Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic Resistance

Tuesdays with Tony

If I have learned nothing else about horses over the years, it is that they love to injure themselves. Most of the time we have no idea how they do it, but it’s usually late at night on a weekend or holiday.  You will call one of the docs here at Springhill on emergency and they will come out and assess your horse. They will likely prescribe your horse antibiotics. Injury is not the only reason one of my docs will prescribe antibiotics for your horse, antibiotics have their time and place in the treatment of different ailments. I have heard over and over again my docs discuss different methods for administering antibiotics, but boy was I surprised when I overheard them talking about all the wrong ways antibiotics are administered and all the problems that incorrect administration can cause. 


Mistake Number One

One of the most common mistakes many horse owners make is not finishing the entire course of antibiotic that their horse is prescribed. 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 precious baby is all better. 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, listen to the professionals! The problem with not finishing a full course of antibiotics is, it sets your horse up for antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are prescribed for a specific length of time. During this time the bugs are being killed, which is why  you usually see such an improvement so quickly.  


What happens when you stop antibiotics early is that some of the bugs have not died yet, but they have been exposed to the antibiotic. They start to reproduce again and the next thing you know your horse is showing signs of infection again. Bacteria bugs are super smart and stealthy, not quite cat-like, but pretty darn close. Once they are exposed to an antibiotic, they begin to recognize it. When you see the clinical signs return, you assume it is safe to start the antibiotic again. This time however, clinical signs do not improve.  You call one of my docs out and they recommend a culture and sensitivity which shows that the bugs are now resistant to the antibiotic that previously worked on your horse’s infection. 


By discontinuing antibiotics before the full course was administered, superbugs are formed, and now the superbugs are reproducing. The superbugs recognize the first antibiotic and laugh at it when it is restarted, 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. However, as I have come to notice, often 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 and a stronger antibiotic is required. 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 Two

Mistake number two may be even more common than mistake number one. Everyone knows that you have old antibiotic lying around in your feed/tack room somewhere. Even the vets here do, believe me, I have catscanned all of their farms when they weren’t looking. I can guarantee that most of you have been a part of mistake number one which means you definitely have leftover antibiotics floating around.  


As we have already determined, horses get hurt and sick at the most inopportune times. 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 totally fine to treat my horse with that. That, my friends, is where I get to take off my sweet, innocent, lovable kitty face and put on my stern, mad, disappointed kitty face and tell you you are wrong. Never, and I mean NEVER,  administer a previously prescribed antibiotic to your horse, even if it was prescribed for him. ALWAYS call me at the clinic first, and let me get you in touch with my docs so they can better assess the situation.  


They may very well tell you to use the antibiotic you have on hand, but unless you want antibiotic resistance as described in mistake number one, don’t just do it on your own! Trust me, you will make my docs very happy when you call them and have not given your horse antibiotics, which in turn will make me happy, and you know the saying, Happy Tony, Happy Life.  


Mistake Number Three

All too often I will hear the office staff talking to people on the phone. From what I have heard as I drift in and out of dream land, is that 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 to do, it is also very dangerous for your horse. If my docs prescribe your horse an antibiotic for an ailment that they have not been seen 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? 


Let’s say you suspect your horse has a bacterial infection. He has a fever, he isn’t eating well, and he’s lethargic. So you call the clinic and ask for an antibiotic from one of my docs even though the horse hasn’t been seen for this problem.  If my docs were to prescribe your horse an antibiotic without seeing him, you could be giving your horse an antibiotic that is not necessary, thus leading to antibiotic resistance (are you sensing a theme here?) not to mention spending money on an antibiotic that your horse doesn’t need.  


In contrast, you might think your horse has a bacterial infection. You do the right thing and call me at the clinic to have one of my docs out, and they find your horse has a very high fever and that his infection is not actually bacterial, but viral. They recommend supportive care and the next thing you know, you and your horse are back riding again, and you have saved money by not paying for unneeded antibiotics.  


I know it’s only Tuesday and it’s summer time, so the heat is getting to us all, but antibiotic resistance is a big concern. Luckily, it is easily avoidable simply by making sure you have a veterinarian examine your horse prior to treatment, following your veterinarians orders, and calling me if you are having trouble with the prescribed treatment.  Remember, I LOVE phone calls, it makes me feel even more important than I already am. So, call me, tell me you can’t administer the antibiotics that were prescribed, or that your horse refuses to eat them. That is totally ok, my docs are basically miracle workers and will find you another way to treat your horse and avoid antibiotic resistance. The future of equine healthcare is depending on it.


Until next week,


Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

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, or follow us on Facebook!

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