Veterinarians and antibiotic resistance
Antibiotic resistance threatens both animal welfare and public health, and the effort to combat it demands a One Health approach that recognizes the connections between animal and human health. In addition to treating and caring for animal patients, veterinarians play a wide range of roles in public health. Our research informs and guides human medicine; we safeguard the health of the livestock that provide food for our nation, and we lead the fight against rabies and other diseases that affect both animals and people.
The work and knowledge of veterinarians are critical to preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics and other disease-fighting antimicrobial drugs. Antibiotics are powerful tools in the life-and-death fight against disease, and they must be used appropriately and responsibly – it's called judicious use – to protect their effectiveness in both human and veterinary medicine. For veterinarians, that means using antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs only when they’re truly needed for an animal's medical condition; making sure the specific drug chosen is the most appropriate one; and administering the correct dose over the correct amount of time.
Your role as an animal owner
There are few new antimicrobial drugs being developed, especially in veterinary medicine. So, it's essential that we preserve the effectiveness of ALL antimicrobials. That responsibility falls to all of us, from animal owners to veterinarians to lawmakers. Here's how you can do your part:
Talk to your veterinarian about the responsible use of antibiotics and other antimicrobials for your animal's health. Trust your veterinarian to determine when and if your animals need treatment with antimicrobials.
If your veterinarian does prescribe drugs for your animal, follow the prescription instructions to the letter. Give the correct dose at the right interval and continue for the full number of days prescribed by the veterinarian. Don’t skip doses, and don't save any medication for later use.
Never give an animal or group of animals medication that was prescribed for another animal or group of animals.
If your animals include livestock species, educate yourself on the federal government's Veterinary Feed Directive law, which requires a veterinarian’s order whenever medically important antibiotics are to be given to your animals in their feed. This law applies to all food-producing species – from honey bees and fish, to pigs and cattle – regardless whether they are kept as pets or for food production.
Exercise the same caution with your own prescription medications. If your physician determines that you need antibiotics or other antimicrobials, make sure you follow the directions and take the right doses at the right times for the right number of days as prescribed.
Avoid requesting antibiotics if you have the flu or a cold. Unless your cold or flu is complicated by a co-existing bacterial infection, antibiotics won't help because colds and the flu are caused by infection with viruses.
Antimicrobials and livestock
Due to concerns about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, the rules of antibiotic use are evolving. Federal regulations are changing how antibiotics and other antimicrobials are used in veterinary medicine. Since the start of 2017, a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) – essentially a veterinarian's order or prescription – is needed whenever food animals are to be given antibiotics that are important in human medicine.
This is important because antimicrobials should be used only when they are medically necessary to protect an animal's health. Only a veterinarian is appropriately trained to know when antimicrobials are or aren't indicated in animals, which antimicrobial to use, and for how long. So a veterinarian's input is essential to good antimicrobial stewardship. The federal government recognized this in issuing the VFD rule, which gave veterinarians more oversight and responsibility for antibiotic use:
A livestock owner can no longer run to a feed or supply store to pick up a commercially available medically important antibiotic to be used in feed or water. These medications now are only available for purchase when accompanied by a veterinarian's order.
Medically important antibiotics can no longer be used for production purposes, such as growth promotion and feed efficiency. Any production use of medically important antibiotics is illegal.
Antibiotics are still readily available, with plenty of antibiotic options to protect animal health. Owners or caretakers of food-producing animals simply need to work with a veterinarian and establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to ensure that animals receive the most appropriate treatment.