Antibiotics and our pets

GCU’s Safeguarding Health through Infection Prevention Research Group (SHIP) discovered that getting too cosy with your pet could be life-threatening.

They found that some forms of affectionate behaviour – such as kissing your pet on the mouth – pose an antibiotic-resistance risk to families and their animals.

Health Psychologist Dr Adele Dickson led the ground-breaking study that identified that overprescribing antibiotics is the key cause of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and that close contact with pets can spread drug-resistant bugs from pet to human and vice versa. SHIP joined Australia’s Monash University, the Open University and Health Protection Scotland in the Scottish Government-supported study.

Despite the findings, the message to owners wasn’t to stop enjoying an affectionate relationship with pets but to adopt simple changes that reduce the risk of building life-threatening resistance to antibiotics.

The study indicated small changes can be made to reduce the risk of AMR including avoiding kissing pets on the mouth, not letting them lick the mouth and nose, washing hands after stroking animals, particularly before meals, and ensuring they eat from their own bowls instead of household utensils.

That relationship is important to mental and physical health and wellbeing but this close contact could potentially put adults, children and the pets themselves at risk of transferring bugs that are resistant to antibiotics through saliva. Any open wounds should also be covered so there’s no risk of transferring anything from skin to skin. Pet owners shouldn’t panic because the risk of AMR transmission for most people from affectionate behaviour with pets is relatively low.

Dr Adele Dickson
School of Health and Life Sciences