Each November there is a global campaign to promote awareness about Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). Infections are caused by microorganisms (microbes) such as bacteria, viruses or fungi. When we or our pets become unwell with an infection, we can be prescribed antimicrobials. Antibiotics are antimicrobials used to treat bacterial infections. Sometimes the antimicrobial stops working because the microbe causing the infection has developed resistance to the treatment (antibiotic) i.e., the microbe has developed antimicrobial resistance commonly referred to as AMR. This means that infections can become difficult or impossible to treat. The World Health Organization lists AMR as one of the top 10 global threats to human health. AMR is also a threat to our pet health and wellbeing.
Microorganisms are found everywhere including in people, plants, animals, and the environment. Most microorganisms are harmless to us; in fact, we couldn’t survive without all the ‘good bacteria’, like the ones in our digestive system. There are also plenty of ’bad’ microorganisms that cause infections in people and their pets. Some of these infections can be spread between animals and people. It wasn’t until the 1940’s, after Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, that doctors and veterinarians had medicine to effectively treat bacterial infections. Before this time many simple infections would become life-threatening; people and animals would often die from infection. Now it is very common for people and their pets to be prescribed antibiotics when they are sick or wounded. However, we need to be careful how we use antibiotics so that they stay effective. Whenever bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, they develop ways to overcome or “resist” the antibiotics effects. These resistant bacteria reproduce and share their resistance mechanisms with other bacteria. The resistance can spread, and resistant bacteria can infect other people or animals. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics can speed up the development of resistant bacteria. This puts both people and animals at risk of catching an infection that can’t be treated easily, or in the worst-case scenario could cause the patient to die.
The best way you can help prevent antimicrobial resistance is to take measures to prevent disease. As a pet owner you can take the following actions to reduce the chance of your pet becoming sick, and at the same time reduce the risk of AMR.
Take care with hygiene; always wash your hands after handling your pet, litter tray cleaning or picking up droppings. Ideally don’t let your pet lick your face.
Keep your pet up to date with vaccinations as recommended by your vet. • Feed your pet a premium balanced diet. Take care with raw meat as it can carry bacteria like campylobacter that can cause sickness in people and animals.
Take your pet to your vet if it is sick or has any skin lesions or wounds you are worried about. Antibiotics are only used to treat bacteria, so if your vet suspects a virus or other cause of illness your pet might not need antibiotics. Your vet will advise on the best treatment and will only prescribe antibiotics if they are really needed. If your pet needs to take antibiotics it is important to follow your vet’s advice carefully.
Ask your vet about how best to give the medication. If you are struggling, get in touch with your vet or vet nurse for help.
Make sure your pet completes the whole antibiotic course. If you don’t use all the medication return it to your vet for correct disposal. Don’t flush medicines; they can get into the waterways and effect the bacteria in the environment.
Follow instructions for treatment carefully; don’t share medications with another pet. Always use the full dose as prescribed by your vet.
Take extra care with hygiene; wash hands after handling medications and dosing your pet.
This year’s World Antimicrobial Resistance Awareness Week theme is preventing antimicrobial resistance together. We can all take simple steps to keep antimicrobial medicines working so that we can take the best care of our whānau and our pets.
Learn more at Ministry for Primary Industries.