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The Vital Importance of Antibiotics

You’ve likely brought your beloved cat or dog to the veterinary clinic because they’re not feeling their best. Perhaps they appear listless, have lost their appetite, are running a high temperature, experiencing difficulty urinating, suffering from diarrhea, showing signs of pain, exhibiting a persistent cough, or have noticeable swellings or sores on their body.

These symptoms can have various underlying causes, but only one of them – bacterial infection – responds to antibiotics.

Antibiotics have played a pivotal role in transforming modern medicine and our way of life. The discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 marked a revolutionary turning point. Penicillin was quickly manufactured on a large scale and became an essential tool during World War II, earning it the nickname “the wonder drug.”

Prior to the availability of antibiotics, bacterial pneumonia was a dreaded ailment, claiming the lives of one-third of those afflicted. Post-antibiotic era, pneumonia became a less severe condition, affecting only 5 percent of those infected.

The impact of antibiotics on our world is immeasurable, making our lives safer and more manageable.

The Concerns We Face

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how microorganisms, in this case, viruses, can rapidly mutate to increase their infectiousness and evade treatment methods. Similarly, bacteria can swiftly develop resistance to the antibiotics we rely on, leading to the emergence of “superbugs.”

While scientists have successfully developed new antibiotics, the hunt for effective ones has grown increasingly challenging, and bacteria continue to adapt and resist treatment. The battle is tilting in favor of bacteria, and superbugs are proliferating.

The loss of effective antibiotics poses one of the most significant threats to our planet. Many medical options we currently take for granted would vanish:

  • A simple wound could become a life-threatening infection.
  • Minor accidents could have dire consequences.
  • Surgical procedures would become riskier, with some becoming infeasible.
  • Cancer treatments, which weaken the immune system, could lead to severe, untreatable infections.
  • Childbirth would become more perilous.
  • The global economy could crumble.

Why Are Superbugs on the Rise?

In the previous section, we listed various reasons why you and your pet might visit the vet. These symptoms can result from a range of diseases, but only those caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics.

Bacteria, often referred to as germs or microorganisms, are too tiny to be seen with the naked eye. However, there are many other types of microorganisms, such as viruses, protozoa, and fungi, which cannot be treated with antibiotics. As a pet owner, you may be familiar with some infections caused by these microorganisms.

Moreover, numerous inflammatory conditions are not caused by infections but rather by non-infectious factors. These are referred to as non-infectious inflammatory conditions, and like viruses, protozoa, and fungi, they do not respond to antibiotics.

Below is a table providing examples of common diseases in dogs and cats, highlighting those caused by bacteria (in yellow) that can be treated with antibiotics.

DiseaseCauseSource of Disease
Lyme DiseaseBorreliosis BacteriaTick Bites When Out Walking
Colibacillosis – intestinal and urinary tract infectionsE. Coli BacteriaContaminated Water, Poor Hygiene
SalmonellosisSalmonella BacteriaRaw Poultry or Contact with Poultry Faeces
StaphylococciStaphylococci BacteriaOpen Wounds on Skin or Body Orifices
DistemperParamyxoviridae VirusFrom the Air and Body Fluids of Infected Dogs
Kennel CoughParainfluenza VirusFrom the Air in Contact with Infected Animals
Viral HepatitisCanine AdenovirusFrom the Air
RabiesRabies LyssavirusBody Fluids*
ParvoParvovirusFaeces and Vomit From Infected Animals
GiardiasisGiardiaOther Contaminated Animals or Environment*
BabesiosisBabesiaTick Bites and Bites from Infected Dogs
ToxoplasmosisToxoplasma GondiiContaminated Food, Water and Environment
AspergillosisAspergilliEnvironment – Dust, Straw, Grass Clippings
CandidiasisCandidaContact with Skin, Injury to Mouth, Nose, etc.
CryptococcosisCryptococcus SpeciesSoil, Bird Droppings (Particularly Pigeon)
Non-infectious Inflammatory Conditions
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)Local Inflammation of Intestines or StomachNot Fully Known
EncephalitisInflammation of the Brain and SpineNot Fully Known
Immune Mediated PolyarthritisInflammation of Otherwise Healthy JointsAutoimmune Disease, Where the Body’s Immune System Attacks Itself
*Easily passed between pets and humans. Antibiotic resistant bacteria can pass between us and our furry friends – we are all at risk!

Recognising the Challenge

Many diseases that affect your pet share similar symptoms: listlessness, loss of appetite, fever, difficulty urinating, diarrhea, signs of pain, persistent cough, or visible swellings or sores. However, it’s crucial to understand that only bacterial infections from the first group can be effectively treated with antibiotics.

The challenge arises because these diseases, along with many others, often present with comparable symptoms. Vets and doctors are under immense pressure to provide swift treatment to patients, furry or otherwise. Over time, we’ve grown accustomed to expecting antibiotics as the quick, first-line remedy for illnesses, regardless of their origin. Herein lies the problem: the more antibiotics are prescribed, the greater the risk of bacteria developing resistance, leading to the proliferation of superbugs.

So, What’s the Solution?

The global scientific consensus is that there’s now an excessive use of antibiotics in humans, pets, farm animals, and the environment. This overuse places immense pressure on bacteria to adapt and become superbugs.

A significant portion of antibiotics is administered without knowing if the patient will genuinely benefit from them. Surprisingly, research has revealed that only around 30% of antibiotics given to pets treat bacterial infections. The remaining 70% are used on animals with viral, protozoal, fungal infections, or non-infectious inflammatory conditions. This contributes to a surplus of antibiotics in circulation, further fueling the emergence of superbugs.

It’s important to note that veterinarians and doctors are not to blame for this situation. Historically, they’ve faced the challenge of needing to take action swiftly. Diagnosis of a bacterial infection typically takes several days, during which time a patient’s condition could deteriorate rapidly, potentially leading to severe illness or even death. Thus, antibiotics became the go-to treatment for many ailments.

A New Solution: Rapid Testing

Fortunately, there is now a way to determine if a cat or dog indeed has a bacterial infection and will benefit from antibiotics. This test takes only 10 minutes.

If the test indicates a likely bacterial infection, your vet will prescribe antibiotics. However, if the test returns negative, your vet will need to conduct further assessments to pinpoint the correct and most effective course of treatment.

Listen to your Vet’s Advice – Save Precious Antibiotics

We urge you to heed your vet’s guidance. By doing so, you’re not only ensuring the well-being of your beloved pets but also contributing to the conservation of valuable antibiotics. This collective effort is essential in safeguarding our cherished pets.