Antibiotics: Too Much of a Good Thing?

I recently read a number of different articles that all came to the same conclusion: Antibiotics can be lifesaving but their overuse can have deleterious consequences.

We’re hearing some good stories in the media recently about the role that bacteria play in our bodies. A recent New York Times article by Michael Pollan entitled, “Some of My Best Friends are Germs” highlighted the fact that we are only 10% human- the other 90% of us are bacteria. And the most important bacteria are those that live in our guts.

This means that every time we swallow an antibiotic, we are killing some of the good bacteria that are living within us and performing important functions like helping us utilize food that we eat, making important vitamins like the B’s and fighting off bad-guy bacteria. And this antibiotic ingestion is not always intentional. Think of all the antibiotics used in the meats we eat!

Mitochondria are little mini-organs, or organelles, that exist within our cells. They have many important responsibilities to keep us alive and healthy. Among their many roles are the production of energy for cells and their antioxidant action. The intriguing thing about mitochondria is that it is believed that they are descended from bacteria that somehow found their way into cells and decided to remain there.

What does this mean? Well, it turns out that the mitochondria share a lot in common structurally with bacteria, and every time we take an antibiotic we are actually damaging our mitochondria! This effect is seen with many other types of drugs as well, and is likely one of the reasons we see so many pets with liver problems. We are still uncovering the vast array of diseases that result from mitochondrial damage.

In 2008, the International Journal of Cancer published a paper showing an increased risk of cancer proportional to antibiotic use in people. They found that in people who have taken 2-5 prescriptions of antibiotics, their risk of cancer was increased by 27%, and greater than 6 prescriptions led to an increased risk of 37%.

An earlier study (2004) showed that antibiotic use was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. For those taking antibiotics for more than 500 cumulative days, the risk of breast cancer doubled. The antibiotics included the fluoroquinolones (known to be carcinogenic) as well as tetracycline, erythromycin, penicillin VK and cephalexin. We use all of these in veterinary medicine.

How can we avoid these problems with antibiotics?

First of all, keep your gut as happy as possible. A happy gut leads to a healthy immune system which leads to less need for fighting infections. For pets, feeding as close to an archetypal diet as possible (raw is the closest way) should help to grow the healthiest colonies of bacteria. Consider giving your dogs raw green tripe 2-3 times a week to help achieve this goal.

Feed organic or at least antibiotic-free meats. This is a challenge, but I’m throwing this in here so that maybe you will at least consider eating this way for yourselves. For people, diets high in fruits and vegetables also help. Organic, of course.

Recognize that your health is intertwined with your pet’s health. Research shows that people who own pets have different bacteria in their systems than non-pet-owning people. Likewise,  if you ask for antibiotics every time you visit the doctor for a head cold or sore throat, problems that are likely viral anyway, you are exposing your pet to potentially resistant bacteria.

Correct imbalances in your pet’s body that may have occurred as a result of prior antibiotic therapy. Your pet may need probiotics to restore the good bacteria, or prebiotics that provide the food for good bacteria to grow. Your pet may need antioxidants or CoEnzyme Q10 to repair mitochondrial damage and resultant organ damage.

Look for alternatives to antibiotic therapy. Is the bacteria really the problem or is something not right in your pet that is allowing the bacteria to infect your pet? You may achieve longer-lasting results by addressing the underlying problems and strengthening your pet’s immune system.

At WAH, we offer many alternatives to antibiotics, including homeopathy, acupuncture, ozone therapy and a wide array of supplements to boost the immune system. You can read more at:

Letter Home (to WAH): The First Update

Catherine is an employee at WAH and a third year veterinary student. We love her emails to us and wanted to share one with you.

Hello WAH Family!
While my parents text me with updates about how unseasonably warm it is back in Delaware, I donned a wool coat in the first week of September. Though Sebastian is rejoicing in the crispness of this autumn weather, I am refusing to accept autumn weather before it is actually autumn on the calendar.

Speaking of the animals, the new little kitten, Jalapeno, is settling in very well. He and Dory would play all day long if they didn’t have to eat or sleep. Essie tolerates him enough to let him sleep next to her. Jalapeno is infatuated with Sebastian. He splits his time at night between our bed and Sebastian’s (which Sebby is only okay with because he sleeps so soundly that he doesn’t notice the kitten trying to be his little spoon).

And now for classes this year. The only way you can fully appreciate this is if I list them: Cardiorespiratory Diseases of Small Animals, Musculoskeletal Diseases of Small Animals, Neurology & Ophthalmology for Small Animals, Small Animal Medical Exercises, Large Animal Clinical Techniques, Food Animal Medicine, Equine Medicine, Exotic Pet Medicine, Principles of Integrative Medicine, and Small Animal Radiology I. For those of you that went to the trouble to count the total was TEN. I am taking TEN classes. Because I didn’t think a full vet school curriculum was enough, I am voluntarily taking an online course through the University of Florida on Shelter Animal Disease.

Occasionally I sleep and eat, but mostly I just sit in class and listen to lectures about eye balls and dairy cow mastitis. In fact, tomorrow I have a lecture in Food Animal Medicine entitled, “The Teat.” That’s right, all this money I am spending on vet school tuition and tomorrow afternoon I will be sitting through a 50 minute lecture on a cow’s nipple. Mentally invigorating. On the bright side, last week I got to draw blood from a dog! It was sooooooo cool. I wish I had a job where I could do stuff like blood draws all day long! 🙂  [Note: Catherine DID have a job in which she drew blood all day long- at WAH!]

Hope all is well! Another update to come again soon!


When Your Pet is Diagnosed with Cancer

Cancer is one of our most common diagnoses. It occurs in dogs and cats of all ages and comes in many guises. But in every case, it evokes a predictable series of emotions and responses.

The word “cancer” implies the inevitability of death. And when it comes to our beloved pets, this implies a heart-wrenching impending separation that always comes too soon. We respond by wanting to know what we can do to prolong our time with our dear companions. We start thinking about how our companion might feel about the potential treatment plan we may select for him. And we need to know the costs and feasibility of all of our treatment options.

Our immediate fact-finding task is impeded by our emotional turmoil. And not being experienced in this area, we find ourselves lacking in the knowledge of what questions to ask to find the most appropriate treatment for our pets. Here are some guidelines to help in those decisions:

  1. Recognize your treatment preferences. Do you have a strong preference for natural treatments or conventional ones?  Are you willing to consider all options?
  2. If you are willing to consider conventional therapies, you will need to know what questions to ask the oncologist (or your veterinarian who may be able to administer those treatments). Here are some questions to consider:
    1. What does this treatment entail as far as number of visits to the vet? In other words, will it work for you or your cat to travel to the vet weekly or more frequently?
    2. How is the treatment administered? With chemotherapy, for example, some treatments are done at home, some as a quick outpatient visit, and some require IV infusions given over a few hours. With radiation therapy, general anesthesia or heavy sedation is required. And of course, surgery is often the treatment of choice, so you would need to know how long your pet is likely to spend in the hospital and what the recovery will entail.
    3. What is the cost of this treatment?
    4. What is the survival time? Are we talking months or years?
    5. What percent of patients actually live that long?
    6. What are the side-effects and what percent of patients experience those?
    7. What is the survival time without treatment?
    8. What can I expect to see happen in my pet if I opt to not treat?
    9. How many patients with my pet’s type of cancer have you treated and how did they do (as far as survival and side-effects)?

Some cancers have excellent responses to conventional therapies. Conversely, just because a treatment exists, it doesn’t mean that it is a desirable one. You will need to weigh the potential for side-effects/complications with cost and with the chances for a good quality of life and satisfactory survival time.

  1. If you are inclined towards more natural therapies, you can likely expect that there are no great studies out there to give you all the information that might be available as in #2 above. With this treatment option, you are relying on the expertise and experience of the veterinarian administering these therapies. Here are some questions to consider:
    1. How does this therapy work? Many natural therapies are based on stimulating the animal’s innate immune system and cancer-fighting responses. Others are non-chemical ways of killing cancer cells.
    2. How is this therapy administered? Some treatments are pills or liquids given orally, others are topical, others are intravenous, and yet others are given rectally.
    3. Will this entail visits to the vet, and if yes, how frequently? You may just need to come in for periodic monitoring, or you may visit two to three times a week for a therapy such as rectal ozone treatments.
    4. What does this cost?
    5. Do you carry the supplements or do I order them myself?
    6. What is your experience with these therapies? Have you treated this type of cancer before? Note that in holistic treatments, unlike conventional therapies, we treat the patient with cancer, not necessarily the type of cancer in the patient. This means that one patient with this type of cancer might respond much better than another- and, similar to responses with conventional therapies, we may not know how any individual patient will respond.
    7. What is the survival time without treatment?
    8. What can I expect to see happen in my pet if I opt to not treat?

Hopefully, these questions will get you started on your path to making the decision that is most appropriate for you and your pet with cancer.