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Dogs and Cats Are the Superbug Threat We're Overlooking, Researchers Say

You have probably heard of superbugs, and how they are resistant to antibiotics. Some ways that we have learned to ward off these dangerous microbes include not taking antibiotics unnecessarily or otherwise overusing them, finishing a prescribed course of antibiotics, and steering clear of antibacterial hand soaps. But these small measures might not be enough to keep superbugs away. We may need to look no further than our furry family members.

According to The Conversation, our very own pets could be threatening us by transferring resistant bacteria to us. When Fido or Fifi sleep in our beds, lick food from our hands, or give us those wet kisses that we all love, they are potentially covering us in antibiotic-resistant germs.

In a study about antimicrobial (AMR) resistance researchers discovered:

Interactions between vets and pet owners were characterised by misunderstandings and misconceptions around antibiotics by pet owners, and a lack of clarity about the positions and intentions of the other party. Vets and pet owners had differing perceptions of where pressure to prescribe antibiotics inappropriately originated. Vets perceived it was mostly pet owners who pushed for inappropriate antibiotics, whereas pet owners reported they felt it was vets that overprescribed. Low levels of understanding of AMR in general were apparent amongst pet owners and understandings with regard to AMR in pets specifically were almost non-existent in the sample.

We were already aware of the dangers of giving farm animals antibiotics for this very reason. "Many of the antibiotics we give them are also used in humans, so superbugs on farms threaten us all. There are also problems with antibiotics getting into the water table because of farm run-off." But when we give our pets antibiotics without giving their bodies a chance to ward off the infection on their own, we're increasing the risk that they're developing immunity to the drugs. And that inadvertently puts us at risk as well.

The study concluded:

Improved use of antibiotics could be assisted by educating the pet owning public and by guideline development for companion animal vets, concurrent development of mandatory legislation, increased consultation time to facilitate better communication, development of vet training on antimicrobial therapy and stewardship led interactions with pet owners, and increased levels of knowledge of pet-related AMR amongst pet owners.

According to the research, people "were happy to hold off on antibiotics for themselves to see if their infection sorted itself out. But when it came to their pets, much like children, people wanted antibiotics straight away." Of course no one wants his or her pet to suffer unnecessarily. But not all ailments require antibiotics, and immune systems can often work wonders.

No one is suggesting that we stop treating our pets when they're ill, but this new information highlights the importance of being aware in all aspects of our lives when it comes to how superbugs can develop — even in the comfort of our own homes.