From Merck Animal Health's BRD Report: From the Fence Post. This post is part of a series that focuses on understanding antibiotic resistance, defining what antibiotic stewardship means and how cattle producers can be better stewards of antibiotic use. Brian Lubbers, D.V.M., Ph.D., Diplomate ACVCP, director of the Microbial Surveillance Lab, a unit of the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, is a contributor for this series.

As veterinarians and producers, we are playing a role in the enhancement of antimicrobial resistance. It’s out of the barn, so to speak – the risk of resistance never goes to zero. In the previous post, we looked at initiatives taking place at the industry level, but there is another role to be played by us as individuals in appropriately and judiciously administering antibiotics to animals.

Preventative health and care
The question we should continue to ask is if we can design programs that will reduce our need for antibiotics. Vaccinating early and improving nutrition and housing can give an animal a sound health advantage that can eliminate the need for antibiotics in the first place. By bettering the animal’s chances of not getting sick, that’s the first step to antibiotic stewardship.

The right antibiotic at the right time for the right animal
The second step to being good stewards of antibiotic use is ensuring that we’re using antibiotics we know or expect to work for the specific disease or bacteria causing issues. A combination of experience and diagnostic testing can aid significantly in this decision-making. Whether it’s a veterinarian or producer, the person diagnosing the animal has to be trained to identify what’s really the cause of an illness, as antibiotics only work on bacterial infections. Veterinarians and producers should also have plans in place for when to stop antibiotic treatments.

Commitment to continuous improvement
The last step of what antibiotic stewardship looks like within livestock operations is the completion of the cycle – a commitment to evaluate if a specific preventative health plan and antibiotic treatments, when needed, are working. Even if you think you have the right antibiotic for the right disease or bacteria, continue to monitor the effectiveness of an antibiotic and consider alternative, more targeted treatments if possible.

What antibiotic stewardship practices have you implemented in your operation?