“Germs make us sick.” We all know that. But we and out pets are inhabited by trillions of germs – bacteria, fungi and yeasts – so many that the bacterial cells alone outnumber the cells in our body by ten to one. They can’t be all bad and of course they aren’t. Why are they there and what happens when antibiotics are used to kill bad germs?


In a dog the size of a Labrador retriever the total weight of all those germs is about the same as the weight of its brain. It’s the same with us. The germs on and in us weigh about three pounds. Scientists have coined a new word for these germs. Together they are called the ‘microbiome’. Recent research into the microbiome suggests that destruction of certain bacteria within it may contribute to the increase in asthma, irritable bowel disease, even obesity that has occurred in the Western world in the last half century.



The Human Microbiome Project, now under way, is as large as the Human Genome Project was and is already yielding dramatically unexpected results. For example, the bacteria Helicobacter pylori is known to cause gastric ulcers in people. One hundred years ago it occupied the stomach of nearly every person in the world. Only the tiniest fraction of them ever developed stomach ulcers. In most people it was a ‘commensal’ , a bacteria that benefited from living in our stomachs without causing harm. Children who don’t have H. pylori in their stomachs are more likely to suffer from asthma than children who do. Recently, scientists exposed groups of mice to allergens such as dust mites, a common cause of allergy in dogs, cats and children. None of the mice previously ‘infected’ with H. pylori developed asthma but all the mice without the bacterium did. 


Today H. pylori is found in just five percent of children born in the United States and Western Europe. It seems that even a bacteria we consider ‘bad’ might play a beneficial role early in life before it sometimes goes bad.



Antibiotics save lives, more lives than any other group of medicines. At the London Vet Clinic we try to use them judiciously when there is a need to get rid of bad bacteria. That’s why we don’t dispense antibiotics as a ‘cover’ during routine surgery but do so when infection is present or anticipated. It might sound like a strange analogy but we think of your pet as a vegetable garden. Just as a herbicide kills weeds, used incorrectly it kills your vegetables too. Antibiotics are like herbicides for pets (and us). Medical care would be medieval without them but they also alter a pet’s internal ecosystem.


All of us are conditioned to think that germs are bad. That’s why there’s such an enormous demand for anti-bacterial sanitisers, hand gels even cutting boards. You’ll see anti-bacterial hand gel dispensers on the walls at the clinic. They are there to prevent germs such as MRSA inhabiting the clinic. However, we feel that ‘germophobia’ at home is excessive and that these products are usually not needed.



You may have read about the startling success doctors recently had with ‘faecal transplants’, taking faecal bacteria from healthy family members and transplanting the faeces (via colonoscopy) into the family member who had been treated with life-saving antibiotics for Clostridium difficile infection but now suffered from chronic, painful diarrhea.  Good bacteria can do wonders but what about all those products labeled ‘probiotic’?



Surprisingly, not a single probiotic product, either in the United States or Europe, has a medical product licence, the gold standard that confirms the product does what it says on the label. We feel that even without the results of controlled clinical trials, that certain probiotics, especially those that survive the acid environment of the stomach to reach the intestines, will do no harm and may be beneficial. Published research suggests that dogs may recover faster from diarrhea when their food is supplemented with products such as Canikur or Protexin Pro-Kolin (bacteria, kaolin and pectin). We often dispense these products. They are available from the online shop without prescription.


At the London Vet Clinic we try wherever possible to minimise the use of antibiotics. We use topical antimicrobial cleansers and shampoos to treat superficial skin infections. We use the same 'antiseptics' to treat deep infections but deep, severe or generalised infections demand the use of antibiotics.

Skin infections usually have a hidden underlying cause. These include, hypersensitivity, parasites, hormonal (endocrine) disorders, keratinisation defects and other factors. We always use "first line" antibiotics, those that are least associated with antibiotic resistance concerns. If "first line" antibiotics are not effective, after carrying out bacterial sensitivity testing we use "second line" antibiotics licensed for veterinary use.

When antibiotics are needed to treat bacterial skin disease it is vital to never underdose and to treat for a minimum of two weeks for generalised superficial infections and for four to six weeks for deep infections. We use palatable antibiotics whenever possible and want to see you and your pet every one to two weeks until the infection is overcome. Antibiotics sometimes cause short term bowel upsets and we will help you and your pet through this stage if it occurs. Completing an antibiotic course is vital to successfully eliminate an infection.

When an underlying cause of skin infection has not yet been discovered we will give you a topical antimicrobial shampoo to use routinely until the root cause of the infection is discovered. 


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