Giving Your Dog or Cat Antibiotics: Yay or Nay?
Updated: Jan 10
Let it be said from the start that the benefits of antibiotics for some conditions are undisputed: they have, in many cases, saved the lives of pets in need. But too often, antibiotics are prescribed willy-nilly.
Sure, a dose of antibiotics might be a quick fix, but at a scorched-earth level of intensity. What do we mean? It’ll work, but it might be setting your dog or cat up for a long-term disaster instead!
So yes, antibiotics can save lives, but when used unnecessarily, they might end up causing more harm than good. So how can you find the line?
This week, let’s swallow some hard pills about what antibiotics actually do and how we can make sound judgments about their use in the interest of keeping our pets happy and healthy.
What Exactly Are Antibiotics?
An antibiotic is anything that kills bacteria or, at the very least, inhibits its growth; it can be applied to bacteria growing either on the outside or inside of the body. Antibiotics fall under the broader definition of an antimicrobial, which also encompasses antifungals, antivirals, and antiseptics.
Some antibiotics are used to target singular types of bacterium—the most common example being antibiotics designed to target staphylococcal infections. In contrast, other antibiotics use the shotgun approach: just blasting every bacteria it comes in contact with.
So why’s that a bad thing?
Why Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer
Again, we can’t emphasize enough that sometimes antibiotics are the answer, but here are some reasons why you should be wary about using antibiotics as the go-to solution for all your pet’s woes.
A Scorched Microbiome
Antibiotics are effective at what they’re meant to do: killing bacteria. Unfortunately, this also means they wipe out entire bacterial populations, the good AND the bad!
Good bacteria are essential to your pet’s health, as they help prevent and fight off disease. By wiping out an entire microbiome of bacteria, you may stop the initial issue of bacterial infection, but you also leave your pet exposed to further infections, viruses and diseases more than they were before.
Individual Bacterial Resistance
Bacterial resistance is an example of evolution: the more you use antibiotics when there are alternative treatments, the more you risk training bacteria within your pet to become more robust and capable of evading the antibiotics. This means the next time you use that treatment, it may not work.
Antibiotics are often thought of as oral medications, but there are countless antibacterial creams, ointments, sprays, and soaps meant for topical use on our pet’s skin and ears. Similar to oral antibiotics, wiping out all of the bacteria on a surface can fuel resistance—but this time, those antibiotics might spread to the surrounding environment. This could include yourself, your home, or your other pets.
Antibiotics, like any medication, can have side effects ranging from minor issues like nausea or mild diarrhea to issues of extreme consequences like kidney failure, anaphylaxis, and even death. Always enquire about any possible side effects with ANY medication.
What Are Your Options?
When antibiotics are genuinely needed, they can be lifesaving. Don’t make your pet go without antibiotics when they’re absolutely required, as indicated by your veterinary professional.
However, there are some steps you can take that will not only help prevent issues that may require antibiotics but also help contribute to a world that embraces a balanced and moderated use of antibiotics.
1. Defence before Offence
Do your best to keep your pet’s gut, skin, and wherever else an infection may occur in tip-top shape. A balanced, species-appropriate diet of optimal nutrients can provide a healthy bacterial population that can serve as your pet’s first line of defence and potentially prevent the need for antibiotics at all.
Here at RDBK, we believe the surest way to a healthy pet is through a diet of top-quality, whole-food ingredients in a raw diet with a rotation of customizable supplements!
2. Seek Professional Advice
If your pet DOES require antibiotics, be sure to first ask your veterinarian about possible side effects. If your pet is on a regimen of probiotics, don’t neglect to ask about how they should be taking their probiotics alongside their antibiotics, questions which are covered in the next point…
3. Know Your Probiotics
Not all probiotics are created equal! Before settling on a probiotic, do some research and look for studies from the manufacturer to ensure you’re actually helping your pet’s microbiome.
Additionally, since probiotics are a collection of live bacteria, some may not survive exposure to antibiotics. Other probiotic supplements still might need their dose increased or be given separately at different times of the day. Finally, there are certain—however infrequent—circumstances in which probiotics shouldn’t be taken alongside antibiotics at all.
4. Be Prepared With Post-Antibiotic Support
As we’ve been discussing, antibiotics can do a doozy on your pet’s gut microbiome, which may take some time to recover. In fact, some commonly dispensed antibiotics can wipe out entire species of beneficial bacteria.
These are the types of bacteria responsible for helping your pet digest and absorb certain nutrients. This means that a round of probiotics designed for gut repair may be necessary for a duration after the course of antibiotics is finished in order to rectify the resulting dysbiosis.
5. Feed Your Pet Right With Whole Foods
Whole foods with pre-biotic fibre can do amazing work to feed and re-establish your pet’s gut bacterial colonies that may be struggling during and after a course of antibiotics. Consider adding chicory root, dandelion leaves, okra, asparagus, artichokes, sunchokes, radicchio, Belgian endive or other dark leafy greens to their diet.
A Heavy Dose of Knowledge
Looking for more information? We get it. Antibiotics and their correlation with the health of the microbiome can be a complicated topic—there are a lot of factors involved! We’ve collected some links and resources for you to peruse if you’d like to delve deeper.
If you are concerned about the health of your pet's microbiome after antibiotic use, ask your veterinarian about getting it tested to see if they need some help! You can also click here for more information on your pet’s microbiome and how it can affect their overall health.
For those of you looking to nerd out on the lasting effects of antibiotics on the microbiome, click here to read a 2020 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
Finally, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) has set up an initiative to help guide and support veterinarians to make informed decisions on the use of antimicrobials in the animal industry. You can read more about it here.
One Last Pill
Finally, there’s something to be said about giving your pet their full prescribed dose of antibiotics. If antibiotics are your pet’s best or only option, then it’s essential you give the full dose as prescribed by your vet.
You may see their symptoms decrease or vanish before their antibiotic regimen is completed, but that doesn’t mean the offending bacteria is gone! By not completing a full dose of antibiotics, you may just be training the bacteria in your pet to be able to withstand future exposure to antibiotics.
Finally, as always, consult your veterinarian before adding anything to your pet’s diet or giving any supplements, particularly if they’ve faced any medical or health issues. And remember, some things dogs can take may not be equally safe for cats, so don’t hesitate to do some pet-specific research before supplementing your precious fur baby’s diet!