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Responsible use of antibiotics

The key to reducing the problem of antibiotic resistance lies in the responsible use of antibiotics across all sectors. On the animal health side vets, farmers, animal keepers, and pet and horse owners all have a part to play a part in using antibiotics responsibly.

Keep your animal healthy:

It is best that, as far as possible, we avoid using antibiotics - keeping your animal healthy, for example through good nutrition, regular vaccination etc. will help this. A healthy animal is better equipped to fight off infections than an un-healthy one. It is also important to minimise the possibility of bacteria, including those that are resistant to antibiotics, being transferred between animals and humans and vice versa. So when handling or petting your animal use good hygiene measures, such as washing your hands.

When your animal is sick:

Not every infection needs to be treated with antibiotics so do not expect antibiotics from your vet. If your vet does prescribe antibiotics if will be after a clinical assessment and they will decide which antibiotic is appropriate, and the dose rate and length of course that is required. Antibiotics come in different classes and each is used to target different infections, no antibiotic is 'stronger' than another. Your vet may also need to carry out laboratory tests to ensure that the right antibiotic is prescribed for the right bacteria.

Buying antibiotics:

If you are not buying the antibiotics from your vet make sure you purchase any antibiotics prescribed from an authorised supplier. The supplier must be based in the UK and must ask to see the prescription. If an internet retailer offers to sell you antibiotics without asking to see your prescription at any stage in the transaction, the sale will be illegal and you may also have committed an offence by purchasing the medicine. The VMD has launched an Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme to help reduce the risk of purchasing unauthorised, inappropriate or ineffective veterinary medicines online.  Internet retailers accredited under the Scheme are awarded an Accredited Internet Retailer logo showing they have met the criteria for accreditation. If you are concerned or suspicious of any supplier you should contact the VMD’s enforcement team enforcement@vmd.defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Using antibiotics:

Antibiotics are prescription only medicines so only use antibiotics prescribed by a qualified vet. Do not share antibiotics between animals and do not give your animals human medicines. It is also important that you follow the advice given by your vet and use any antibiotics prescribed in accordance with their labelling instructions. This includes giving your animal the full course prescribed, even if you think they appear better after the initial doses. Never use any old antibiotics that you may have left over from a previous prescription, if for any reason you do have some antibiotics left over they should be returned to your vet for disposal. Inform your vet early if you have any difficulty in giving the antibiotic to your animal, or if after a few days your animal does not seem to be getting better, as delay in treating infection can make it harder to treat in the long term.

Critically Important Antibiotics (CIAs)

Three key groups of antibiotics; fluoroquinolones, 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins and macrolides have been classified as CIAs for human health by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They are also classified as veterinary critically important by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

In situations where the bacteria causing disease are resistant to other groups of antibiotics, a veterinary surgeon may need to prescribe a CIA to ensure that the animal(s) is/are treated effectively.

Less than 15% of the antibiotics sold for veterinary use in the UK in 2011 were those identified by the WHO as critically important for human medicine.

The UK position on the use of CIAs by the veterinary sector remains; that these antibiotics should be reserved for clinical conditions that respond poorly to other classes of antibiotics, and where antibiotic sensitivity testing has been carried out. This position is supported by the guidance published by various veterinary sector bodies.

What steps have been taken to promote responsible use?

  • Changes to rules on advertising - October 2013
    From the 1 October 2013 the Veterinary Medicines Regulations were amended to prohibit the advertising of antimicrobial (antibiotic) medicines to professional keepers of animals. This was to further clarify how the UK implements Article 85(3) of European Directive 2001/82/EC (as amended), which prohibits the advertising of prescription only veterinary medicines to the "general public". More information can be found in VMGN 04 - Controls on Advertising.
  • Phasing out Founderguard (Virginiamycin) - October 2012/October 2014
    From the 1 October 2012 the VMD ceased to authorise the importation of Founderguard (a veterinary medicine used to treat laminitis) for horses which have not been previously prescribed it. From the 1 October 2014 VMD will stop approving any imports of Founderguard as there is no robust evidence to suggest that virginiamycin, the antibiotic which is the active ingredient in Founderguard, is actually effective in preventing laminitis.
  • Antibiotics used in poultry - January 2012
    The British Poultry Council, a body that represents the poultry industry in the UK, agreed to introduce a voluntary ban on the use of cephalosporins in poultry production and to stop giving fluoroquinolones to day-old chicks. Both cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones are classed as critically important antibiotics, (CIAs), for human health.
  • Using antibiotics as growth promoters banned in Europe - January 2006
    In 1999 the European Union banned some antibiotics being used as growth promoters, the products that were banned were those that contained antibiotics that were also used in the treatment of humans. The remaining antibiotics being used as growth promoters were then banned from 1 January 2006 on a precautionary basis. There is no evidence that using these antibiotics as growth promoters has led to any antibiotic resistance problems in humans but it is generally considered across the EU that it is prudent to remove any risk that such problems may occur from the use of these products.
Last Updated: 08 November 2013

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