by Martin T. Coffman, DVM
The use of antibiotics in a Beagle kennel is very common. Often, the local veterinarian dispenses these drugs, but there are times when Beagles get access to antibiotics from other sources. It is important to have a basic understanding of what antibiotics are and how they work. The overuse of antibiotics in a kennel is wasteful and can be dangerous. Here are some common questions about infections and antibiotics.
What is a viral infection?
A virus is one of the two major germs that dogs get. There are other minor players in the infection game, but viruses (and bacteria) are the most common. Viruses cannot be controlled with antibiotics. If the hound’s natural body defenses are weakened by stress, lack of rest, or poor nutrition, their body may not be able to resist infection by viruses. The signs of a viral infection are variable and it is difficult to diagnose a viral infection without laboratory tests. Viral infections do not improve as a result of treatment with antibiotics. In fact, there is no commonly used drug in all of medicine that will treat a virus in our body or that of your hound. We depend on a healthy immune system to control viral infections. Now, we can disinfect an area and kill viruses, but within a living mammal, it is not so easy.
What is a bacterial infection?
The other major class of infection comes from a germ called bacteria. While the dog’s immune system often controls bacterial infections, more serious situations require the use of antibiotics. Generally speaking, bacterial infections do respond to antibiotics, but their use should be reserved for the more serious situations.
How do antibiotics work in the dog’s body?
These drugs are strong medicines that are used to treat bacterial infections by either killing bacteria or limiting their growth. There are many, many different types of antibiotics and each has its own useful situation. The veterinarian is trained to select the appropriate antibiotic either through a lab test called a “culture and sensitivity” or through experience.
How should I administer the antibiotic to my hound?
The medicine prescribed by your veterinarian is good just for the condition for which it was prescribed. Owners using antibiotics prescribed for a previous condition mistreat many dogs each year because the drugs are totally inappropriate for the current one. Always follow the instructions on the medicine’s label closely. Antibiotics vary tremendously in the blood levels they provide over a period of time. To alter the schedule of administration can insure failure of the treatment.
If the hounds get better in a few days, can I stop giving the antibiotic to him?
To completely cure the condition, it is important to complete the treatment series regardless of the improvement of the dog. This is especially important in “strept” cases since these bacteria can cause serious problems later if the infection is not completely cured.
How can the vet tell the difference between a viral infection and a bacterial infection?
The veterinarian may ask several questions about the dog’s medical history and symptoms to help confirm the diagnosis. Also, special blood tests can help differentiate between the two infections. In the end, the doctor’s professional training and continuing education come into play to make the final diagnosis.
What should I do if my hound gets diarrhea or vomiting from the antibiotic?
Call the veterinarian as soon as possible if this happens. The doctor may prescribe a different drug or may alter the dosage schedule to help avoid these side effects.
Can I use some antibiotics the physician prescribed for me or maybe some my neighbor has that they are not going to use on my hound?
You should never begin antibiotic treatment on your dog until you are sure of the diagnosis. Plus, taking an old or human prescription can complicate the eventual lab tests that might be needed to make an accurate diagnosis. In addition, some drugs are toxic to dogs whereas they are totally safe in people.
Can I hunt or train my dog while it is taking the antibiotic?
While antibiotics are among our safest drugs, it is probably best to avoid exercise while undergoing antibiotic treatment. It just complicates the situation if you take a dog hunting or to a trial while it is recovering from an infection.
Antibiotics can be “wonder-drugs” when used correctly, but their overuse makes the germ population more difficult to treat and drives the demand for newer, more expensive antibiotics. In the early 1940’s, the dose of penicillin in the average cow was 2cc’s. Now, we give more than that to a Beagle. The reason can be traced back to overuse, and often inappropriate use by the agricultural community, veterinarians, and dog owners. Keep antibiotic use to a minimum in your kennel. Then, when the time comes and you really need these drugs, they are more likely to work effectively.
Antibiotics image provided by BeauGiles under a creative commons licence