Antibiotic Resistance: A Veterinary Perspective

11th May 2015   Diana Barker   No Comments

Antibiotic Resistance: A Veterinary Perspective

antibiotics-dangers-dogsThe World Health Organisation has labelled antimicrobial resistance one of the greatest threats to human health today. In the 70 years since Alexander Fleming’s amazing penicillin discovery, mankind’s misuse of these drugs is now threatening to render them ineffective.

Australia has one of the highest rates of antibiotic consumption in the developed world, prompting the federal government to set a 25% reduction target in antibiotic use by 2017. It is predicted this will bring us into line with OECD averages.

But what about in our animals? We know that resistant bacteria have been found in animals since the early 1970’s, and that the use of antibiotics for animals has undoubtedly contributed to the emergence of these superbugs. The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has nominated the issue of fighting antimicrobial resistance as one of its key strategic aims over the next five years.

There are justifiable concerns about the ways antibiotics are used in animals, and whilst we have strict regulations and monitoring of food-producing animal species in this country (much moreso than in many other parts of the world), very little is known about the role of household pets in terms of this issue.

Alarmingly, we’ve seen two cases of pet animals suffering from the superbug MRSA in the last six months. One a cat with a bite wound that repeatedly failed to heal, the other a very sick puppy who had recently undergone surgery at another vet clinic. Interestingly, both of these pets had owners who worked in human health services, it is possible the pets’ exposure to the superbug occurred in their home environment as a result. The point is, whether or not we implicate antibiotic use in our pets as part of the wider problem, they’re clearly just as susceptible to infection with these resistant bugs as we are (and they’re causing us headaches to treat).

At Prahran one of the benefits of being an ASAVA accredited hospital, is that we must demonstrate strict adherence to sterility and infection control measures intended to prevent the emergence of superbugs. We feel it keeps us on our toes and raises awareness amongst all staff. In addition, the veterinary team have agreed to uphold the recently released AIDAP prescribing guidelines, which promote rational and responsible use of antibiotics. Part of the AVA’s stated intention over the next five years is to raise awareness of antimicrobial resistance amongst the veterinary profession, it is unfortunately still the case that not all vet clinics see their role in the bigger picture.

And what about your responsibilities as a pet owner? There are a number of simple steps to ensure you play your part in reducing the emergence of superbugs:

  • Your pet should only be given antibiotics prescribed by a vet for the condition in question. Don’t use human medication, nor medication prescribed for a different pet or occasion.
  • Complete the course! Even if your pet looks and feels a lot better, administer the full antibiotic course prescribed.
  • If you struggle to give tablets let us know. There are some clever alternative methods of administering medication to our pets which can help you ensure antibiotics are administered in line with your vets wishes.
  • Hygiene around the home is just as important as it is in the vet hospital. We know humans and pets can transfer infections to each other, so it is important to wash hands, use hand sanitisers and ensure regular parasite control. This is especially the case for those of you who work in the human health services, as our recent cases have shown. Click the link below for a podcast discussing living with an MRSA infected pet.

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