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Now Your Pets Might Infect You With Superbugs! Here's What A Researcher Has To Say

By Devika Bandyopadhya

Of late the threat of superbugs are on the rise. The growing number of incidences of superbugs has only increased our determination to be cautious from here on. The warnings throw light on how what we do encourage these superbugs or antibiotic resistant bacteria. Overusing antibiotics or not finishing a prescribed course of treatment could be the potential causes of encouraging these superbugs. People these days are more cautious about not misusing drugs. However, the question that has been doing the rounds are about superbugs and the pets that many of us love to have at home.

Pets And Superbugs

It is a well-known fact that plenty of antibiotics that are given to farm animals are also given to humans. So, superbugs on farms do threaten us. But, the fact that has been overlooked by several scientists is that the same could hold true for pets as well. Pets, being very close to humans in proximity, are prime sources of transferring resistant bacteria, primarily through skin contact or saliva.

pets and superbugs

What The Research Team Found?

As per a Daily Mail report, a public health researcher named Dr Matt Smith at Glasgow Caledonian University, who is part of a team that has conducted a research on the pet and superbugs issue in Scotland, says that his team has had interviews with pet owners and vets. It was found that almost all pet owners had good knowledge about superbugs. However, what their understanding lacked was that of antimicrobial resistance. It was found that when talking of antibiotics, the owners always chose to do what would help their animal in the short term. Owners always treat their pets as their children and much like how a person would treat his or her child and be extra sensitive about their illness, the same happened with the pet owners as well. When it came to the pets, they wanted them to be given antibiotics straight away, hence overruling any concerns about antimicrobial resistance.

Increasing Awareness

The research team was of the opinion that any form of large-scale awareness campaign held for pet owners had to be directed to fit into their relevant present situations. One of the best ways identified was to let the pet owners understand that not using antibiotics responsibly now would actually lead to no working treatment for pets in the future. Although it is understood that making people change their preventive behaviours is in fact a tough task and quite challenging, especially in terms of public health.

One of the major issues that need addressing is the contact between the pet and the owner. We often see owners allowing their pets to lick their faces, sleep in common beds or even eat food from their plates or hands. On the emotional ground, considering pets as a family member works very well, however these affectionate moments could take a hazardous turn in future if overlooked.

Getting To Know The Facts

The research found that most of the owners were actually not even aware about resistance bacteria being able to spread between owners and pets and vice versa. It is important to know that there are no risks as long as the owner or the pet has been colonized by resistant bacteria. However, knowing if one is safe is unpredictable as there are no such defined tests at the moment.

The research team had asked pet owners if they would change their behaviours as antimicrobial resistance became more critical, and most of them answered "no". Hence, it is understood that convincing such pet owners would be quite a task.

What The Vets And Owners Have To Say About Antibiotics Being Prescribed?

When the research team got in touch with vets and their views on why antibiotics were overused in pets, it was found that owners actually look for something tangible in exchange for the fees that they pay, and this is where antibiotics served to do the job. Vets said that the market pressure was huge and when owners of pets are dissatisfied they do tend to go elsewhere to get the antibiotics prescribed. On the other hand, pet owners said that it were the vets who pressurized them to use antibiotics. Owners said that considering vets were the experts, they always felt compelled to go with the antibiotics when prescribed.

It is well understood that antimicrobial resistance has already had ample impact on our daily lives and continues to do so. It is therefore essential that healthcare, pets, agriculture and other issues contribute to this crisis. A common policy package needs to be created to tackle this situation. Although it appears complex when seen on the global front, small steps should be attempted to at least address this issue on a large scale, beginning with the increase in awareness.

Small changes can be done on a personal level, where pet owners can begin to act more responsibly. A good and informative communication between the vet and the pet owner is essential at this stage to understand how necessary it is to prescribe an antibiotic. It is important that both the parties are sensitive to the cause and consequences of taking immature decisions.

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    Story first published: Wednesday, July 25, 2018, 14:15 [IST]
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