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Giving your dog antibiotics may be doing them (and you) more harm than good

With the vast amount of information on the internet, it’s tempting to self-diagnose when something goes south with our health. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t searched symptoms on WebMd in an effort to avoid a visit to the doctor. However, when it comes to your pets, it’s even more important to get proper medical care if something is wrong. Administering medication without the advice of a veterinarian might not just be pointless — it could actually have grave consequences for your dog’s health and also yours.

In Canada, antibiotics for pets, like erythromycin and tetracycline, are available to the public without a prescription. According to experts, that’s a big problem. Those same antibiotics are available to humans, but not without a prescription and likely a visit with their doctor. Dr. Scott Weese, an infectious disease specialist at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, told CBC news that the idea that people can just pick up an antibiotic without a prescription just doesn’t make sense.

Like any drug, it’s crucial that an antibiotic is used properly and for the right reasons. Without a doctor’s diagnosis and prescription, it’s impossible for a pet owner to know if they are giving the proper medication, the proper dosage or if they should be aware of any potential side effects. “We need to use the right drug, right duration. All of these things can go wrong if people access the drugs in a wrong way,” Dr. Weese said. That’s a cause for concern in itself, but the effects are actually much further reaching and could even have an impact on human health.

Antibiotics are one of the medical world’s biggest achievements, but their benefits don’t come without a cost. Improper antibiotic use or over-antibiotic use can lead to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. A recent superbug outbreak in the U.S. that was linked to a medical device has resulted in a series of lawsuits, including a wrongful death suit. The superbug killed two people and potentially infected 179 others. That particular superbug can lead to death in 50 per cent of the people infected by it, according to some reports.

According to the World Health Organization, antimicrobial resistance is a major global concern not just because of the implications it has for health but because of the large cost associated with treating superbugs. Not only that, but these new superbugs might actually take us a step back in regard to medical care. Minor sicknesses or injuries that were once easily treatable could start to kill people again.

In the Consensus Statement on Therapeutic Antimicrobial Use in Animals and Antimicrobial Resistance, published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Dr. Weese and the other authors urge veterinarians to take an active role in reducing antimicrobial use when possible. Pet owners should heed the warning and educate themselves on the impacts of administering antibiotics themselves too.

That doesn’t mean your pet shouldn’t use antibiotics when they are warranted, but there are some precautions you can take to ensure your pet stays healthy without contributing to unnecessary or improper antibiotic use:

1. Don’t skip a visit to the vet

It might not seem worth the effort or the cost if you’re pretty sure you know what the problem is, but it’s necessary to ensure your pet is getting the right care for their condition. Just because you can buy a medication doesn’t mean you should use it.

2. Boost your pet’s immune system in other ways to prevent infection

High-quality foods, supplements, clean water and frequent exercise can help keep your pet healthy and more able to fight any infections that come their way without the need for antibiotics.

3. Consider probiotics after a round of antibiotics

Much like humans, there is a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria in our bodies that contribute to overall health. Antibiotics don’t discriminate — they’ll kill all bacteria in your pet’s system. The imbalance can make them more prone to infection, which could result in yet another round of antibiotics. Talk to your vet about adding probiotics to their diet.

4. Don’t use old antibiotics

If you finish a course of treatment and you have a little left, dispose of the medicine appropriately. If your pet gets sick again, it’s not a good idea to use an old antibiotic. Your vet should be made aware of any recurring infections. Even if the symptoms are similar, frequent infections could signal an underlying issue that could just be made worse by using old antibiotics.

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