sometimes cause illness to humans and animals.

  • Some bacteria are harmless, and are good for us, such as those in a pet’s intestines helping digest food.
  • Antibiotics target microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and parasites but are not effective against viruses.

That’s why a vet will not prescribe antibiotics for a viral infection such as canine parvovirus.  However, sometimes the weakened virus-infected pet may succumb to a secondary bacterial infection.

For example, cat flu (Feline Upper Respiratory Disease) is a very infectious disease caused by two viruses.  Initially, the affected cat sneezes a lot, and has runny eyes and nose. The cat may then go off its food, with a fever and general depression. The eyes and nose can become ulcerated.  The affected cat may salivate excessively, cough and lose its voice.  A secondary bacterial infection can result in a very thick nasal and eye discharge.

  • Pets as well as humans have special white blood cells that are triggered by harmful bacteria.
  • These cells eat the bacteria and destroy them, which often means that any infection is fought off. Sometimes these white blood cells get overwhelmed and need some help – that’s where antibiotics come in.
  • There are lots of different antibiotics but they work in two ways.
  • They either kill the bacteria or they stop them from multiplying.
  • They can be broad spectrum where they work against lots of different types of bacteria or narrow spectrum where they are effective against only a few types.
  • If antibiotics are overused or used incorrectly there is a chance that the bacteria will become resistant – the antibiotic becomes less effective against that type of bug.
  • Antibiotics are not completely powerless against resistant bacteria, but patients may need a much higher dose over a longer period or an alternative antibiotic to which the bacteria have less resistance.
Author – Elaine Pendlebury BA BSc  BVetMed DMS MRCVS  Senior Veterinary Surgeon (Science & Welfare) PDSA

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A small proportion of the general pet population carry MRSA or similar MDR bacteria, but the carriage rate in sick animals that have visited veterinary practices is higher.

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