This article was originally published in 1999 and has been my most frequently requested article for reprint. Most human physicians have woken up to the fact that over-prescribing antibiotics is a bad thing. Antibiotic resistance is a huge global problem. Sadly, some aviculturists have not yet caught on and continue to broadly apply antibiotics where none are needed. Please read and share to spread awareness.
It has been brought to my attention that most people are ignorant as to what exactly antibiotics are, what they do, and what the consequences will be if they are continued to be misused. This article seeks to educate aviculturists on antibiotics and their effects.
What are antibiotics? Antibiotics are chemical substances which kill or stop bacterial growth. The first antibiotic, Penicillin, was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming. Since then many other antibiotics have been found and used to save millions of lives (human and animal) all over the globe. Antibiotics have become one of the best weapons we have against disease. Tetracycline is the antibiotic which most aviculturists use to treat their birds.
What do antibiotics do? Antibiotics get rid of bacteria. Some are targeted toward most kinds of bacteria while others only attack one particular variety. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses and they promote the growth of fungi. This is why veterinarians often use antifungal drugs along with antibiotics.
Inside every organism’s gut live millions of bacteria. Most of these “friendly” bacteria aid in the digestion of food and even produce certain vitamins. Along with the immune system, these “friendly” bacteria keep bad bacteria, called pathogens, from spreading out of control. This natural harmony is severely thrown out of balance by antibiotics. Antibiotics such as tetracycline wipe out both good and bad bacteria, allowing fungi to grow like crazy and letting potentially bad species of bacteria gain a foothold. Because so much damage can be done by antibiotics, they should only be used under the supervision of a qualified avian veterinarian.
What are the consequences of overusing antibiotics? Many aviculturists use antibiotics without the guidance of an avian veterinarian. They treat their entire flock with tetracycline (or another antibiotic) to clear up any small infections before and after the breeding season. This is a very dangerous practice which needs to brought to a halt. A bird which has a fungal infection can die when treated with antibiotics. Healthy birds may become ill when their natural flora and fauna are wiped out. When antibiotics are used uncontrollably in this fashion, certain bacteria become resistant. Every time an antibiotic is used, a few bacteria will survive. These bacteria are not affected by the drug and will multiply rapidly (one bacterium can multiply into 600,000 in only four hours). The next time the bird is treated with the antibiotic, no bacteria will die. Already we are starting to see the effects of the overuse of antibiotics in human medicine. Children with simple infections remain ill because the antibiotics used to treat the infections no longer work. So why are so many breeders trying to ruin the effects of antibiotics on birds as well? Most people just don’t realize that they are doing more harm than good.
How does one prevent bacterial resistance to antibiotics? Never use antibiotics unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian. Instead of routinely treating all your birds, have them each cultured to detect any infections and then treat according to your veterinarian’s instructions. Most birds remain quite healthy if provided with a nutritious diet, lots of exercise, and a good rest after the breeding season. In six years I have only had one bird become ill because of a bacterial infection. He was taken to my vet, treated, and is now raising four healthy chicks. Let’s use our antibiotics wisely and not ruin avian medicine forever.
© 1999 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted without permission from author.