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Antibiotics for Dogs: Uses, Safety, Side Effects and Best Practices

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When you search for “antibiotics for dogs” on Google, you will find hundreds of options that you can buy at any pharmacy. 

Amoxirum, Augmentin, Clavam, Bayrocin, Monocef, Taxim O, Metrogyl, Clivet, Bioclan – it’s like a party of antibiotics for humans and dogs that you can sample at will!

Most of these antibiotics are available easily. However, does that make these antibiotics suitable for your dog? Are these antibiotics safe for your pet?

To understand the effect of antibiotics on dogs, and the right decisions you need to make, we must first understand what antibiotics are.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines that can treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics kill bacteria or stop them from growing in number. The most common reasons veterinarians prescribe antibiotics include urinary tract infections (UTIs), diarrhoea, and injuries that cause open wounds. 

If your dog has a disease caused by bacteria, only then antibiotics can help cure your dog. Antibiotics do not work in killing viruses or curing viral diseases in dogs such as canine parvo and canine distemper. 

Antibiotics are prescribed during severe viral infections to prevent and treat opportunistic bacterial infections.

What diseases in dogs can antibiotics treat?

Infographic on What Can Antibiotics for Dogs Treat? UTIs Ear Infections Eye Infections Respiratory Infections Skin & Soft Tissue Infections Bone & Joint Infections Dental Infections

Antibiotics can treat bacterial infections in different parts of a dog’s body. Now, there are multiple types (species) of bacteria that respond differently to different types of antibiotics. Some of the most common infections in dogs treated by antibiotics include:

  • Ear infections (otitis externa, otitis media, and otitis interna)
  • Eye infections
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Gastrointestinal infections (leading to indigestion, diarrhoea, and vomiting)
  • Skin infections (Pyoderma)
  • Soft tissue infections (infections post-injury or post-surgery)
  • Anal gland infections
  • Respiratory tract infections (URTIs and LRTIs)
  • Abscess

Why are there so many antibiotics for dogs?

infographic on the different forms in which antibiotics for dogs are available. Listed variants include - Tablets Capsules Syrups Ointments Sprays Injectables

Let’s take the example of dog UTI antibiotics since it is quite a common infection. Now, just because a dog has UTI doesn’t mean Amoxiclav (Amoxicillin) will work. 

If your dog has a recurrent UTI and they have been treated with amoxicillin multiple times before, there is a chance that amoxicillin will lose its “magic” against the bacteria causing the UTI. 

Even the common dog ear infection medication can be of multiple types depending on the location of the infection (internal or external) and the cause (type of bacteria). 

Your veterinarian may recommend an antibiotic resistance and sensitivity test to find out which antibiotic will work best for treating your dog’s infection without causing too many side effects. (Yes. Almost all antibiotics have some side effects. We will get to that soon.)

Antibiotic resistance and antibiotic-resistant infections in dogs: what you need to know

So, why do antibiotics for dogs stop working in the case of recurring infections? The reason is antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance. What causes it? Us! We cause antibiotic resistance by –

  • Overusing particular antibiotics indiscriminately
  • Not considering the weight of the dog (incorrect dosage)
  • Not completing the prescribed course of antibiotics
  • Disposing of unused antibiotics incorrectly with garbage

To prevent antibiotic resistance from spreading further, you should only use vet-prescribed antibiotics for dogs and complete each course. It’s important not to overuse antibiotics or use random antibiotics for treating unknown causes infections in dogs.

Why do you need veterinary prescriptions for giving antibiotics to your dog?

Infographic on antibiotics for dogs ear infection - Causes of Ear Infections in Dogs: Allergies Hypothyroidism Foreign Objects/ Water Mites Cancer Cushing’s Disease Yeast Bacteria and Yeast Bacteria Antibiotics for Ear Infections in Dogs can ONLY Treat Bacterial Infections. Other Causes Require Physical Examination and Diagnostic Testing.

We are all guilty of treating that occasional diarrhoea in dogs with metrogyl (metronidazole) or using Clavam (amoxicillin) to treat ear infections. However, these are incorrect uses of antibiotics. Different bacteria, fungi, and viruses can cause similar or the same symptoms of sickness in dogs. 

Only a veterinarian can evaluate the signs, recommend diagnostic tests and then prescribe the medications as per your dog’s body weight. If your dog has an ear infection, it might seem bacterial (pyoderma) to the inexperienced eyes but it may be fungal or parasitic. 

Ear infection can a severe bacterial skin infection that may arise from having untreated mites or allergies. But if your dog’s ear infection is caused by fungi or mites, it cannot be cured by antibiotics. If you have reason to believe that your dog has a bacterial infection and requires antibiotics, confirm with the veterinarian by visiting with your dog.

Can Your Dog Take Human Antibiotics?

Yes! Some human antibiotics can be given safely to dogs. Some of the most commonly prescribed human antibiotics for dogs include amoxicillin, clindamycin, ceftriaxone, cefixime, doxycycline, and metronidazole. 

However, these should always be given at the correct doses. In most cases, the human doses are too high for dogs. In other cases, dogs may require more frequent administration of antibiotics as compared to humans. So, always consult your veterinarian for the correct dose and duration of the antibiotic. 

On the other hand, some human antibiotics should NEVER be used in dogs unless a qualified veterinarian prescribes them. These reserved antibiotics include linezolid, vancomycin, ciprofloxacin, imipenem, and meropenem. Always check the composition of the antibiotics you have at home and refrain from giving these antibiotics to your dog even if they are handy.

What are Some Common Side Effects of Antibiotics for Dogs?

infographic on Common Side Effects of Antibiotics for Dog. These side effects include - Rashes Diarrhoea Vomiting Inappetence

Almost all antibiotics have some side effect or the other, but the broad-spectrum antibiotics (clindamycin, doxycycline, amoxicillin/clavulanate, and azithromycin) can cause the death of the healthy microbes in your dog’s gut. Now, taking antibiotics can have multiple side effects in dogs including the most common:

  • Upset stomach (diarrhoea or constipation)
  • Indigestion & acid reflux
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

In such cases, your veterinarian may recommend probiotics and prebiotics for dogs to reset your dog’s upset tummy. Some antibiotics for dogs can cause serious side effects that require immediate veterinary attention. These reactions include:

  • Trouble walking (ataxia)
  • Head tilt and loss of balance
  • Involuntary eye movements (nystagmus)
  • Seizures
  • Swelling of the face and muzzle
  • Rashes and hives
  • Laboured breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Anaphylactic shock

If you notice any of these signs you need to rush your dog (along with his prescription and the meds) to the emergency veterinary clinic near you. Some of these side effects can be life-threatening for your dog.

Points to Remember While Giving Antibiotics to Your Dog

Infographic on Smart Use of Antibiotics for Dogs Antibiotics are Life-Saving Drugs Antibiotics can ONLY Treat Bacterial Infections Not All Ear and Respiratory Tract Infections Require Antibiotics Not All Stomach Problems Require Antibiotics ALL Antibiotics for Dogs have Side Effects Only Use Antibiotics As Per Your Veterinarian’s Prescription.

When prescribed by your veterinarian, antibiotics for your dog should be safe. Nonetheless, you need to remember these points in addition to your vet’s prescription:

  • Do not use leftover antibiotics that you were using for another pet or human
  • In case of an overdose contact your veterinarian immediately
  • Observe your pet for the first 6-12 hours after giving a new medication for any side effect
  • Do not stop the antibiotics before your vet recommends it even if your dog feels better
  • If the medicines don’t help contact your veterinarian ASAP
  • Ask your veterinarian about SOS medication that can help your dog in the case of any side effects

When Should You NOT Give Antibiotics to Your Dog?

Contrary to what we believe, antibiotics are NOT the answer to all infections in dogs. Just like us, our dogs are as susceptible to fungal, protozoal and, if unvaccinated, viral infection. Here are some instances when you shouldn’t give your dog antibiotics:

  • When they might have a fungal or bacterial infection
  • When they have just finished a course and the vet has not recommended the new antibiotics
  • If your dog is old and has complications of the liver, kidney and/or pancreas
  • They are already taking multiple medications for a chronic condition and you haven’t consulted a vet

Conclusion

Many infections in dogs require antibiotics. However, only give antibiotics if your vet prescribes it. Refrain from changing medicines and changing the doses without informing your vet. Antibiotics for dogs can be life savers in many situations but only when used properly.

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