Basics of Horse Antibiotics: How Do They Work, Treat and Why this Matter?


Antibiotics are medications that target and destroy disease-causing bacteria.

How do they work?

  • Horse gets exposed to bacteria
  • The horse becomes infected and the bacteria spread
  • A veterinarian treats the horse with antibiotics

Veterinarians often use antibiotic medications to treat:

  • Eye infection
  • Respiratory infections such as pneumonia
  • Certainly infected wound
  • Diarrhea caused by gastrointestinal bacteria such as Clostridium

Antibiotics can be delivered:

  • Orally via pills, paste, or powder
  • By intravenous (in the vein), subcutaneous (under the skin), or intramuscular (in the muscle) injection.
  • Topically

If your veterinarian suspects your horse is battling an infection, he or she should:

  1. Examine the horse to make a diagnosis
  2. If necessary, perform a bacterial culture and e sensitivity profile to identify the bacteria involved
  3. Determine which antibiotics are most effective against those bacteria
  4. Choose the most effective administration route for that drug
  5. Monitor the horse’s treatment response to be sure the drug is working

WARNING: Bacteria can develop resistance to the drugs created to destroy them.

Why does this matter?

It can lead to treatment failure and life-threatening infections in both horses AND humans.

Here’s how you can do your part to prevent antimicrobial resistance:

  • Reserve antibiotics for bacterial infections only; they are NOT effective against nonbacterial microbes: viruses, fungi, or parasites
  • Follow your vet’s advice on dosing, duration, administration route, and frequency
  • Never use one horse’s antibiotic on another
  • Never skip doses
  • Never use expired antibiotics Know that just because your horse has a cough, fever, or wound doesn’t mean he needs antibiotics
  • Give the full antibiotics course unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian

Take-Home Message:
Work with your veterinarian to bring your horse back to health as quickly and safely as possible.

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