Both humans and animals rely heavily on antibiotics to treat many different bacterial infections. Antibiotic resistance is an increasing problem and one of the biggest human and veterinary health challenges of our time.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when disease-causing bacteria develop the ability to resist the antibiotic drugs designed to kill them.
This leads to infections that are difficult and sometimes impossible to treat.
Your dog’s medical history and poor or lack of response to antibiotic therapy may lead vets to suspect a resistant infection. This is confirmed by specific culture and sensitivity testing.
We can all play a part in reducing antibiotic resistance. It occurs naturally but the frequent and /or inappropriate use of antibiotics accelerates the process.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria evolve ways to protect themselves against the effects of commonly used antibiotic drugs. This leads to infections that don’t respond to treatment as expected. The antibiotics that we use in dogs are also used in people. This means antibiotic resistance that starts in dogs can affect people, and the other way round too.
So why does this happen?
Resistant bacteria survive antibiotic treatment, and multiply rapidly. They pass this resistance on. The more we use antibiotics, the more likely we are to get resistant bacteria. What types of resistant bacteria do dogs get?
You may have heard of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which is a huge problem in people but much less common in our dogs. MRSA can be transmitted between people and pets relatively easily in both directions.
MRSP (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius) is of greater concern for our dogs. MRSP is found most often in dogs suffering from chronic skin infections. MRSP is a minor concern in people. It appears that MRSP can be transmitted from pets to people but this seems to be quite uncommon.
Other bacteria that have shown resistance and are of a particular concern to our dog’s health are E coli and Pseudomonas species.
All animal species and humans are at risk of developing antibiotic resistant infections but individuals who are immuno-compromised (their immune system is not functioning properly) are at greatest risk and can be prone to more severe disease.
How is it spread?
Antibiotic resistant bacteria are typically spread by:
Direct contact between a dog and another animal or person infected with or carrying the antimicrobial resistant bacteria.
Contact between a dog and something (for example an object or hands) that are contaminated with the antibiotic resistant organism.
Dogs, other animals and people can carry these antibiotic resistant bacteria on and within their bodies for example on skin, in noses and throats without signs of disease. These can still be passed onto other animals. If a dog carrying these bacteria becomes sick, is injured or has surgery these bacteria can then go on to cause a resistant infection.
What are the signs?
The signs of antibiotic resistant infections are similar to antibiotic sensitive infections. Things that make us suspicious of a resistant infection are:
Lack of response to appropriate antibiotic therapy
Worsening of signs while receiving therapy
We confirm an antibiotic resistant infection by culture and sensitivity testing. A sample of tissue or a swab is sent to a diagnostic laboratory for bacterial growth (culture) and then its sensitivity to various antibiotics will be tested.
How can I stop my dog getting an antibiotic resistant infection?
We cannot completely prevent our dogs from getting an infection, or even an antibiotic resistant infection. There are things we can doe to reduce the risk:
Keeping your dog as healthy as possible - through proper nutrition, exercise and preventative healthcare such as vaccinations and parasite prevention.
Using antibiotics responsibly - Over-prescribing of antibiotics is part of the reason for the rapid and wide development of resistance. Being careful about when and how we use antibiotics is essential. Many infections are caused by viruses and antibiotics won’t work. Lots of minor conditions will improve with time, and antibiotics won’t necessarily speed this up. They are not a magic fix!
Good hygiene - As we’ve learnt over the pandemic, regular hand washing is a great way to remove disease causing organisms and prevent spreading these organisms to your dog or other people.
Please don’t ask your vet for antibiotics - trust us, we will use them if your dog needs them!