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What Do Antibiotics Do?

Updated: May 10, 2023

Antibiotics are a type of medication that prevents the growth of bacteria. They target the specific structures or processes in bacterial cells. While antibiotics are sometimes implied to “kill” bacteria, the function of how an antibiotics works is complicated.

There are several types of antibiotics. In cats, fluoroquinolones are one of the most common types of antibiotics used. Fluoroquinolones are a type of antibiotic that interferes with the DNA synthesis of bacteria, which causes the bacteria to be unable to reproduce. All classes of antibiotics have a different mode of action. For example, penicillin disrupts the cell wall synthesis of bacteria, causing them to rupture. Others, like tetracyclines, inhibit protein synthesis, preventing bacteria from building the proteins they need to survive. The process of “killing” bacteria works more on a cellular level to target a certain process of the bacteria, thereby prohibiting their ability to survive or reproduce.

The world of bacteria is complicated and with so many types of strains, different classes of antibiotics are required. There isn’t a single antibiotic that can treat all types of bacteria. For this reason, certain types of infection might require specific testing called cultures to determine the exact strain of bacteria. For example, urinary infections are commonly caused by several different types of bacteria such as E. Coli and Enterococcus. There are different strains of both bacteria groups, and some antibiotics work against some strains but not others. A culture allows a pathologist to grow the bacteria until they can be seen under a microscope so that the specific type can be identified. Then, the corresponding antibiotic can be chosen based on the scientific evidence.

It is important to note that antibiotic resistance is a serious problem in the medical world. Misuse and overuse of antibiotics resulted in bacteria evolving and developing resistance to antibiotics that once worked against them. While there is much debate over what constitutes “overuse” of antibiotics in the medical community for both humans and animals, a dominant factor for antibiotic resistance is not taking the medication correctly. Skipping doses, not finishing a full course, and not taking the medication according to specific guidelines all allow bacteria to mutate and grow stronger at fighting off the effects of antibiotics. Therefore, it is imperative to use antibiotics only when they are necessary and as prescribed by your doctor.

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