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The responsible use of antibiotics in dogs and cats

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Antibiotics play an important role in the treatment of dogs and cats. Collectively, antibiotics are probably the most widely used type of drug in veterinary medicine. Used properly, antibiotics can literally save an animal's life. However, all antibiotics should be used responsibly and only when indicated.

What are antibiotics used for in dogs and cats?

Antibiotics are used to treat both dogs and cats in a variety of different scenarios. They are used to treat or prevent bacterial infections primarily. However, some antibiotics have additional effects as well. For instance, doxycycline is an antibiotic that is known to have anti-inflammatory properties as well as being able to treat various bacterial infections. Metronidazole is another example of an antibiotic that also has anti-inflammatory properties. As a result, these antibiotics are sometimes used for both purposes.

Are side effects with antibiotics common in pets?

Antibiotics, like all medications, have the potential to cause side effects. Though serious side effects are rare, they can occur.

Each antibiotic has its own profile and the side effects expected with one antibiotic may be totally different than the side effects seen with another. Pet owners administering antibiotics to their pets should be aware of the potential side effects for that particular antibiotic and should notify their veterinarian if side effects do occur. Ask your veterinarian what side effects to watch for if they are not listed with the directions for your pet's medication.

Antibiotics, as a whole, tend to cause disturbances within the gastrointestinal tract. That is because all animals have a population of bacteria that lives within the intestinal tract. When that population is disturbed, gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea can occur. This is not unusual with most antibiotics. However, it is still best to inform your veterinarian if these symptoms occur in your pet. Many antibiotics can cause a lack of appetite as well.

Is it possible to use antibiotics inappropriately?

Antibiotics are frequently misused and their misuse can result in serious consequences. Antibiotics should not be used when there is no clear cut indication for their use. In other words, using antibiotics in an animal that is not suffering from an infection and is not likely to suffer from an infection is probably not a good idea.

In addition, not all antibiotics are created equally. Some antibiotics are more effectively used for specific conditions than others. For instance, cephalexin is an antibiotic that is commonly used and is often quite effective for skin infections. But it may be less effective when used to treat other types of conditions. Likewise, metronidazole is quite effective in treating intestinal infections but may not be terribly effective in treating a skin infection or other types of infections. When culture and sensitivity results are results are available for a given pet, those results should guide the choice of antibiotic used. When these results are not available, antibiotics should be chosen based on the medication most likely to be effective based on the specific issue and the character of the medication itself.

Any antibiotic, like all drugs, has the potential for causing undesirable side effects. However, the misuse of antibiotics can also lead to much larger problems. Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is one of the more serious and wide-reaching consequences of the overuse and/or abuse of antibiotics. This can affect your individual pet, making it more difficult to treat future infections. It can also affect both the animal and human population in general as antibiotics become less likely to work on various types of bacteria because the bacteria have developed a resistance to them.

What should you do if your veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic for your pet?

If your veterinarian has determined that your pet needs an antibiotic, be sure to follow the directions provided by your veterinarian closely.

Finish the entire course of the antibiotic. Do not discontinue administering the medication simply because your pet seems better.

Observe your pet carefully while receiving the antibiotic. Be aware of potential side effects and contact your veterinarian if your pet displays any of these symptoms or is otherwise not acting normally.

Antibiotics play a big role in the treatment of both canine and feline veterinary patients. They should be used when necessary and when their use is in the best interest of the dog or cat. However, using antibiotics irresponsibly can endanger both individual animals and the entire population of both pets and people.

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