Antibiotic-Resistant Bacterial Infections in Cats

By Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Rania Gollakner, BS DVM

What are antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections?

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections are bacterial infections that are minimally or no longer responsive to commonly used antibiotics. In other words, these bacteria are resistant to antibiotics; they cannot be killed, and their growth cannot be stopped. These types of infections are difficult and costly to treat and sometimes require the use of toxic and dangerous alternatives. These infections may also be passed to other pets or to humans. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections most commonly affect the skin, gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, or respiratory tract.

What causes antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections?

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections occur naturally but the frequent and/or inappropriate use of antibiotics accelerates the process. As a survival mechanism, bacterial organisms can develop ways to resist antibiotics that they are frequently exposed to over time. Those organisms that develop resistance can survive and pass their resistant genes to their offspring.

Cats that have certain medical conditions and are prescribed antibiotics frequently are at a higher risk for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Some conditions that predispose a patient to bacterial infections include atopic dermatitis (skin allergies), diabetes mellitus, chronic upper respiratory infections, idiopathic cystitis, and Cushing’s disease.

What are the clinical signs of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections?

An infection that does not respond appropriately to an antibiotic is suggestive of an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. A fever of unknown origin may also be present.

How are antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections diagnosed?

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections are diagnosed with a culture and sensitivity test of the affected area (i.e., urine, skin, wound). This is the gold standard and the only definitive test to diagnose a resistant infection.

How are antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections treated?

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections are treated based on the culture and sensitivity results as well as the location and severity of infection. If the infection is life-threatening, alternative and potentially risky antibiotic treatments may be considered. In some cases, supportive care and treating the underlying condition that triggered the infection will resolve the infection without the use of riskier antibiotics. When antibiotics are prescribed, they must be taken on time and to completion exactly as prescribed.

"When antibiotics are prescribed, they must be taken on time and to completion exactly as prescribed."

Probiotics (beneficial or “helpful” bacteria) are a supplement that may be recommended. Although some studies have shown promising results regarding the use of probiotics in treating and preventing antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, there is no conclusive evidence. However, because using probiotics poses no risk, they may be added to the treatment plan.

What care will my cat require after treatment?

Cats that have had a resistant bacterial infection may be more susceptible to infection again in the future if they have a predisposing condition. In these cases, taking precautions to prevent general infections is recommended. Infection prevention means preventing another course of antibiotics that could potentially create a resistant infection.

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