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Are Antibiotics Safe for Dogs?
By: Trupanion Staff | Updated Aug 31, 2023
Can dogs be given antibiotics for infections just like humans? The short answer is yes; yes they can!
Without Scottish microbiologist Sir Alexander Fleming’s famous petri-dish mistake of 1928, our advanced antibiotic options may have been left in the Dark Ages. Since Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, we have made tremendous strides in the research and development of novel, safer, and more effective medications — including antibiotics for pets — that are used to treat a variety of infections.
So, the next time your pup suffers from an ear infection, urinary issue, or stinky skin problem that antibiotics can help clear up, be sure to thank Sir Alexander Fleming for his discovery. That goes for any similar issues you may suffer from as well, but we're here today to discuss antibiotics for dogs. Are they the same as those for humans? When do dogs actually need antibiotics anyway? Let's dive in.
What are antibiotics for dogs?
In a nutshell, antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, although they may be prescribed if your veterinarian believes your pet’s viral infection is complicated by a secondary bacterial infection. Antibiotics for dogs are available to treat many types of bacterial infections in your canine, such as skin infections and respiratory infections.
Just as with human treatments, animal antibiotics are available in a variety of forms. While you'll want to discuss which is best for your pet with their veterinarian, you may have several options:
- Injectable solutions
- Creams and ointments
- Eye drops
To help treat your dog’s infection, your veterinarian will choose the appropriate antibiotic to destroy the offending organism. Different antibiotic classes work in various ways to kill bacteria, or inhibit their growth and replication, allowing your pet’s immune system to clear the infection. Some antibiotics attack the bacterial cell wall, while others interfere with bacterial metabolism, protein synthesis, or DNA replication.
How are dog antibiotics chosen for treatment?
According to the University of Washington School of Pharmacy, the proper course of antibiotic therapy is determined by identifying the bacteria causing your dog’s infection, as each antibiotic is only effective against specific bacterial species. Sometimes, your veterinarian may choose an appropriate antibiotic based on knowledge about bacterial species that commonly cause infections similar to your pet’s.
In other situations, your veterinarian may perform bacterial culture and sensitivity testing to identify the exact bacterial species causing your pet’s infection, as well as which antibiotics the bacteria is sensitive to. Culture and sensitivity testing is performed by a veterinary laboratory, and results take several days. In the meantime, your veterinarian will likely begin treatment with the antibiotic they think is most appropriate, but may need to change the medication once test results are final.
With antibiotics for dogs, knowing how the antibiotic is absorbed and metabolized by a pet’s body is key. For example, some antibiotics do not cross the blood-brain barrier well, making them an ineffective choice for a bacterial brain infection. Although culture and sensitivity testing may determine the most effective antibiotic for treating the bacteria isolated, your veterinarian must consider how the drug is absorbed and metabolized for your pet’s illness to be fully eradicated.
Side effects of antibiotic therapy in pets
Although antibiotics can be curative for a wide range of health issues in dogs, they also have their fair share of negative side effects that may be dose-dependent or based on your pet’s sensitivity to a certain medication. If your pooch needs an antibiotic course, keep an eye out for the following side effects:
- Decreased appetite
- Secondary infections, such as yeast infections
With antibiotics for dogs, most side effects develop in the first few days of treatment, although they may occur at any point during an antibiotic course. Contact your veterinarian at the first side-effect sign during antibiotic administration. While most pets handle antibiotic therapy with no issues, some dogs may vomit, have diarrhea, or refuse their food.
Can you give your dog human antibiotics?
You may be tempted to use your leftover amoxicillin from your own infection to treat your dog’s urinary or ear infection. But should you? No. Not only do dogs often require different doses than people, but the exact chemical composition of the antibiotics prescribed to your pet may not be as similar to yours as you think. In fact, none of your medicine cabinet’s contents may be appropriate to give to your pet, and doing so could lead to serious negative reactions or even death.
The bottom line: never give any of your own medications to your dog, no matter how similar they may seem. Leave diagnosing and prescribing to veterinary professionals to ensure your furry pal doesn’t suffer from serious side effects.
Antibiotic resistance and dogs
You may have heard about people and pets developing infections with bacteria that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics. According to the CDC, bacteria become antibiotic resistant when they develop the ability to live and reproduce in the presence of an antibiotic. When this happens, subsequent bacterial populations that originate from the bacteria also carry the genes for resistance. Antibiotic resistance occurs when antibiotics are used improperly, and unfortunately, pet owners often contribute to this growing problem.
To avoid contributing to antibiotic resistance in your pet, follow all of your veterinarian’s instructions regarding antibiotics for dogs. It's also a good idea to follow these general guidelines:
- Administer the full course of antibiotics, even if your pet’s infection seems to have resolved.
- Consistently administer your pet’s antibiotics at the prescribed time each day.
- Never give your pet’s antibiotics to another pet or a human.
- Never give antibiotics prescribed for another pet, or human, to your pet.
Veterinarians help prevent antibiotic resistance by only prescribing antibiotics to pets with bacterial (i.e., not viral) infections, choosing antibiotics based on culture and sensitivity results, and prescribing antibiotics at the appropriate dose and for an appropriate length of time to fully eliminate the infection.
Does pet insurance cover antibiotics?
Canine antibiotics can be expensive, so it's only normal to wonder how you can ensure your dog is getting the treatment they need. Pet insurance coverage can vary widely depending on which provider you have. The good news is that providers with comprehensive coverage do cover prescribed medications for new and unexpected (non-pre-existing) illnesses and injuries.
Learn more about dog insurance today and how it can help offset the costs of medical care for your pet.
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Pet Parenting is the official blog of Trupanion, a leader in the world of pet insurance for dogs and cats. Here you’ll find useful dog and cat care tips, interesting veterinary insights, and fun pet topics galore. While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.
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