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Focus on companion animal antibiotic use

24 Nov 2021 | Daniella Dos Santos


With the launch of RUMA Companion Animal and Equine Alliance, BVA Past President Daniella Dos Santos, who chairs the alliance’s Measures and Targets group, shares her thoughts on antibiotic use in companion animal practice.

Focus on companion animal antibiotic use Image

Antimicrobial resistance is something that makes the headlines. This is because it is a real risk to society and something the veterinary and medical professions take very seriously. Over recent years there has been a focus on the use of antibiotics in farm animals, and we have made real progress, with the latest VARRS report showing a 52% reduction in the sales of antibiotics in food producing animals. This good news story is rightly celebrated, and the sector continues to challenge itself to continue to improve, but it has also rightly resulted in our profession reflecting on the companion animal sectors and work that needs to be done there.

Companion animals, of all species, are vitally important for society, and the positive impact of pets when it comes to mental health is well known. Many of these animals live in much closer proximity with humans than livestock. Pets share our homes, and we all know the interactions that come with that closeness:  hugs, strokes, the sharing of food (despite warning children not to), cuddling on sofas and even beds. Companion animals such as horses may not be in our homes, but our proximity to them raises some of the same concerns. This proximity brings with it the associated risks of passing on zoonotic diseases or infections and on top of this, the added complexity of the expectation of owners with regards to the levels of veterinary care afforded to these animals, and the lack of limitations on treatment often set out in food producing animals. Ethical considerations aside, pet owners may expect advanced surgeries that come with associated infection risks and be willing to treat multidrug resistance infections.

RUMA Companion Animal and Equine brings together a wide range of stakeholders including BVA, BSAVA, BVZS, RCVS Knowledge, NOAH, Savsnet, VetCompass and others, and was set up to look into the responsible use of medicines in small animals, exotic animals and equines, initially focusing on the use of antibiotics. It is important to highlight that responsible use doesn’t mean no use, and so whilst targets will develop, the aim will never be zero use of antibiotics. Broadly speaking, targets will be developed over 3 areas:

  • National and strategic targets and measures
  • Species specific targets and measures
  • Practice level targets and measures

Not all targets will seem obviously important or relevant to all vets in practice. Therefore, the practice level targets and measures are so important, as well as signposting to resources from other organisations that will help change behaviour and prescribing practices day to day. There are also challenges that are very specific to the companion animal sector such as the greater use of medications off licence, the use of “specials”, the lack of consistent ways of recording data in practice, all of which make developing relevant and realistic targets and measures more difficult.

The variability between practices is also a challenge- but one we are well aware of. For example, in some the use of culture and sensitivity will be more frequent; other practices will see more complex cases, such as referral practices, meaning they are more likely to encounter resistance; other practices will see more exotic pets. All of these factors come into play when ensuring that when a practice is benchmarking themselves, they are able to do so in a way that is accurate and meaningful.

RUMA Companion Animal and Equine hopes that over time we will develop targets and measures that are realistic and facilitate real change in the profession. We will work closely with stakeholders to sign-post to relevant audit and clinical information and guides to help all practices work together and ensure antibiotics are being used as responsibly as possible.


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