People are justifiably concerned about overuse of antibiotics, in both veterinary and human medicine. There’s ample talk about restrictions on use of antibiotics in animals (especially livestock), which is an area that needs good, objective research and discussion. Some politicians have made grand statements about restricting antibiotic use and have proposed strict legislation. (In North America, there’s a lot more talk than action). However, I continue to be amazed that amongst all the hand-wringing about antibiotic use in animals, governments haven’t taken the very simple initial step of making all antibiotics only available by a veterinarian’s prescription. This seems to be a very logical first step, but it’s one that almost never gets discussed.

A good example of why this type of regulation is needed comes from a website about Terriers, which says:

"Almost all human antibiotics can be used on dogs and almost everyone either has old antibiotics in their medicine cabinet or knows people that do. Look around, and you will probably find what you need."

  • What??!! Just what we need… recommendations that people sift through old drug supplies for a dose or two of who-knows-what, which may or may not be expired and may or may not be potentially useful for whatever problem is present, and may even be harmful. Determining whether or not an antibiotic should be used, and determining the drug and dose is not something that should be up to a pet owner. It should be up to a veterinarian.

"Drugs past the expiration date are going to be fine as long as they are no older than a year or so past the expiration date (even then they may be fine)."

  • Dumb. Drugs don’t instantly go bad at their expiration date, but you don’t know what you have left at that point. If you actually need an antibiotic, you need one that works like it’s supposed to.

"If you prefer to order your medications outright, you can order cephelaxin (Fish-Flex) from most dog catalogues and it will cure 99% of your flesh wounds as well as most urinary tract and ear infections. Cephalexin or cefalexin is sold as a fish antibiotic in dog catalogues with full-knowledge it is being used for off-label treatment in dogs. It should cost about $30 for 100 250 mg. capsules, which is a perfect dose for a terrier."

  • Ugh!!  A good example of why loopholes like easy access to antibiotics for fish use need to be closed. Many dog internet sites sell fish drugs. I wonder what percentage of "fish" drugs actually make it into fish?

"You probably have some old amoxicillin around the house from the last time you got sick. This is fine to use even if "expired" more than a year ago. Expiration dates on non-liquid antibiotics are a marketing tool (i.e. they encourage people to throw good drugs down the drain) and have no scientific basis — a fact demonstrated by the U.S. military."

  • Can’t say I’ve seen that study. Expiry dates aren’t a marketing ploy. You should use all the antibiotics prescribed, and if for some reason you have any left, you should throw the rest out. It has to do with health and proper use of antibiotics, not marketing.

Take home messages:

  • It’s time for politicians to actually do something about antibiotic use and ban all over-the-counter access.
  • Beware of internet advice. Scrutinize sources of information carefully.