Canine well-being: antibiotics – just in case

Canine well-being is a series of articles sharing the experience I have gathered while living with and caring for dogs. They will address common canine health concerns. I am not a veterinarian. The contents of these articles are intended to inspire looking beyond conventional ideas and practices. Be responsible and do your own research and seek appropriate veterinarian advice (from a holistic vet such as Dr Pearson from Paws to Heal).

In February 2020 the Journal of the American Medical Association published research results of Emory University that found that as much as 50% of antibiotic use in human healthcare is unnecessary or inappropriate. Is this any different in veterinary medicine?

What I have noticed is that vets frequently dispense antibiotics with a “just in case” attitude, as if there were no risks. And, the prescription does usually not come with the recommendation to also give your dog a round of probiotics to help restore the gut flora as antibiotics kill off both the harmful and the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.

Photo by Joshua Coleman on

But even if you do give your dog probiotics, recent research (Martin Blaser of New York University’s Langone Medical Center) indicates that there are cases where the good gut bacteria is impacted by antibiotics long-term and does not recover even with the use of probiotics.

“Those beneficial bacteria are a crucial part of the immune system, protecting our pets against viruses, bacterial and fungal infections, as well as parasites. Intestinal bacteria also manufacture essential vitamins (including vitamin K as well as several B vitamins) and a great many other compounds scientists are only just beginning to recognize.” *

Antibiotics mess with, interrupt or destroy these important health functions of your dog’s immune system.

One of the dogs that comes to my daycare had an eye infection last year. The vet prescribed an antibiotic eye cream as well as a course of oral antibiotics – “just in case”. Personally, I treat eye infections with colloidal silver, simply wiping the affected eye with a cotton ball doused in it. Initially, I will do this 4-5 times a day. When it starts improving, I just do it mornings and evenings. Often the eye looks worse on the second or third day but usually is back to normal on day five.

Another one of my daycare dogs had a mild ear infection and her vet not only gave a medicated ear solution but also, yes, oral antibiotics – “just in case”. The pet parent wondered if the suggested treatment wasn’t overkill. She said nothing to the vet, paid for both drugs but decided not to give her dog the oral antibiotics.

I’ve been there too. As loving pet parents we care deeply and can be afraid of being judged negligent when we question conventional veterinary treatments. We feel vulnerable when it comes to the well-being of our fur children. The phrase “just in case” connects with our fear. Fear inhibits clear thinking and we can find ourselves agreeing against our better judgement or further necessary research and discussion. We assume the paid professional we are seeing knows best and would know about and mention important associated risks.

In the face of sickness or injury, our dogs’ well-being is a very emotional topic. Being overly emotional can distort perception of what is really going on, we easily fear the worst – especially when diagnosis is unclear – and our actions can turn into overreactions. Being overly emotional also disconnects us from our intuition and from our dog.
Vet clinics are businesses. Selling drugs for “just in case” generates income.

When my dog Louie had his stroke and we took him to the local after-hours vet at 9 pm, an unclear diagnosis was formed insofar that he presented with a combination of symptoms that could mean all kinds of things. The vet wanted to give an anti-nausea injection which I agreed to, it was very obvious that he experienced extreme dizziness. She also recommended a steroid injection. When I asked about the reason for it she said that he could have a tumor and swelling in the brain. That sounded very serious and potentially life-threatening so I agreed. Next she wanted to inject Louie with an antibiotic. When I asked for the reason she said, “He could have an infection.” In the past, Louie had an allergic reaction to an antibiotic that I couldn’t remember the name of and I said I’d rather not. “He probably doesn’t have an infection anyway because his temperature is normal,” the vet replied.

Let’s just pause here and maybe reread the last four sentences and let them sink in fully.

Lastly, the vet recommended Louie stay at the clinic overnight for a hydration drip. Moments before she had mentioned that we’d have to be careful as long as he continued to vomit so he wouldn’t get aspiration pneumonia. Leaving my severely distressed dog in the unheated room (it was winter) with no staff attending overnight just didn’t make any sense at all! His state of dehydration was very mild and he certainly wouldn’t die of it until the morning when I could contact my holistic vet for further treatment.

I am proud of myself for discussing the vet’s recommendations with her instead of just agreeing to everything. Despite of feeling very alarmed by Louie’s condition I could somewhat keep a clear head and remember that the conventional veterinarian duty of care protocols are not always helpful and sometimes detrimental from a holistic point of view.

The Rod of Asclepius is an ancient Greek symbol of healing and medicinal arts.

Primum non nocere. First, do no harm. The ancient doctors’ oath. Does it still apply today? There are some interesting thoughts on the topic in this Harvard Medical School Health Blog article.

Most drugs have serious side effects. If pharmaceuticals is all you’ve got in your toolbox for “healing” then their collateral damage becomes an acceptable trade-off. And there is a different pill for “helping with” the side effects caused by the first one anyways.

With all the above in mind, it might be best to save antibiotics as a last resort, rather than a first response. And, perhaps, it might also be time to consider holistic veterinary care for your dog and other pets.

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* From Read This Before Giving Your Dog Antibiotics

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