Five frequently asked questions about antibiotics for dogs
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Five frequently asked questions about antibiotics for dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

Antibiotics are one of the most important and widely used medications in both human and veterinary medicine, but they are still widely misunderstood by a great many people who need them, either for themselves or their dogs.

While most of us know these days that you should always finish a course of antibiotics even if you feel better and that antibiotics can’t treat the vast majority of coughs and colds, there are still a fair few misunderstandings about how antibiotics are used and what they can and cannot do that can cause problems.

This article will attempt to spread awareness of the correct use of antibiotics for dogs by answering five frequently asked questions about canine antibiotics. Read on to learn more.

What are antibiotics used for?

Antibiotics are a type of medicine that attacks and kills bacteria. They are used to treat bacterial infections in both people and animals, and sometimes, preemptively to stop an infection from developing, such as after a surgery that might place the person or animal at high risk of developing a dangerous infection.

Antibiotics kill bacteria and so stop it from spreading further (or setting up home in the first place for harmful bacteria) and treat and cure infections caused by bacteria. There are a great many different types of antibiotics, each of which is indicated to treat different types of bacterial infections. However, no antibiotics target just one strain or type of bacteria, and so when a dog is given an antibiotic, it also kills off some other types of bacteria too; which may be harmless or even beneficial, like good gut bacteria that aids with digestion.

Antibiotics also come in different strengths for different levels of threat or difficulty in treating the infection in question.

When used correctly and sparingly, antibiotics are a vitally important medication; but overused, used incorrectly, or administered in the wrong type or dose for the issue (or for an issue that they cannot help with) they can cause more problems than they solve.

Antibiotics are not a cure-all or magic pill that can treat any type of infection!

Does my dog need to see the vet to get antibiotics?

Yes, absolutely. Antibiotics in the UK are a POM or POM-V product (prescription-only medicine or prescription-only medicine: veterinary) and cannot be bought over the counter or self-administered. This is for all of the reasons outlined above; the fact that not all infections are bacterial, different types and strengths of antibiotics are needed for different things, and even that not all things that seem like infections necessarily are.

Another very important issue is that the widespread historical (and to a degree, current) overuse of antibiotics has resulted in a high level of antibiotic resistance, which means that many types of bacteria have evolved and adapted to withstand antibiotic treatment, and so, become a far more acute threat to health.

So-called “superbugs” like MRSA that is resistant to the antibiotics that were historically used to treat is is an example of this, and just one of many.

Do vets prescribe antibiotics for all types of infections?

No, antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections; and not all bacterial infections warrant the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics is a catch-all title too, and there are many types, each of which are used for different types of bacterial infections.

Don’t expect your vet to automatically prescribe antibiotics for an infection; if the infection is viral or fungal, for instance, antibiotics will do no good at all. They might even worsen things by wiping out good bacteria from the dog’s system that could actually have been helping to fight off the infection in question.

Additionally, if your dog has a mild topical bacterial infection (such as a minor infection in a graze or shallow cut) they may prescribe an antibacterial cream instead as a topical treatment, to avoid the need to prescribe a broader antibiotic that will have a more systemic effect. If this is ineffective, antibiotics may be considered further down the line.

Do antibiotics always work?

No, not always; for antibiotics to have the best chance of working they need to be the right type for the infection in question (which means your vet may need to test for this before selecting a medication) and in the right dosage. Even when everything is done right, however, some infections can be complex and problematic, and may involve resistant strains of bacteria, delayed healing, and other problems.

Can I ask my vet for alternatives to antibiotics?

If you’re concerned about the issues relating to the overuse of antibiotics or prefer to try alternative and natural approaches, you should discuss this with your vet. For some types of topical infections other alternatives might potentially be viable such as the use of Inadine (iodine) patches, topical antiseptic or antibacterial treatments, active Manuka honey, and colloidal silver dressings, and potentially other options.

All of these things might be tried too (and sometimes very effectively) alongside antibiotics, or in their place if antibiotics prove ineffective or the infection is resistant.

However, in the case of an infection that genuinely warrants the use of antibiotics, it is unwise to avoid their use or wait and see and hope the dog improves. Your vet will only prescribe antibiotics if they are needed, and they won’t overprescribe them.

Treating your dog promptly with antibiotics can save them becoming sicker, and avoid the need for the more heavy-duty and unavoidable use of antibiotics later on if their condition worsens.

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