Does my pet have to finish their antibiotics?

pets - dog - pill - prescription - medication - AMR

The short answer is yes, even if they seem better! It is essential that your pet finishes their antibiotics, not only for their health but for the wider animal population and humans as well.

What are Antibiotics?

Antimicrobials is the name used to describe medications that are used to fight against the many different microbes, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites and other microorganisms, which can cause illness and disease. One group of antimicrobials is known as antibiotics (or antibacterials) and they specifically refer to drugs that kill or control bacteria.

Veterinarians prescribe antibiotics to pets or livestock when the vet has determined that the animal’s illness or health condition is caused or exacerbated by the presence of bacteria.

Common examples of conditions when antibiotics may be prescribed include:

  • Bacterial dermatitis (skin infections) or bacterial ear infections
  • Diarrhoea caused by specific bacteria
  • Dog or cat fight wounds
  • After specific surgeries that an animal may have had.

The list of examples where antibiotics can be used is endless, but the important criteria is that bacteria are the cause or a key factor in the disease. For example, diarrhoea and skin infections can be due to viruses or certain parasites. In these cases, antibiotics would not be helpful and may even cause problems.

Why does my pet need to finish their course of antibiotics?

Even if your pet is looking better after a few days, they still need to finish their course of antibiotics for two major reasons:

  • Different diseases or health problems require different lengths of antibiotics to kill or control the growth of bacteria. For example, a superficial infected wound may only require a week of medication, but a complicated lung infection may require months of treatment. Even if your pet feels or looks better after a few days of the course, the bacterial infection may not have resolved completely. Stopping a course of antibiotics early risks bacteria failing to be eliminated from your pet and may result in a return of the illness.

  • Acceleration of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). AMR refers to a change in microbes (such as bacteria, viruses, fungi etc) where they become resistant to a drug which previously controlled or killed them. Essentially this means that medication that once treated or cured a particular infection becomes ineffective.
    In the case of bacteria, it is known as Antibiotic Resistance. There will always be a degree of antibiotic resistance which develops as we treat infections. However, this should occur over a long period of time whereas AMR is occurring at an alarmingly fast rate.

One of the key things that accelerates this rate is the misuse of antibiotics, for example - stopping antibiotics early when your pet looks a bit better, leaving remaining bacteria in the system that may then develop resistance.

Why does AMR matter so much?

If we can’t slow down the rate of AMR, our pets (and humans) will be faced with huge medical challenges. This may include:

  • Infections that were previously easily treated, could become life-threatening
  • Certain surgeries may become very high risk e.g. Orthopaedics, Caesareans

Overall, making sure that you give your pet their full course of antibiotics will not only ensure their immediate health and prevent recurrent illness, it will help the medical future of animals and humans in general as well.