Veterinary medicines licensed for animal use are important for the health and welfare of livestock.

Their responsible use ensures they work effectively, prevent or treat diseases as intended, limit resistance and protect the food chain and the environment.

Licensed medicines are tightly controlled, prescription only medicines are only legally available from a veterinary surgeon or pharmacist. VPS products may also be dispensed by SQPs who have received appropriate training. Drug groups include antibiotics, anaesthetics, anti-inflammatories, vitamins, minerals, parasiticides and vaccines.

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As an industry we are striving successfully to reduce our antibiotic use. Through disease prevention and restricting the use of certain critically important antibiotics or CIAs, including floroquinolones and cephalosporins. Regular monitoring of medicine use at annual herd health plan reviews highlights improvements made and diseases to focus on going forward.

Veterinary medicines should only be used for their licensed use, correct dose, duration of treatment and route of administration. Off label use will affect the efficacy, absorption and milk and meat withdrawals. Medicines may only be administered for off label use under direct instruction from the dispensing veterinary surgeon. This must be done under the dispensing cascade and will increase the milk and meat withdrawals.

Only use veterinary medicines where necessary, when the aim is always to prevent disease through good management, husbandry and vaccination where appropriate. Medicines should be used according to individual herd and flock health plans and follow instructions as per the data sheet.

Correct storage and disposal of veterinary medicines is very important. They should be stored in locked and secure medicine cabinets, to prevent access by unauthorized people. Treatment plans must be available indicating product choice, dose, route of administration. Most veterinary medicines must be stored under 25 degrees celsius and used within 28 days of opening. Some medicines must be stored in refrigerated conditions, including vaccines, certain hormones, antibiotics and vitamins. Refrigeration is essential where advised, as these products do not contain preservatives and must also be used within eight hours of opening.

Vaccines are important for the prevention of disease with strong cost benefits. The most likely cause of vaccine failures are incorrect cold-chain handling, storage and not following vaccine data sheet protocols. A prime example are sheep clostridial vaccines, where cold-chain storage may not be followed once the vaccine leaves the vet practice. Once opened these vaccines must only be used that day and primary vaccinations require two doses 4-6 weeks apart, as per data sheet. Used appropriately, these are highly effective vaccines.

Recording treatments is also essential and should be done in a medicine book or digitally on a farm/livestock management software programme. Animal identification, date of administration, dose, duration of treatment and milk and meat withdrawal must be recorded, ensuring food safety.

Safe handling and administration of medicines is also important. Certain antibiotics can cause allergic reactions in humans, notably penicillin-based products. Certain antibiotic groups are highly toxic and can only be administered by a veterinary surgeon. Many vaccines contain powerful adjuvants to stimulate stronger immune responses, however if these are accidentally self-administered via a needle stick, they can cause a very serious reaction. Seek medical advice immediately if self-administration has occurred together with the data sheet of the product used.

Injection of any veterinary medicines must be done using clean, dry syringes and needles. Choosing the appropriate site of administration is also important. The site of administration must also be clean and dry. Injecting out of date or old products using dirty syringes or needles will decrease efficacy and increase the risk of injection site reaction and infection. Deep intramuscular injection reactions can lead to serious abscesses and seed bacteria around the body, affecting meat quality and impacting animal welfare.

Disposal of medicines is tightly controlled and must be done following the manufacturer’s instructions. Certain products like avermectin wormers are highly toxic to aquatic animals and must not enter water courses. Medicine disposal containers are available through your veterinary surgery together with sharps disposal containers.

Overuse of veterinary medicines, especially antibiotics and wormers has already selected for resistant strains of bacteria and parasites. There is currently very little evidence that misuse in veterinary medicine has transferred resistance into human disease. But western countries must act responsibly and lead the way in responsible dispensing and use of all medicines, veterinary and human.

Antibiotic resistance is where the bacteria that causes the infection becomes resistant to the antibiotic. Correct antibiotic choice, dosage, course and route of administration will reduce the rate of developing resistance. There are very few ‘new’ antibiotics being brought to the market apart from the occasional rebranding or reformulation. We must protect what we have for veterinary and human use. This should ideally be done through health planning, better disease prevention and vaccination.

Ensure you have an up-to-date health plan, monitor disease levels and medicine usage. Also, ensure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for storage, dosage and correct administration, ensuring safe and sustainable use.