Pet owners are being warned that close affection with their dogs and cats may be life-threatening.
Treating them like a human by giving kisses or cuddles could spread drug-resistant bugs through saliva, scientists fear.
Psychologists quizzed scores of pet owners and discovered many are unnecessarily asking vets to give out antibiotics.
Bacteria can become drug resistant when people, or animals, take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out too easily.
This means bugs that strike pets could eventually develop resistance, and be passed onto humans who are too affectionate.
But the psychologists behind the study warn the behaviours are ‘so deeply treasured they are unlikely to be amenable to change’.
The researchers have now offered tips to help reduce the risk, with advice such as not kissing pets on the mouth.
Owners are being warned that close affection with their pets such as kissing poses an antibiotic resistance threat by scientists
Glasgow Caledonian University experts, led by health psychologist Adele Dickson, interviewed 35 pet owners for the study.
All owners had pets that had been treated with antibiotics, for the study published in the journal Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine.
Dr Dickson, the owner of a two-year-old golden retriever, said: ‘This close contact could potentially put adults, children and the pets themselves at risk of transferring bugs that are resistant to antibiotics through saliva.
Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned if nothing is done the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.
It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.
Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily.
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.
Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.
Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world.
Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.
In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.
In September, the WHO warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.
Without antibiotics, C-sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements will become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.
‘I would also advise any open wounds be covered so there’s no risk of transferring anything from skin to skin.
Despite the findings, Dr Dickson said that the risk is low and that owners do not have to stop enjoying an affectionate relationship with their pet.
She urged people to adopt small changes that can reduce the risk of building life-threatening resistance to antibiotics.
These include a discussion with vets and GPs about if the need for antibiotics is necessary, and making sure pets eat from their own bowls.
Other steps include avoiding kissing pets on the mouth, not letting them lick the mouth and nose and washing hands after stroking animals.
Dr Dickson said: ‘The biggest take-home message to pet owners from this study is to think twice about whether your pet, you, your children or other family members actually need antibiotics.
‘Many pet owners told us they felt a sense of guardianship and protection towards their pet when it became ill and they would specifically ask for antibiotics to reassure themselves that they were helping but it’s actually doing more harm than good if they are not necessary.’
She added: ‘I know how important that affectionate relationship between the owner and their pet is to both mental and physical health and well-being.
‘I’m not saying pet owners need to stop showing affection for their companion animals because we know from our research and from speaking to 23 British dog, cat and rabbit owners who shared their stories that these behaviours are so deeply treasured they are unlikely to be amenable to change.’
Three cats and a dog in the UK were found to carry bacteria ‘armed’ with a gene that can drive resistance to a last-ditch antibiotic, scientists said in April.
Public Health England feared the ‘resistant gene’ – known as optrA – could spread between bacteria found in animals and their owners.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.
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