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There are lots of different antibiotics that vets use.  The decision about which ones to use is based on many factors such as the clinical signs of illness the pet is showing and which bacteria are causing the pet’s illness.  There’s also no necessity to prescribe antibiotics if a pet is infected with a virus, so don’t expect a sick pet to get them every time they are ill.

Antibiotics are two basic types – there are bacteriocidal antibiotics, which is where the drug kills bacteria, or bacteriostatic ones, where the antibiotic stops the bacteria from reproducing.  The bacteriostatic ones help the pet’s immune system to come into action and destroy the bacteria.

The vet has to balance out any possible side effects from the antibiotics against their benefit.  The drug has to be more harmful to the bacteria than the pet’s body – after all it’s no good using an antibiotic that will kill infecting bacteria as well as damaging organs to such an extent that they don’t function anymore.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest problems in the modern medicines and it was caused by the widespread use of antibiotics.  In the past, it was expected that bacteria would disappear and that infections caused by bacteria would no longer exist.  But as new antibiotics were developed, resistant strains of bacteria appeared.  Owners often ask vets how this happens as antibiotics kill bacteria but the ability of bacteria to adapt is the reason.

As an example, think about a pet being infected with bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus.  Normally, this bacteria don’t cause any problems but they can invade wound infections, such as if the skin surface is damaged through a bite or graze.

There may be millions of these bacteria that invade the wound and although these bacteria are the same species, they are not all exactly the same.  Vets choose an antibiotic to treat the pet that’s going to be effective against most of these bacteria and the remaining few will be dealt with by the pet’s immune system.

Sometimes the pet’s body can’t get rid of these remaining few bacteria and they then reproduce to produce a new infection.  That infection’s made up of these antibiotic resistant bacteria that the antibiotic that the pet is being treated with can’t kill.

That’s a very simplified explanation as other factors, such as the antibiotic used, can create resistant bacterial strains as well as pet owners not giving their pet the antibiotic medicine for long enough or at the correct dose.

Make sure you speak to your vet or nurse if you are finding giving your pet’s medicine difficult.  It is vital that all of the medicine is given at the correct dose.

Author – Elaine Pendlebury BA BSc  BVetMed DMS MRCVS  Senior Veterinary Surgeon (Science & Welfare) PDSA

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