Why won’t my vet give me antibiotics?

You may have found it very frustrating when you have rung up your vets to find that we cannot give you medication over the phone, even if your pet has previously received them. Under UK law we are only allowed to prescribe prescription only medication (POM-V) to animals that we have examined within a reasonable time period.

Historically antibiotics have been overused and abused in both human and animal medicine. Considering that antibiotics have been commercially available for less than a century, the level of antibiotic resistance is staggering and there is a very real threat from infections that do not respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics are often our last line of defence against serious infections or when a pet’s immune system is too weak to fight it itself.

Antibiotics in particular need to be prescribed very carefully, as we should all be worried about the potential for antibiotic resistance; when bacteria become immune to certain antibiotics. There are many drug resistant infections in humans such as MRSA, and we are seeing a number of drug resistant infections appearing in animals too.  By being careful about our antibiotic use we are trying to protect you, your pet and the long-term health of the global ecosystem. 

To help us prescribe antibiotics responsibly we often take a small sample from the infection to look at under our microscope and get an idea of what bacteria, or yeast may be causing the problem. Ideally, we take a sample of the infection site and send it to the laboratory where they grow the bacteria to find out exactly what kind of infection your pet has, and which antibiotics could help, or whether we need to consider other treatments. By knowing exactly what kind of infection we are treating, we can save time and money in the long run; as your pet will recover faster if appropriate drugs are prescribed.

Only bacterial infections will respond to antibiotics, they have no effect on viruses or fungi. Just like a doctor will not give you antibiotics if you have the flu, some diseases seen in pets do not require antibiotics. In certain cases, antibiotics could make the problem worse by disrupting the biome of bacteria, yeast, fungi and protozoa that live in a fine balance all over the body; on the skin and in the gut. In healthy animals antibiotics are often not needed as their immune systems will do what it’s meant to do and fight the infection. Whilst we provide some much-needed TLC and supportive treatment.

Trust me, when we insist on examining your pet before prescribing we are not trying to make things difficult. It is essential that we only use antibiotics when necessary, use an appropriate antibiotic and at the correct dose and duration. We also need to examine your animal at the end of an antibiotic course to check that the infection has cleared; if it has not then we may need to extend the course or change tactic so that the infection does return, potentially even worse than it was.

Antibiotics are often our last line of defence against serious infections

Ten top tips for safe antibiotic use in your pet

  1. Trust your vet if they don’t think antibiotics are needed for your pet’s condition or if they advise further testing to find out more about an infection. If you are not sure about something then always ask your vet their reasoning and they’ll happily explain the treatment rational.
  2. Always follow medication instructions closely.
  3. Never stop a course of antibiotics early without advice from your vet. Although your pet may be feeling much better, stopping antibiotics too soon may mean that an infection returns. 
  4. Always give the medication at the recommended interval. Many antibiotics have a time dependent action and therefore need to be given multiple times a day so that the levels of antibiotic in your pet’s body stay within the correct range.
  5. Check with your vet before breaking or crushing tablets or capsules. 
  6. Never save unfinished antibiotics to use at a later date. Incorrect use of antibiotics, such as incorrect doses or the wrong dosing interval, is dangerous for your pet and is very likely to generate a resistant infection that is harder to treat. 
  7. Wear gloves when handling antibiotics, especially if you have medication allergies yourself.
  8. If you are concerned that your pet is experiencing unwanted side effects from any medication then please report this to your vet who can advise appropriately. All vets are obliged to report drug reactions to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, who regulate animal medications in the UK and ensure that they are safe for use. 
  9. Return any leftover medications to your veterinary practice for correct disposal. Antibiotics should not just be put in the bin as they will contaminate the environment and this leads to antibiotic resistance. It is illegal to use antibiotics prescribed for one animal on another animal or to sell POM-V medication on to other people.
  10. Remember to attend the recheck appointment so that antibiotic response can be assessed. Treatment may need to be altered or extended to prevent reoccurrence of the infection.
Veterinary poster about antibiotic usage
BVA poster about antibiotic usage


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Deal and Sandwich vet Claire


Hi, I’m Claire and I am a veterinary surgeon working in East Kent. Having grown up locally I was delighted to be able to move home and settle near Sandwich. I love all animals but I mainly treat dogs, cat and rabbits. My lifelong passion for animal healthcare has led me to start this blog in the hope that I can interest your inner animal lover and share some fascinating stories along the way. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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