Pet Corner

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Antibiotics can be harmful for pets. Gentle herbs with antibiotic activity include garlic, goldenseal and thyme.

I’ve been on a rant against synthetic
antibiotics for several years now, and I haven’t softened my stance
one iota. In fact, if anything I’ve become even more adamantly
anti-antibiotic, for a host of reasons.

All About Antibiotics

You probably have heard that the use of antibiotics leads to
bacterial strains that have adapted to become resistant to the
antibiotics. But how big is the problem? Turns out it is HUGE.

By one account in 1946, just a few years after the introduction
of penicillin, 14 percent of the strains isolated from sick
patients were already resistant. By the end of that decade, the
frequency had jumped to 59 percent in the same hospital. Today,
almost all species of bacteria have developed resistant strains;
many species have strains that are at least 70 to 80 percent
resistant to one or more antibiotics; and some bacterial strains
are almost 100 percent resistant to nearly all the antibiotics
currently available.

Bacteria, with their extremely rapid reproduction rate, are
uniquely adapted to use evolution as a survival mechanism. No
synthetic antibiotic yet produced has been able to kill 100 percent
of the pathogenic bacteria it is meant to kill (without also
killing the patient), and so, no matter how “effective” the
antibiotic, there will always be a few resistant bugs left over to
regenerate a new subspecies of resistant bacteria.

With bacteria, however, the scenario goes beyond simple
evolution: Bacteria’s plasmids (mini-chromosomes that carry genetic
information) can transfer antibiotic resistance information from
one species to another (say from Streptococcus to Staphylococcus),
and the plasmid can transfer resistance information to more than
one antibiotic at a time. So, if one Streptococcal strain survives
an antibiotic insult from several different antibiotics and thereby
“learns” how to resist each of these antibiotics, this strain can
transfer this multiple-antibiotic resistance “know-how” to its
offspring and to other, entirely different, species of

In 1942, the total amount of antibiotic available in the entire
world amounted to about 32 liters of penicillin. Today, some 20
million pounds of antibiotics are used annually in this country

Much of the total quantity of antibiotics produced in this
country (some estimates indicate more than 80 percent of total
production) is fed to food animals at sub-therapeutic levels–levels
that promote animal growth (and allow for cheaper meat for the
consumer), but that allow for a faster production of resistant
bacterial strains. Add to this the fact that several million pets
are being treated with antibiotics each year, and it is easy to see
how resistant strains are being passed on to farmers, pet-owning
families and people living nearby.

More Dangers of Antibiotics

Billions of bacteria live on our pets’ skin and in their
digestive tracts. Almost none of these bacteria ever cause harm,
and many of them are not just beneficial, they are absolutely
necessary to maintain a healthy inner and outer environment. For
example, a healthy gut actually requires that certain bacterial
species be present in adequate numbers, and many of the bacteria
normally found on the skin help provide a healthy protective
activity against outside invaders.

Only a very small percentage of bacteria ever become pathogenic
(causing harm), and the body has many mechanisms to keep these
pathogens from gaining a foothold. It almost always takes some
change in the body’s homeostatic mechanisms to allow these species
to revert to unhealthy ones.

Use an antibiotic that is effective enough to kill most of the
pathogenic bacteria, and you have not only instigated the process
of creating resistant bugs, but you’ve also set off a chain
reaction that can kill many of the beneficial bugs in and on the
body. The most common symptom you’ll see from the kill-off of the
beneficial bacterial species is diarrhea, the result of destroying
the normally protective flora of the gut. However, many medical
scientists are now speculating that a loss of the normal flora of
the body could lead to chronic conditions, such as immune-mediated
diseases and cancers.

Whenever your pet is on antibiotics, including herbal
antibiotics, add a supplement to the diet to repopulate your pet’s
gut with normal, beneficial bugs, known as probiotics.

Herbs to the Rescue

Fortunately, herbal remedies offer some respite from the
unhealthy morass antibiotics have gotten us into, and there are
several mechanisms whereby herbs are effectively antibiotic: Many
of the most commonly used herbs have direct antibiotic activity
(i.e., they kill germs); several herbs enhance the immune system,
thus helping the body eliminate unwanted pathogens; and antioxidant
activity is present in many herbs, thus helping the body rid itself
of the toxic byproducts of infection.

Within many herbs lies an almost complete medicine chest of
substances that are active against a wide variety of
microorganisms. There are two keys here. First, a typical herb
contains dozens of bioactive ingredients, and second, these
bioactive ingredients have activity against many different
microorganisms, including the viruses where synthetic antibiotics
are ineffective.

What this means is that it is extremely difficult for any one
bacterial species to develop resistance to all the different
bioactive mechanisms contained in a single plant, and it means that
the herb will likely be effective against a wide variety of

On the other hand, herbal medicines do not contain gargantuan
amounts of any one bioactive substance, so their effects are often
mild and relatively slow-acting.

Some herbs with active antibiotic activity include calendula
(Calendula officinalis), echinacea (Echinacea spp.), garlic (Allium
sativum), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), lavender (Lavandula
angustifolia), peppermint (Mentha ×piperita), sage (Salvia
officinalis) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

As the body defends itself against bacteria and the polluting
toxins from the environment, cells form oxidative products (free
radicals) that are toxic to inner tissues. Antioxidants counter
these toxic byproducts and in turn enhance the ability of the
immune system to function properly. Several nutritional
supplements, including vitamins A, C and E and the minerals
selenium and zinc act as antioxidants.

Herbal antioxidants include almost all the spice herbs, such as
basil (Ocimum basilicum), oregano (Origanum vulgare spp. hirtum),
thyme and cayenne (Capsicum annuum). Herbs that have a direct
effect on the immune system include astragalus (Astragalus
membranaceus), echinacea, calendula and thuja (Thuja

Using Herbal Antibiotics

You can provide any of these herbs as a supplement to the diet
on a daily or weekly basis, and the beautiful aspect of herbs is
that they often can simply be added to the diet as a tasty sprinkle
atop your pet’s food. Do a taste test to see which herbs your pet
likes the best; it is these herbs that are likely to be the ones he
needs the most. Herbs also can be given at therapeutic levels
whenever an infection arises; check with your holistic vet for
therapeutic dosages. I like to add probiotics to the diet whenever
I’ve prescribed antibiotics, herbal or otherwise. •

Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and clinical
pathology. After practicing traditional veterinary medicine for 10
years, he opened Honoring the Animals, a holistic practice in
Kansas City, Missouri. Visit our website,,
to order Dr. Kidd’s pet-care books.

Information provided in “Pet Corner” is not intended to replace
the advice of a qualified veterinarian.

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