Q: We’ve got a problem with our new veterinarian. She took over the practice from our old vet and doesn’t agree with how we’ve been treating our dog Sandy’s skin infection. She says that using [the antibiotic] cephalexin every month or two to control her itching is now considered wrong. We’re not happy with this because the newer drugs she recommends are much more expensive and Sandy now needs more baths (which she doesn’t like) to keep her comfortable. Should we get a second opinion?
A: You can always find veterinarians willing to prescribe antibiotics in this manner, but they’re getting harder to find. That’s because, along with physicians, we’ve come to recognize that the overuse of antibiotics is responsible for a rise in antibiotic resistant infections in both humans and animals.
Here’s why: When bacteria are killed by antibiotics, some bacteria inevitably manage to resist. These persistent organisms may be uniquely resistant mutant strains, which then reproduce, thereby propagating this special ability.
The more antibiotic-evading bacteria that accumulate on any one human or animal, the more they’re likely to spread to other humans and animals. In this way, antibiotic resistance can spread among individuals and across the species divide.
Some veterinarians, especially those involved in industrial animal farming where antibiotics are used daily in animal feed to promote growth, maintain that the science on this is inconclusive. Most small animal veterinarians, however, agree with the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization that antibiotics should not be administered indiscriminately.
Sandy’s case, for example, offers us a perfect example of how antibiotic use in veterinary medicine often goes wrong. Using cephalexin on a regular basis to treat most recurring skin infections is usually considered both unwise and irresponsible, not only because it may enable resistance, but because it’s unnecessary.
After all, if Sandy’s skin infections are like most dogs’, they’re likely the result of an allergy to something in her environment. If this allergy is identified and appropriately treated, as it sounds like her new veterinarian is attempting to do, her infections need not persist.
To be sure, this may prove an expensive process, especially in the short term, but its long term benefits to Sandy’s health and comfort are undeniable –– not to mention the benefits to the future health of other humans and animals who may some day require effective antibiotics for serious infections.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.