Education And Debate

Use of antimicrobial drugs in veterinary practice

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 05 September 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:665
  1. A M Johnston, senior lecturer in veterinary public health
  1. Department of Farm Animal and Equine Medicine and Surgery, Royal Veterinary College, University of London, Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA

    Shortly after antimicrobial drugs were developed they were used in veterinary medicine to treat mastitis in dairy cows. 1 2 Disease is inevitable in all animals, whether farm animals or pets, and healthy animals may also be carriers and asymptomatic excreters of pathogens. The use of antimicrobial drugs varies between species and may be influenced by husbandry and the pattern of trade in a particular class of animal.3 Antimicrobial drugs are given to animals by injection (intravenously, intramuscularly, and subcutaneously), orally in food or water, topically on the skin, and by intramammary and intrauterine infusions. Antibiotics are easier to give to animals by injection, and the digestive system of ruminants often renders oral antimicrobial drugs ineffective.

    Summary points

    • Antimicrobial drugs are used by veterinary surgeons for pet and farm animals in their care

    • Veterinary use of antimicrobial agents is for therapeutic and prophylactic reasons, and they may be used to promote growth

    • Antimicrobial agents are more often given intramuscularly to animals compared with humans

    • They are also given to groups of animals in food or water

    • Antimicrobial drugs may be given to animals reared for food only if they are licensed for that purpose

    • Withdrawal periods are specified for antimicrobial drugs used in animals reared for food, and there is regular monitoring for drug residues

    Treatment of farm animals

    The prevalence of pathogens on farms depends on many factors, not least the type of husbandry, the environmental pressure on a farm, and the standard of stockmanship. The most commonly used antimicrobial drugs in animals reared for food are from five major classes: β lactams, tetracyclines, aminoglycosides, macrolides, and sulphonamides. In addition, quinolones have been available in some European countries for more than 20 years.4 The discovery of third generation fluoroquinolones with a broader spectrum of activity has led to interest in their use in …

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