Antimicrobials (antibiotics) have made a major contribution to
cattle health and welfare. They are vital medicines for the
treatment of bacterial infections in cattle and other livestock.
The emergence of antimicrobial resistance as a serious problem in
human medicine has prompted concerns about the potential for
crossover of resistant bacteria from livestock to the human
population and the associated possibility of this impacting on the
effectiveness of medical antimicrobial treatments.
Antimicrobials are just one of the available tools for managing
disease in livestock and should be used alongside good husbandry
and preventative medicines such as vaccination. When antimicrobial
treatments are necessary there is a joint responsibility between
the veterinary surgeon and the farmer to ensure that antimicrobial
drugs are used correctly and that all legal requirements are met;
this begins from the time that the medication is prescribed.
In the UK, antimicrobials are classified as Prescription Only
Medicine - Veterinarian (POM-V). POM-Vs can only be prescribed by
veterinary surgeons for administration to animals under their care.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons requires that a number of
criteria should be met for an animal to fall into this
1. The veterinary surgeon should have been given
responsibility for the animal's health by its owner or
2. The veterinary surgeon should have performed a clinical
examination of the animal for the purpose of diagnosis or
prescription, or have visited the premises in which the animal is
kept sufficiently often and recently enough, to
have sufficient personal knowledge to make a diagnosis and
prescribe for the animal in question.
Always use antimicrobials in accordance with the guidelines
given to you by your veterinary surgeon. It is important that the
full course of treatment at the correct dosage is always
administered. Under-dosing, or not completing a
full course, can lead to treatment failure (which
will be more costly in the long run) and increases the risk of
resistance developing. Dairy and beef farmers have a responsibility
to ensure the safety of food they produce for consumers and it is
essential that the appropriate withdrawal period prior to
slaughter, or for the sale of milk for human
consumption, are observed. Information on the
required withdrawal period can be found on the medicine labels
or, alternatively, from your veterinary
An animal medicines record book, together with
copies of relevant regulations and Codes of
Practice, must be kept on the farm. It is
important to accurately record the identity of the treated
animals and, when recording treatments, a
note should also be made of the batch number, amount and expiry
date of the medicine used, plus the required withdrawal period.
Appropriate information should be kept on file of medicines used
(e.g. product data sheets, package inserts or safety data sheets).
It is a legal requirement for records to be kept for a period of
five years after the treatment has ended, even if
the animal has been slaughtered or sold.
Appropriate records should be kept for 5 years
after administration of medicines
Medicine Storage and Disposal:
The key guidelines on medicine storage are given below, further
information is available in the NADIS bulletin "Medicines: Legal
requirements and Usage".
- Always store products in accordance with the manufacturer's
- Some products will require refrigeration and must be maintained
between 2°C and 8°C.
- The designated storage area should not be accessible to the
- Storage areas should be kept clean and should be well
ventilated. Eating or drinking should be forbidden in this
- Dates of delivery should be recorded.
- For multi-use bottles date of first use should be marked on the
Multiuse bottles should be marked with a use by
- Medicine storage facilities must be fitted with a lock.
- You should have a stock control policy to ensure correct
- Minimum stocks of veterinary medicines should be kept.
- All stock should be routinely checked to ensure it is still in
- Out of date or unwanted medicines must be disposed of according
to manufacturers' instructions or returned to the veterinary
surgeon or supplier for safe disposal.
Empty bottles and out of date medicines must be
disposed of in appropriate containers
Herd health planning:
A good farm health plan will help to promote responsible use of
antimicrobials on farm by providing information on disease
identification and guidance on drug choice for treatment for
commonly encountered diseases. The inclusion of standard operating
procedures (SOPs) for specific disease conditions
helps to promote consistency of treatment choice and
will enable ongoing monitoring of treatment efficacy. It is
important that SOPs are agreed with the vet and followed by all
staff. It is essential that any treatment failures are recorded and
For diseases such as mastitis, the collection and analysis of
diagnostic samples are key parts of ensuring the
appropriate use of antimicrobials. By collecting samples of the
milk produced by cows suffering from mastitis, and
indeed, samples of cows identified as having high
somatic cell counts, it enables the identification of:
- Which pathogen or pathogens are to blame, in order to target
- Which control measures can be implemented on the farm to reduce
the incidence of the disease.
When collecting samples from cows with mastitis it is important
to collect the sample before any treatment is given as the
administration of antibiotics will interfere with the diagnostic
testing. Full details on how to collect a sterile milk sample
are available in another NADIS bulletin (Mastitis Part 2 - The
Bacteriology on milk samples allows the correct
treatment to be chosen
Antimicrobials are a key part for the treatment of diseases such
as pneumonia. When faced with an outbreak it is important that the
correct treatment is provided: Treatment can only be a short term
immediate response to disease and producers should also work with
their veterinary surgeon to investigate the underlying causes that
steps can be taken to prevent future disease using appropriate
vaccines or management changes.
Choosing the right antimicrobial is key to
Remember prevention is better than cure, and the
need for the use of antimicrobials can be reduced by good husbandry
and management practices. Producers should work with their
veterinary surgeon as part of their herd health planning to develop
and apply disease control measures which minimise the need for
Very occasionally, animals will have an adverse
reaction to a medicine administered to them. The severity of a
reaction can vary immensely and can range from a lump at the site
of administration to systemic signs such as laboured breathing,
tissue swelling and even death. Other types of adverse reactions to
look out for are suspected lack of medicine efficacy
(effectiveness) or unexplained /unanticipated residue
problems. Adverse reactions are unusual but if you ever have an
animal show signs of an adverse reaction you should contact your
veterinary surgeon. Suspected adverse reactions in animals
undergoing treatment should be reported to the Veterinary Medicines
directorate (VMD) and a note of the reaction should be made in your
medicines book. Reporting adverse reactions will help the VMD
ensure that authorised medicines continue to be safe and effective
and carry the most up to date accurate information on labels
and accompanying literature.
To protect animal health, antimicrobials should only be used
when necessary and then responsibly. Responsible use of
antimicrobials involves a reduction in the need for antimicrobials
as well as using them correctly. Such use optimises
therapeutic effects while minimising the development of