Every 18th November marks European Antibiotics Awareness Day (EAAD). The day is an opportunity to raise awareness around the importance of antibiotics and the issue of resistance. The Antibiotic Guardian campaign is an easy way for you to play a part in keeping antibiotics working.
To become an antibiotic guardian and support the cause you can make a pledge at: www.antibioticguardian.com
Has your horse ever been prescribed antibiotics? If so, you may have seen how, in a few days, she went from feeling very poorly back to her usual self. However, have you ever wondered what actually happened inside your horse to cause this transformation?
If your horse has been prescribed antibiotics by your vet it will be to treat an infection suspected to be caused by ‘bad’ bacteria (most bacteria are ‘good’ and are needed for good health). Inside your horse, these ‘bad’ bacteria have multiplied enough to cause unpleasant symptoms which, if left alone, could cause her condition to worsen or even die.
Because the structure of the bacteria and how they multiply varies, the way they need to be attacked also varies. This is why there are different classes of antibiotics, each designed to attack specific types of bacteria in the most effective way. Some will break apart the cell walls of the bacteria, killing them. Others stop the bacteria from reproducing, leaving your horse’s natural defences to fight off the ones that remain.
To help your horse get better your vet will decide which bacteria are likely to be causing the illness and prescribe an appropriate antibiotic. Because not all antibiotics are the same, it is important you only ever use them as prescribed – for your horse and for that illness. Don’t be tempted to keep them for another time, or pass them to a friend for their pet, as giving an inappropriate antibiotic could make your horse more unwell.
On occasions the antibiotics prescribed may not make your horse better. This could be for a number of reasons: for example, it may be that a different antibiotic is needed, or that the illness is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus (against which antibiotics don’t work). To help find out what is causing your horse to be ill, your vet may want to take a sample to send off for testing. Although not seeing your horse get better quickly can be distressing, please don’t expect that antibiotics will always be appropriate, and do allow your vet time to correctly identify what is causing the problem.
Antibiotics are very important and necessary in treating animals and people. You may also be aware that antibiotics are losing their ability to treat infections. Bacteria have many tactics to naturally evolve and find new ways to become resistant to attacks from antibiotics that would normally stop them. Using antibiotics encourages this; every time your horse takes an antibiotic there is a chance the bacteria inside her will develop resistance to it. The more we use antibiotics, the higher the risk that bacteria will develop resistance to them.
One way you can help reduce the spread of resistance is to make sure you give your horse the correct dose and full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your vet. When your horse starts the antibiotics they will set about doing their job, attacking the bacteria. The more bacteria that are destroyed or stopped, the better your horse will feel and symptoms will start to disappear. However, if your horse seems much better before you have finished the course, it does not mean all the bacteria have been destroyed. If you stop the antibiotics too soon, you risk leaving the bacteria which haven’t yet been destroyed to grow again and cause the infection to come back. If some of these bacteria have become resistant, it may be harder to treat the infection the second time round.
The Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) authorises all veterinary antibiotics available in the UK and as part of that process evaluates scientific data to determine the correct quantity and duration of antibiotic needed to be effective against the intended bacteria.
You can also help reduce resistance by keeping your horse as healthy as possible. Providing good nutrition, appropriate vaccination, suitable accommodation and regular veterinary health checks will help maintain good health, which will make your horse less susceptible to infection and less likely to need antibiotics.
Policy Advisor on antibiotic resistance
Veterinary Medicines Directorate