Antibiotics 101: the good, bad and ugly

Posted at 12:15 AM, May 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-12 00:15:00-04

An antibiotic is a chemical substance produced by one organism that is destructive to another. The word antibiotic came from the word antibiosis a term coined in 1889 by Paul Vuillemin that means a process by which life is used to destroy life.

All ancient cultures used molds and plant substances to treat infections, but they did not understand how the substances caused inhibition of bacterial growth.

Scientific research began in the late 1800s to produce antibiotics which could be readily available to treat patients, as opposed to waiting for mold to grow and then applying to a wound.

It wasn't until 1942 that antibiotics became available in the form of Penicillin G and in 1945 in the form of Streptomycin to treat infections. Suddenly patients with incurable infections were treated successfully. People stopped dying from simple infections and quality of life improved in developed countries.

This also led to an overuse of antibiotics throughout the next several decades. Many people can remember doctors giving a shot of antibiotics "just in case".

Veterinarians could treat food and milk-producing animals easily, but the far-reaching negative effects of antibiotics on the humans eating the food and consuming milk were not recognized until allergies, resistance and severe blood disorders were linked to eating food contaminated with certain antibiotics.

So with all our experience and hindsight, how do we decide when and how to use antibiotics? As a holistic veterinarian, I recognize that germs are everywhere.

Not all bodies get all infections. Diet (sugars, quality of proteins, insecticides), immune status, stress and environment (housing, drafts) are big issues, which can make or break the health of an animal.

When these things can be corrected to help the animal heal, I work with clients to prevent illness. I regularly prescribe antibiotics to treat conditions like pneumonia, wounds, open fractures, kidney, bladder and dental infections.

I also use treatments that improve blood flow to the diseased tissue. Owners can support repair of healthy tissue with specifically chosen foods, nutritional supplements, such as astragalus, and probiotics.

I always recommend replacement bacteria and nutrients healthy bacteria need to thrive in the intestinal tract. These bacteria and their nutrient substrates are found in some probiotic formulations, but not all.

They are not gained by simply eating a cup of yogurt, which has a narrow range of healthy bacteria. Animal species have over 1,000 species of vital microorganisms protecting their immune status. These healthy organisms are maintained in check when we and other species eat diets which include fermentation products, bacteria and protozoa.

Replacement probiotics and digestive enzymes should be used regularly to prevent infections, and given with any drug therapy or antibiotic, whether short or long term. Antibiotic resistance, yeast overgrowth, chronic allergies and super infections as a result of antibiotic use are real.

We can prevent many negative effects by:

•Getting pets early and thorough length of treatment for infections.

•Choosing the best antibiotic, through bacterial culture and sensitivity testing (all repeat infections should be cultured).

•Choosing antibiotics for the specific organisms and area of the body infected. Different tissues in the body will get different amounts of antibiotic activity because of blood flow and pH of the tissue.

•Notifying your veterinarian if your pet won't or can't take the antibiotic

•Notifying your vet of any allergic reaction to an antibiotic.

•Asking your vet how how long it will take to see improvement. If it isn't seen in the expected time, call your vet.

Remember to use all medications as directed, and store appropriately to get the best results. Some require refrigeration.

We are fortunate to have a great number of effective antibiotics, which save lots of pets. Some antibiotics cannot be used for for cats or rabbits, so please be certain not to share between family pets. Be sure to use all the antibiotic as directed. Discard unused antibiotics on their expiration date.

Dr. Cynthia Maro is a veterinarian at the Ellwood Animal Hospital in Ellwood City and the Chippewa Animal Hospital in Chippewa Township. She writes a biweekly column on pet care and health issues. If you have a topic you’d like addressed, please email