Overuse of antibiotics in pets must be tackled to reduce resistance, conference hears

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 04 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6719
  1. Rej S Bhumbra
  1. 1BMJ

The overuse of antibiotics in domestic animals, and not just livestock, needs to be considered if antibiotic microbial resistance is to be tackled in the long term, a conference of doctors and veterinary surgeons was told this week.

Prescribing of antibiotics across Europe is returning to the high levels of the 1990s, Peter Hawkey, from the Public Health Laboratory in the University of Birmingham, told the conference in London, which was organised jointly by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Susan Dawson, head of the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Liverpool, said that half of all UK households now had a pet and that a quarter of veterinary consultations involved antibiotic prescribing.

Peter Borrellio, from the Veterinary Medicine Directorate of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, highlighted the fact that the case of pet owners bringing their “loved ones” to the vet with a wound or other ailment had some parallels to that of parents bringing their child to the GP: in both, concerned and vocal carers are keen to pursue an instant solution.

Education for all people who prescribe antibiotics in veterinary clinics and general practices should be improved and regulated, the conference heard. Dawson reported that 74% of equine vets were not aware that there were guidelines on use of antibiotics in horses. Peter Davey, lead for quality improvement at the University of Dundee, quoted a BMJ paper by Cals and colleagues in 2009 showing that reduced antibiotic use did not impair recovery in patients.1

Other speakers focused on the problem of a lack of research into antibiotics and the lack of incentives for companies to look at this area, hence closing discovery lines. Among the industry there is a perception that the period of patent protection is too short.

Borrellio called for a change in regulation specific to antibiotics. New and smaller companies are trying to fill this niche by conducting research into genome specific treatments targeted at particular bacterial strains. Vaccines would be the ultimate solution to infection, but this is an arms race where adaption by evolving resistant organisms has made this solution highly challenging, he said.

Borrellio added that the root cause of this problem was that the government wanted inexpensive drugs and the consumer wanted affordable food.

Delegates to the conference said that future areas for development included:

  • Getting a clear message to the public, but speaking with a common language, and marketing that message effectively

  • Pan-European surveillance of antibiotic microbial resistance and an outcome measure to assess effectiveness of any implemented change.

  • Motivating and stimulating research that can be applied directly to practice into new products that are appropriately regulated and licensed

  • Deciding how we are going to use and pay for these new drugs, and

  • Restructuring healthcare and legislation to accommodate the impending problems in this area.

A common thread was the importance of getting the message right and marketing it appropriately to the person who was hearing it. What was needed was a balanced view with measured and rational debate—not just by the experts but also commentators and politicians.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6719