Responsible use of antibiotics in veterinary practice: Introduction

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1. Introduction

Published 29 April 2021 | Updated 29 September 2023

Antibiotics are important medicines in veterinary practice that enable the treatment of bacterial disease and can contribute to improving animal health and welfare. However, antimicrobial resistance is recognised as a significant One Health issue and veterinary surgeons have a professional responsibility to use antibiotics responsibly, not only to ensure that they continue to provide effective treatment for animal disease but also to minimise the development of antibiotic resistance which can have wider consequences for human health and the wider environment.

This collection has been developed to support the RCVS Knowledge Project Farm Vet Champions which aims to support antibiotic stewardship in farm animals but will also provide resources to support those working with companion animals and horses.

The purpose of this collection is to provide you with easy access to some of the evidence and appropriate resources to support responsible antibiotic use. This is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the literature, but rather a selection of recent references to inform your decision making and discussions with clients.

There is an extensive published literature on antibiotic use and antimicrobial resistance, so this collection is by its nature selective. Although antimicrobial resistance is a worldwide problem this collection has concentrated on research carried out in the UK or, where that is not available, evidence that is likely to be relevant to vets practicing in the UK. The papers included have been selected as being open access, available through RCVS Knowledge Library or in journals which many readers are likely to have access to.

Many of the references relate to human attitudes and behaviour and therefore rely on qualitative methodologies. As with any research it is important to understand the methodology and analysis that has been carried out to critically appraise the evidence and work out how it applies to your practice and clients. For those who are not familiar with qualitative methodology the following links may be useful:

New evidence is being published all the time, so if you wish to search for and critically appraise papers to answer a specific question the EBVM Toolkit, developed by RCVS Knowledge may help you.

A note on terminology

This document uses antibiotic to describe medicines that treat bacterial infections but recognises that other resources or references may also use the term antibacterial and that, when talking about resistance, the term antimicrobial is often used. Those who are interested in definitions may find the following useful, although it should be noted that they are often used interchangeably.

Antimicrobials – Inhibit or kill micro-organisms (may be antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral & antiprotozoal)

  • Antibiotics – Substances produced by a micro-organism that kill or inhibit other micro-organisms (e.g., penicillin)
  • Antibacterial – Synthetic agents (sulphonamides)
  • Disinfectant or biocide – Non-systemic agents (e.g., chlorhexidine)

For those who would like an overview of the subject you may like to look at the Special issue: Veterinary Antimicrobial Therapy: Basic Principles and Future Directions published in Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics in March 2021.


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