Preserving treatments for future generations

Antibiotic treatments provide real benefits to people and animals. As with people, they play an important role in treating disease, alleviating pain, and ensuring the health of our animals. It is clear that the vet’s toolbox will always require antibiotics.

The increasing capacity of some bacterial infections to resist treatment by antibiotics and the lack of new antibiotics being made available, is a global public and animal health issue that needs careful stewardship if we are to protect the efficacy of our antibiotics for the future. Even where great efforts are made to prevent bacterial infections through good animal husbandry, biosecurity measures, and use of vaccines or other preventive medicines, there are occasions when animals become sick and they may require treatment with an antibiotic.

Below we highlight some facts and provide answers to frequently asked questions about the use of antibiotics in animal health. We call on all animal owners to help us safeguard these important tools for the future by using them responsibly.

FAQ - Antibiotic use in animal health


How are antibiotics used in animal production?

Animals, just like people, suffer from disease and require proper care from the veterinarian, the farmer and the pet owner. Like with all animal medicines, we promote the responsible use of antibiotics when treating bacterial disease in all animals, both pets and farm animals.

This means using the correct amounts, for the correct length of time, when necessary and only under veterinary prescription. Responsible use of medicines in animals is based on a holistic approach of minimising disease through concepts including: biosecurity (for farms), good housing, good hygiene, appropriate nutrition, regular monitoring of health and welfare including vaccination when advised, and herd health planning on farms.
Watch our animation for more info.

Should the use of antibiotics for animal health be restricted?

In the EU, we have high standards of health and welfare for our animals and antibiotics play a very important role in safeguarding the health and welfare of many animals, including pets and farm animals.

The timely treatment of bacterial diseases can alleviate and prevent further suffering and in the case of zoonotic disease (can be transferred between animals and people) even prevent infection in people. Our commitment to safeguarding animal welfare includes the responsible use of antibiotics, prescribed only by a veterinary surgeon, when infection and disease would result in pain and suffering.

Restrictions on antibiotic use for animals may have an impact on animal welfare issues, so it is essential that limitations are science-based and do not compromise the health and welfare of animals.


Are antibiotics used for growth promotion in livestock in Europe?

The European Commission and many other international bodies have made AMR a priority and AnimalhealthEurope believes the European Union can play a leading role in tackling this challenge.

Throughout the EU the use of antibiotics for growth promotion has been banned for more than a decade, and imports from elsewhere in the world are subject to this strict standard. This EU-wide ban back in 2006 shows Europe’s foresight in this area.


Are antibiotics given to animals without diagnosis?

According to EU law, when antibiotics are needed for animals, they can only be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon. A vet will not prescribe an antibiotic if it is not appropriate and it is particularly important that when antibiotics are prescribed, the instructions are followed exactly as directed by the veterinary surgeon. Practically, this means giving the animal the correct dose of antibiotic for the entire duration of treatment.

This ensures that animals receive the optimal dose of antibiotic, for the required amount of time to inhibit or kill the bacteria causing the infection or disease. Reducing the duration of treatment or reducing the dose prescribed can impact on the effectiveness of treatment and allow the survival of resistant bacteria.


Is AMR a new phenomenon?

Science shows that long before antibiotics were used in medicine, antibiotic-resistant bacteria existed. Strains of bacteria with the ability to inactivate modern antibiotics were discovered in silt deposits dating back 30,000 years, so this phenomenon is neither new, nor is its origin necessarily a product of human activity. Alexander Fleming the pioneer of penicillin rang the warning bell during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1945, saying that, “…the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”

So, whilst this is not a new phenomenon, it is a growing challenge that requires concerted efforts from all parties involved to use antibiotics responsibly in order to safeguard their future use.


Is there a single focus, quick fix to tackling AMR?

Focusing on trying to find solutions in just one area will not make the challenge of antimicrobial resistance disappear. Such a complex issue requires a One Health approach involving the different sectors, as human, animal and environmental health systems are all interconnected.

There is also a clear need for global cooperation on promoting the responsible use of antibiotics across the world.


Do farm animals really need antibiotics?

Managing animal health often relies on the use of veterinary medicines, including antibiotics. Farmers, vets and all those involved in the care of animals also have a legal duty to protect the health and welfare of animals under their care and so they should have access to the necessary tools to do so.

No matter the type of farming practice, animals can get sick and we have a moral obligation to keep our animals healthy.


Do well-managed farms need to use antibiotics?

Good husbandry, biosecurity and hygiene are the cornerstones of protecting animal health and welfare on our farms. Despite our best efforts however, like people, animals can get sick and there will always be cases where animals will need to be treated with antibiotics.

Global figures show that 20% of farm animal production is lost due to disease. It would be difficult to imagine what the situation would be like if we didn’t have access to veterinary medicines. Antibiotics play a vital role in treating, controlling and sometimes preventing the spread of bacterial diseases in our farm animals. They also play a key role in responsible pet ownership.



Do farmers use other tools than antibiotics to keep their animals healthy?

The use of vaccination to prevent disease along with good farm hygiene, herd health plans, and good nutrition are the first steps in reducing the occurrence of bacterial disease. Whenever possible, prevention is always better than cure.

Use of diagnostics and other innovative technologies can also assist with earlier disease detection for a more targeted health management.

Antibiotics should only be used ‘as little as possible and as much as necessary’ to treat animal disease.


Are antibiotics used in animal feed to help promote growth?

As one optimal route of administration of medicines, antibiotics can be used in feed to treat diseases in livestock. Medicated animal feed is regulated as part of responsible usage. It is a highly regulated and controlled route of administration for treating sick animals with different medicines.

Antibiotics are never used to promote growth in livestock in Europe.


How does resistance in animals impact development of resistant bacteria in people?

Treatment of animals or humans with antimicrobials can potentially boost the selection of resistant bacteria. However, experts unanimously agree that the problem of treatment failures in human medicine is mainly “home-made” in human medicine itself.

This has been confirmed time and again: most recently by Europe’s preeminent group of regulatory assessors at the European Medicines Agency Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use (CVMP), which says in its draft strategy on antimicrobials that: “it is recognized that the biggest driver of AMR in people is the use of antimicrobials in humans or human health.”


What about our pets, should they be able to use antibiotics?

Our pets can get sick too, no matter how well we care for them and they may require antibiotic treatment. It is essential that these important tools remain available for vets to be able to treat our pets when they get sick.

Restrictions on antibiotic use for farm animals means restricting use for our pets. It is essential that policies regarding antibiotic use for ALL animals are based on scientific reasoning, and do not compromise their health and welfare.


More info

  • Why vets need antibiotics for animal health Download
  • What the European animal medicines industry does to fight antibiotic resistance Download