Table of Contents:
- What Is Antibiotic Resistance?
- How Does Antibiotic Resistance Occur?
- Why You Should Be Concerned?
- What You Can Do
What Is Antibiotic Resistance?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria continue to grow despite attempted treatment with antibiotics. In essence, these bacteria gain the ability to “resist” antibiotics, and can spread among animals, people, and the environment. When referring to infectious agents other than bacteria, such as fungi, a broader term may be used to refer to this resistance, known as antimicrobial resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health threat, and as a pet owner, it is something you should familiarize yourself with. This will not only help you properly care for your pet, but also all members of your family and the environment in which you live.
How Does Antibiotic Resistance Occur?
When a person or animal develops a bacterial infection, like a urinary tract infection, a physician or veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics in order to treat and kill the bacteria, thereby eliminating the infection. Unfortunately, bacteria have developed various mechanisms to avoid antibiotics or reduce their effectiveness entirely. Some ways in which bacteria can outsmart antibiotics include developing new mechanisms to avoid the antibiotics or even mechanisms to destroy the antibiotics.
Why You Should Be Concerned?
These resistant bacteria can become difficult to treat and are capable of causing life-threatening infections. In fact, in the United States alone, at least 2.8 million people are infected and 35,000 people die each year as a result of these resistant bacteria. If the problem continues growing at this rate, the WHO predicts that by the year 2050, 10 million people will die each year from resistant infections. Can you imagine a world in which antibiotics no longer work against basic bacterial infections, such as strep throat?
However, antibiotic resistance doesn’t just affect humans. As previously mentioned, resistant bacteria have the ability to spread among people, animals, and the environments in which we live. Historically, much attention has been placed on food animals (cows, pigs, etc.) acting as a source of resistant infections, however, our dogs, cats, and other domestic pets can act as sources as well. Should your pet develop a resistant infection, they could potentially contaminate the environment you both share, even infecting you or a loved one, especially someone who is immunocompromised. Some of the most common resistant infections in pets are those of the skin, urinary tract, and post-operative surgical sites.
What You Can Do
There is much that can be done by both veterinarians and pet owners to help reduce the development of resistant bacteria.
- Education. Veterinarians can educate both themselves and their clients on the challenges of antibiotic resistance and responsible antibiotic use.
- Practice. Veterinary professionals can practice good stewardship, defined by the Infectious Diseases Society of America as, “Optimizing the indication, selection, dosing, route of administration, and duration of antimicrobial therapy to maximize clinical use or prevention of infection while limiting the collateral damage of antimicrobial use, including toxicity, selection of pathogenic organisms, and emergence of resistance.” One way in which your veterinarian may practice good stewardship is through encouraging you and other pet owners to consent to the appropriate testing, so that infections can be accurately identified and the right treatments can be selected.
- Hygiene. It is important to practice good hygiene with our pets in order to reduce the chances of infection transmission. This includes routine washing of hands and discouraging your pets from licking your face.
- Routine Wellness. Taking your pet to the veterinarian annually for a routine wellness exam will help keep them up to date on vaccinations, reducing the overall chance that they contract an infectious disease.
- Compliance. It is important to use all medications as directed by your veterinarian. You should never stop a medication early or start leftover medication that you have at home without first consulting your veterinarian.
- Testing. If your finances allow, you should give your veterinarian permission to perform appropriate culture and susceptibility testing to identify any bacterial infections your pet may have and the appropriate antibiotics that should be used to treat the infection(s). This will reduce the chances of your veterinarian picking an ineffective antibiotic, which often leads to more veterinary visits and financial burden in the long-run, not to mention contributes to the overall worldwide problem of antibiotic resistance.