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The Problem of Antibiotic Resistance

Consider a few examples of horse situations that you have likely faced as a horse owner. A few days after foaling, the new filly has mild diarrhea and is acting somewhat depressed. Your veterinarian is worried even though the temperature is only at the high end of normal.
The veterinarian may want to run blood tests to help with evaluation even though it may only be a minor problem. After drawing the blood you may ask about placing the filly on antibiotics to be safe.

Or consider the situation of returning from a horse show and finding out that your hunter is coughing. Then in the morning you find there is yellow mucus and discharge from both nostrils. Despite a normal temperature and eating habit you can tell that something is both him and he’s just not acting normal. You likely call your veterinarian and ask to place them on antibiotics and consider

 using the same that you used for a prior situation since you need your horse for an upcoming show and can’t be without him.

A final situation you have likely encountered as a horse own is a puncture wound. You will likely clean and flush the wound yourself since you have either dealt with them before or have seen your vet do it many times. Then you consider running down to the feed store to get some antibiotics to give the horse. You assume a little bit of antibiotics will take care of the problem and you won’t have to go to the veterinarian to take care of your horse.

Picture of a super bugAs a horse owner you have likely been involved in some variation of these situations. However, you may be surprised to learn that all of these situations have inappropriate use of antibiotics in them and are a contributing factor to a problem that veterinary medicine is facing today. That is the major problem of antibiotic resistance.

However, it is not really correct to single out veterinary medicine for this problem since resistant bacteria is also becoming a rampant problem in human medicine as well. Likely you have read about the flesh-eating bacteria that most drugs can’t stop or about the antibiotic-resistant staph and strep infections that make a common cold and skin abrasion very deadly.

There is a long history of over using antibiotics in human medicine. Antibiotics used to be given to any child with a minor ear infection. Everywhere you can find and use drugs like topical Neosporin or other skin antibiotics. You can even find antibiotic cream built right in to adhesive bandages. Any potential infection suggests the use of antibiotics as a result of how well they work and often people receive a dose.

However, the bacterium has adapted. After bacteria have been exposed to antibiotics over countless generations they are no longer sensitive and have altered themselves. Newer and more powerful antibiotics have been developed by researchers but they bacteria are starting to adapt faster than production can face the problem. This is helping to make antibiotic resistance come to the forefront.

In an effort to make some recommendations and some restrictions the Food and Drug Administration is starting to look closely at all the uses of antibiotics. Areas of concern do exist is the veterinary community despite the fact that it has done a pretty good job of using antibiotics wisely. For example, a very effective drug in horses is penicillin which has almost completely disappeared in human medicine. One of the areas of concern is the use of antibiotics in food products for animals and sub-therapeutic dosing practices.

Antibiotics are found in many types of animal feed to help reduce the problems found in animals that eat them. However, the FDA is questing the necessity of this antibiotic feeding and whether or not it is actually benefiting animals along with the thought that it may be leading to antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics that are given at a dose below the required amount to correctly treat a condition is known as sub-therapeutic dosing. This typically happens if a non-veterinarian inaccurately calculates the dose, frequency or tries to reduce treatment in an effort to save money.

The link between veterinary antibiotic use and the development of resistance has very little research as many veterinarians will point out. Veterinarians will urge caution in the face of sweeping and restrictive changes even though they generally agree that improvement should be made and often believe that the FDA does not have all the information that it needs.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has recently called for veterinarians to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics that are currently on the market since the FDA approval of new products is likely to be slow until the issue of resistance can be dealt with.

A position statement has been produced by the AVMA that states, “When the decision is reached to use antimicrobials for therapy, veterinarians should strive to optimize therapeutic efficiency and to minimize resistance to antimicrobials to protect public and animal health.”

The AVMA has also stated that the therapy of the animal patients is affected by antimicrobial resistance and that they are both concerned and cognizant of this effect and will make efforts to reduce the resistance as much as possible.

Some objectives have been produced by the AVMA with these goals in mind. These objectives are important for horse owners who occasionally use antibiotics. A call for more scientific research is included in the objectives to help decide the proper use of therapeutic antibiotics. They have also called for educational efforts to inform veterinarians, owners, trainers and those who care for animals regarding the proper use of antibiotics.

The AVMA is urging veterinarians to review preventive strategies with horse owners to achieve this. Among these strategies are the appropriate feeding and husbandry concerns such as hygiene, routine health monitoring and immunization.

Before using antibiotics other options should be considered including the use of herbal and holistic medicines, physical therapy and immune stimulants. The appropriate drug for the condition should be chosen if antibiotics need to be used. A narrow-spectrum drug should be used by veterinarians rather than drugs that are broad-spectrum and to use the simplest product possible to help the problem.

The worry of veterinarians is that horses and animals in general will have more wound infections, sinus colds and other maladies once the restrictions of antibiotics is started. For both veterinarians and owners clinical cases without antibiotics will be very different since antibiotics have become a big part of treatment.

However, the potential consequences of overuse and resistance are so serious that it is important to form new habits. The ability to treat and cure in the coming millennium may depend on it entirely.

Read the next horse health tips article on Castrating Horses.
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