ESBL – Antibiotic-Resistant Intestinal Bacteria in Cats: What You Need to Know

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In recent years, the prevalence of intestinal bacteria carrying so-called ESBL genes has increased in both animals and humans.

ESBL stands for Extended Spectrum Betalactamase and bacteria with these genes become antibiotic resistant.

Bacteria that carry ESBL have resistance to penicillins, cephalosporins and often several other types of antibiotics. This means that if such a bacterium causes infection, for example in a wound or in the urinary tract, the infection becomes more difficult to treat with ordinary antibiotics.

An animal or a human can have ESBL-bearing bacteria in the intestine without knowing it, as part of the normal intestinal flora. It is often only if / when the bacterium causes infection that does not go away despite antibiotic treatment, that it is clear that it is a resistant bacterium.

In other countries, food-producing animals are an important reservoir for ESBL-bearing bacteria, but in Sweden the situation is still favorable.

ESBL has been demonstrated to some extent in broilers in Sweden and sporadically in other animal species, including cats. In addition to the fact that these bacteria pose a potential threat to the health of the individual cat, there is also a risk that people in contact with the cat and its feces will become infected. Likewise, a human carrying the bacterium can be a danger to the cat.


The most important risk factor for the cat to get ESBL-carrying intestinal bacteria is antibiotic treatment, as the resistant bacteria benefit from this, as the non-resistant bacteria, which otherwise compete for nutrition and space, die. In addition to direct or indirect contact with infected animals, the cat can also ingest ESBL-bearing bacteria via the food.

In heat-treated feed, such bacteria do not normally occur, unless the feed has been contaminated afterwards. However, intestinal bacteria have been detected both with and without ESBL genes in so-called fresh feed, which is not heated.

Preventive measures

  • Care hygiene – at veterinary clinics and animal hospitals, continuous work is done to reduce the risk of care-related infection with ESBL-bearing bacteria, as well as with other infectious agents.
  • Responsible antibiotic use – according to the Swedish antibiotic policy for dogs and cats, antibiotics should only be used when the animal is not judged to be healthy but. Other treatments, such as wound care, shampooing, ear cleaning, etc., as well as the use of a collar, are usually enough for the infection to heal.
  • Caution when feeding with fresh feed – Swedish authorities recommend that you have careful hygiene when handling feed and that you wash the food bowl after each feeding with fresh feed. You should also avoid feeding your dog fresh food during antibiotic treatment and for some time afterwards.
  • If the cat has ESBL-bearing bacteria, it is important to protect yourself by having good hand hygiene, especially before meals and after handling the cat’s feces.

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