Antibiotic therapies for dogs and cats in focus

Antibiotics are important in the treatment of bacterial infections. Antibiotics are used to treat, for example, skin infections, urinary tract infections or respiratory tract infections. It should be borne in mind, however, that there are also several other causes for e.g. respiratory symptoms besides bacteria. Antibiotics will then be of no use. Antibiotics do not work on respiratory tract infections caused by viruses, for example.

Is an antibiotic always the best treatment?

In order to prevent the development of resistance, careful consideration of the use and necessity of antibiotic therapy is required when examining the patient and establishing the cause of the symptoms. A veterinarian will not make decision on medication until they have examined the patient and ensured that antibiotics are necessary. Samples should be taken to verify the bacterial infection diagnosis and sometimes the decision on the necessity of antibiotic therapy is not made until the analysis results on the sample are available. Antibiotics can be administered as tablets or a topical product, such as ear drops or a cream to be applied on the skin. In some cases antibiotics are not used at all. When a course of antibiotics is prescribed for an animal, the course must be finished in compliance with the veterinarian's instructions.

Tools to control antimicrobial resistance in companion animals

  • Use of antibiotics is always based on careful consideration and a diagnosis made by the veterinarian. The veterinarian always examines the animal, and if necessary, takes samples to identify the cause of the disease.
  • Due to increased resistance, it is highly recommended that in skin and soft tissue infections of cats and dogs a sample be taken during the first visit. Early analysis of a sample guarantees the best choice of a therapy for the animal.
  • The veterinarian chooses the most suitable antibiotic, the administration route and the dosage. With recurrent infections, the underlying cause must be identified.
  • If the condition of the animal makes it necessary to start the antibiotic therapy before the analysis results are available, the veterinarian chooses the primary treatment from the National Recommendations for the Use of Antimicrobials.
  • The owner of the animal follows the instructions of the veterinarian for care and medication.
  • Often an antibiotic alone is not enough, but supporting treatments are also needed, such as cleaning the infected area or preventing the animal from licking the area. These therapies are just as important in the treatment of the animal as the antibiotic.
  • With persistent skin and ear infections, identification and treatment of the cause that maintains the infection is of crucial importance in the cure of the disease.

Antibiotics and resistance

Antibiotics are compounds that kill microbes or inhibit their growth. Antibiotics are not always effective in the treatment of a disease. The bacteria causing the disease may be inherently resistant to the antibiotic or resistance may develop as a result of e.g. repeated antibiotic therapies. Bacteria can be resistant to several different antibiotics; this is referred to as multiresistance. In cats and dogs, resistant bacteria are commonly found among staphylococci that cause skin and soft tissue infections as well as E. coli bacteria that cause urinary tract infections.

Resistant bacteria do not cause any more severe diseases than other bacteria. Healthy animals can also carry resistant bacteria. The treatment of diseases caused by such bacteria, on the other hand, can be difficult and the cure of the animal may be delayed due to the limited availability or maybe complete lack of effective antibiotics. The therapy is also expensive in such cases.

Resistant bacteria or their resistance factors can be transmitted between animals and humans. Thus an antibiotic therapy prescribed to one animal will also affect other animals as well as people.

The use of antibiotics by veterinarians is guided by legislation

Finland can boast long traditions in responsible use of antibiotics. The treatment of animals with antibiotics is also regulated by laws. For example, certain medicines designed for the treatment of severe bacterial diseases in humans may not be used for animals at all. Critically important antibiotics, such as third generation cephalosporins or fluoroquinolones may only be used, if e.g. analysis results indicate that other alternatives are ineffective. Pursuant to law, the veterinarian shall personally verify e necessity of an antibiotic.