Vets alarmed at illegal drug sales in pet shops

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2007, 12:00am

Action urged to tackle sales of antibiotics to treat animals

Animal experts are urging more action to curb the abuse of antibiotics by unscrupulous pet shops.

The calls come as vets complain that many of a growing number of animals with drug-resistant infections are from pet shops.

Stanley Browning, of Sha Tin Animal Clinic, said a pet shop owner brought a seriously ill poodle to his clinic last Wednesday. The 18-week-old puppy was vomiting and had diarrhoea after the owner gave it antibiotics to treat a cough.

'It turned out that the dog suffered kidney failure, which was very likely caused by the incorrect dose of antibiotics it had taken,' he said.

Although the puppy was stable after treatment, the vet said it would probably suffer chronic kidney disease. Dr Browning estimates that at least half the puppies coming from pet shops have been given drugs before being sold.

'For those that are resistant to antibiotics, the treatment is usually longer and more expensive. Sometimes we have to conduct surgery when medicine doesn't work any more,' he said.

The Department of Health said it was illegal for pet shops to use antibiotics and prescription medicines on animals or sell them to pet owners. It said there had been four complaints about the illegal sale of antibiotics by pet shops in the past two years.

But the situation appears more serious than the official figures.

In Victory Avenue, Mong Kok, known for its pet shops, a South China Morning Post reporter found about half the shops were selling medicine for pet flu or diarrhoea.

At one store, a shop assistant offered a liquid medicine made in the United States to the reporter, who claimed to have a sick dog at home. The medicine, marked 'for veterinary use only', along with flu medicine from another shop, were found to be unregistered medicine being sold illegally.

Rebecca Ngan Yee-hing, a spokeswoman for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said most pet shops were not suitable places to hold a lot of young animals.

'Many shops are very small, while the animals for sale are often too young and haven't received the necessary vaccinations. The chances of cross-infection are considerably high in these places,' she said. 'That's why antibiotics become a cheap yet effective way to stop the animals getting sick.'

Ms Ngan said the best way to solve the problem was to stop selling animals in pet shops and encouraging people to adopt animals or buy them directly from breeders.

Paul Chan Kay-sheung, a microbiologist at Chinese University, said the government should start keeping track of animals kept as pets.

'The next step is to set up a special taskforce to look into the health impact and find ways to curb the problem of animal drug resistance. The issue is quite urgent in view of the rise in pet ownership in Hong Kong.'

Vet Stephan Lehner said: 'The government has done a lot to combat the abuse of antibiotics in humans but not animals.'

As an immediate measure, the government should step up inspections of pet shops to stop the abuse of antibiotics and plug any legal loopholes. Both agreed that lack of expertise in veterinary pathology was a major problem because there was no training in Hong Kong.