Antibiotics belong to the class of drugs called antimicrobials, which also includes agents that can kill viruses, protozoa, and fungi. Antibiotics either directly kill bacteria or they inhibit their growth and multiplication. There are about 4 million bacteria sitting on 1 square inch of a horse’s skin. The respiratory tract and digestive tract also are teeming with bacteria. Most bacteria are not harmful and will not invade healthy tissue. The bacteria that cause disease normally are crowded out by the huge numbers of harmless bacteria.
Antibiotics for horses are indicated in two general situations. The first is if your horse is directly infected by a disease-causing bacterium (such as a strangles infection that gets into the bloodstream). The other is if the protective barrier of skin, intestinal lining, or the respiratory tract has been damaged, allowing normally harmless bacteria to get in. Examples of this would be an infected wound or a bacterial pneumonia that develops after a viral infection.
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