Few things in the world of medicine have had more attention recently than antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance has been increasing in bacteria that cause human and animal diseases, and this has made medical management of these problems more difficult. Bacteria are organisms with ability to mutate and adapt to pressures applied to them and their life cycle is short. Resistance appears to happen overnight. More and more, simple infections are not so simple. Treating them can be frustrating to say the least, and scary if things worsen instead of improve.
What can we do about this?
The problem is widespread and there has been a unified effort to curb this trend. Human and veterinary medicine are looking at the situation and new systems are being developed to manage antibiotic use in medical treatment for all species. This effort has resulted in regulatory changes in availability and control of antibiotic use. The focus is to maintain the important antibiotics for use in human medicine and continue to have effective tools available to save human lives.
This will affect veterinary medicine as well. Veterinarians have a responsibility to manage the use of antibiotics in animal species, primarily in livestock where the largest volumes of antibiotics have been used, but also in pet species that have become family members in much of the developed world.
The changes advocated are for the responsible use of antibiotics. Veterinary oversight of antibiotic use is being strengthened in Canada. There is a new federal and provincial veterinary framework for antibiotic stewardship and this brings with it policies, guidelines and new practice standards for oversight of antibiotic use. Your veterinarian has some new rules to follow when antibiotics are used on their patients.
Our practices are subject to inspection by our provincial veterinary association and new antibiotic oversight will be part of this process. Some of these changes will be good record keeping and other internal factors that don’t directly affect our clients. The aspects that affect veterinary clients involve the ability of the veterinarian to make decisions about antibiotic treatment and sales. The most important aspect will be a strong Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR). Your veterinarian needs to have adequate knowledge about the animal to make informed decisions about using antibiotics to treat them. Part of oversight will be good follow up when antibiotics are used, with veterinarians engaged in the process of surveillance. Clients need to be active participants when antibiotics are used and examination of the patient and follow up will be important. You should not expect to purchase antibiotics over the counter as many will be reclassified and some will no longer be available to veterinary patients.
All other forms of management need to be looked into as well. An ounce of prevention is always worth at least a pound of cure. Other forms of treatment need to be incorporated wherever possible. Vaccinations are often available and there have recently been new innovative products that support the animals own ability to fight disease effectively. Effective antibiotics are not always the biggest and best ones that money can buy. Antibiotics are not always necessary.
Everyone is part of the battle and we need to work together, as always. Help your veterinarian help you.
Dr. Perry Spitzer is an owner and director of North Peace Veterinary Clinic Ltd. with his life and veterinary partner, Dr. Corinne Spitzer.