Tuesdays with Tony
When you’re the supervising feline of a veterinary clinic, you know the amazing lifesaving things that antibiotics can do. You also know what a CATastrophe it would be if we didn’t have them. Plenty of things make a cat grumpy, but few things ruffle my fur quite like misuse of antibiotics that might lead to antibiotic resistance!
Let me explain how antibiotic resistance works and how we can avoid it. Antibiotic resistance doesn’t mean that your horse’s body becomes resistant to antibiotics, it means that the bacteria no longer respond to the antibiotics designed to kill them. They ignore the antibiotic treatment and continue to grow and reproduce, making your horse’s infection worse. When the bacteria become resistant, the antibiotics don’t work anymore, and your vet is left with few options to treat your horse’s infection. Infections caused by resistant bacteria are difficult or even impossible to treat.
Anytime antibiotics are used, it can contribute to bacteria developing resistance. Usually, the benefits usually outweigh the risks when the antibiotics are used appropriately. But if used unnecessarily or incorrectly, it increases the chance of creating antibiotic resistance. These mistakes are really common, so be careful you aren’t making them. And this stuff applies not just to your pets’ antibiotics, but also for the ones your doctor prescribes for you. We need our antibiotics to keep working so my docs can keep saving lives!
Mistake Number 1
One of the most common mistakes many horse owners make is not finishing the entire course of antibiotics that their horse is prescribed. Here’s how it often happens… your horse is prescribed an antibiotic by a veterinarian, and you give it very diligently for several days. Then, you start noticing that he is improving, and you think, GREAT, the antibiotic is working and my horse is cured. Here is where the mistakes begin.
It is extremely common for owners to see their horse improving and decide to discontinue antibiotics before they have finished the full course. DO NOT do this! Antibiotics are prescribed for a specific length of time. During this time the bacteria are being killed, which is why your horse begins to improve.
What happens when you stop antibiotics early is that some of the bacteria have not died yet, but they have been exposed to the antibiotic. When you stop the antibiotic, they start to reproduce again and the next thing you know, your horse is showing signs of infection again. When you see the signs return, you might try to start the antibiotic again. But this time, your horse does not improve. You call one of my docs out and they recommend a culture and sensitivity test which shows that the bacteria are now resistant to the antibiotic that previously worked on your horse’s infection.
By discontinuing antibiotics before the full course was administered, antibiotic-resistant bacteria or “superbugs” are formed, and now the superbugs are reproducing. The superbugs recognize the first antibiotic and laugh at it when you try it again, as they have developed superpowers to prevent the antibiotics from killing them. Now we have a superbug that needs an even stronger antibiotic. Hopefully, this time, you have learned your lesson and give the entire course of prescribed medication. But sometimes it takes you humans more than once to learn your lessons! So you repeat the above scenario with stronger antibiotics, and a super-superbug forms. It isn’t long before there are no antibiotics left that the bug is susceptible to, and now your horse has a resistant infection that cannot be treated.
Mistake Number 2
Mistake number two may be even more common than mistake number one. Do you have old leftover antibiotics lying around your barn somewhere? I bet if I cat-scanned your farm I would find some!
Here’s how it goes… You notice your horse has an infection and think, well, I have some of that old antibiotic in the tack room, I’m sure that it would be fine to treat my horse with that and I’ll save a little money. Never administer an antibiotic to your horse willy nilly! Even if it was once prescribed for him. ALWAYS call my docs first. You might think you’re going to save money, but this sort of thing often causes expensive and difficult problems that could have been avoided.
Different types of infections are caused by different types of bacteria. The bacteria causing your horse’s lung infection may be a different species than the ones that infect a skin wound. The antibiotic that will treat one kind of infection may not touch another. If you choose the wrong antibiotic, it not only wastes time and lets the infection get worse but is a great way of causing antibiotic resistance. Chances are you don’t know the right dose for that antibiotic either. So DON’T use what you have laying around the tack room, and DON’T buy something random at Tractor Supply. Don’t even get me started on expired antibiotics!
Mistake Number 3
Yeah, I know that it would be easier if you could just dump the antibiotic tablets in your horse’s grain and he would eat them all up. You don’t like giving them directly in his mouth, and neither does he. But what usually happens is that the horse picks through his grain and doesn’t like the taste, so he only eats part of the antibiotic dose. The bacteria are not killed when they are under-dosed – that only makes them stronger and more likely to become resistant.
The best way to make sure he gets the whole dose is to syringe it directly into your horse’s mouth. My docs will show you how and teach you tricks to get it done. Many of the common antibiotics they use can be dissolved in a little water inside a big plastic syringe and given just like a dewormer. You can even add flavorings like molasses to sweeten the deal. But your horse must receive his ENTIRE dose to avoid problems. If you find that you really can’t administer the antibiotics that were prescribed, my docs will find you another way to treat your horse and avoid antibiotic resistance.
Mistake Number 4
Sometimes people call asking for antibiotics to treat their horse and yet my docs have never even seen the horse. Not only is this illegal for my docs, it’s also very dangerous for your horse. If my docs prescribe your horse an antibiotic for an ailment that they have not examined your horse for, they are risking their veterinary license. Not to mention you are putting your horse at risk for developing antibiotic resistance.
A common misconception is that all infections are treated the same. This could not be further from the truth. Some bacteria thrive in an environment without oxygen, some thrive in an environment with oxygen, others have super strong cell walls that require stronger antibiotics, and others are more easily treated. Even further, some infections are a mixed bag of multiple different bacteria. The only way for one of my docs to have any idea of what kind of infection your horse has is for them to see your horse. And did you know that viruses NEVER require antibiotics? Giving antibiotics for a viral infection just wastes money and creates antibiotic resistance.
I never want to find out what it would be like to live in a world without antibiotics, and neither should you. A lot of these problems we’ve talked about are avoidable simply by making sure you have a veterinarian examine your horse prior to treatment, following your vet’s orders, and calling them if you are having trouble with the prescribed treatment. The future of equine healthcare, cat healthcare, people healthcare, and every other kind of healthcare depends on it!
Until next week,
P.S. Have you been to my YouTube Channel lately? I’ve got hours and hours of free horse knowledge waiting for you there. It’s way more beneficial than bingeing on Netflix, and easier to share with your friends: win-win!
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!