While the threat of antibiotic resistance to human health is well known, few people are aware of its danger to their animal companions.
This may soon change, as new guidelines for pet owners and veterinarians on the prudent use of antimicrobials for sick pets were launched yesterday by the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Singapore Veterinary Association (SVA).
The aim is to prevent bacteria from developing resistance against drugs used to treat infections.
Antimicrobial resistance is a "silent epidemic" that is a major global threat to people, animals and the environment, NParks said.
Micro-organisms that do not die when exposed to antimicrobial drugs develop resistance to them.
Diagnostic reports from 2014 to 2016, for instance, revealed that almost half of the bacteria isolated from unwell pets in Singapore were resistant to multiple antibiotic drugs.
The misuse and overuse of antimicrobial agents have accelerated the spread of resistance over the years, NParks added.
"The dwindling availability of effective antimicrobials means there are fewer defence mechanisms available to protect humans and animals against micro-organisms," it added.
To counter this, extensive best practices have been collated in a 157-page guide for vets.
Among the recommendations is that vets conduct bacterial culture and sensitivity testing before prescribing critically important antibiotics, which should be conserved for life-saving treatment.
Pet owners are also urged to use antibiotics appropriately, and only when prescribed by a vet.
Owners should complete the prescribed course of antibiotics even if their pet appears to have recovered, as small amounts of remaining bacteria may develop antibiotic resistance, said Dr Suria Fabbri, a vet at NParks' Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS).
"The way antibiotics work is concentration-and time-dependent. If your vet says to take it twice a day at certain times of the day, you should do that," she added.
She also said owners should not feed their pets antibiotics they keep on standby, or antibiotics meant for human consumption.
Pets shed microbes in their saliva and stool, which means antimicrobial-resistant microbes can be transmitted to their owners.
For pets with recurrent infections, vets might recommend sending samples for antimicrobial susceptibility testing, said Dr Brian Loon, principal vet at Amber Vet who is part of the group that developed the guidelines.
Diagnostic tests at animal clinics help vets determine if there is an infection and guide them in the right direction on what treatment should be used, added Dr Loon.
NParks also recommends ensuring pets are kept healthy to ward off infections.
This includes ensuring they keep up with their regular vaccinations and anti-parasitic treatments.
NParks also tracks patterns of antimicrobial resistance over time, and conducts genome sequencing on any superbugs detected to find the genetic basis for resistance and trace transmission.
Superbugs are resistant to multiple antimicrobial drugs.
Antimicrobial resistance in pets is a problem people need to pay more attention to during the pandemic, said Dr Kelvin Lim, director of veterinary health management at NParks' AVS.
Humans can pass viruses such as Covid-19 to animals, as shown recently when zookeepers infected lions at the Singapore Zoo.
The guidelines can be found on NParks' website.