Protecting antibiotics: prevention better than cure

Published on 20 November 2023.


The New Zealand Veterinary Association Te Pae Kīrehe (NZVA) is calling on animal owners to work with their veterinarian to keep animals healthy and help prevent drug-resistant infections developing.

Owners are being urged to vaccinate their animals against preventable diseases and keep these up-to-date; isolate sick and potentially infectious animals away from healthy ones; and provide a well-balanced diet and continued access to shade and shelter, to help stop animals becoming unwell.

The calls come as the veterinary profession marks World AMR Awareness Week (18-24 November), a global campaign to address the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) that threatens human and animal health.

The World Health Organization lists AMR as a top 10 global health threat to people, animals and the environment.

NZVA Head of Veterinary Services – Companion Animal Sally Cory says reducing the need for antibiotic treatment helps safeguard these critical medicines for the future.

“The more we can keep animals well, the less frequently antibiotics may need to be used, and the less chance there is of harmful bacteria becoming difficult or impossible to treat.”

“We want to see all owners doing everything they can to reduce the risk of preventable illnesses and infections from arising, not just for the comfort and welfare of their animals, but for everyone’s long-term health – antibiotic resistant infections are a significant threat.”             

Sally adds that owner awareness of how precious antibiotics are is an ongoing challenge, as vets routinely manage owner expectations to be prescribed the drugs.

“We don’t always need antibiotics when we’re unwell, and it’s the same for animals. If you are prescribed an antibiotic for your pet or stock, it’s critical that you follow your vet’s instructions on the amount, frequency, and length of time it needs to be given.”

For farmers, having an effective and comprehensive vaccination programme is key to preventing illness, as many diseases can be effectively vaccinated against.

Owners should also let their veterinarian know if their animal isn’t responding to antibiotics, as they may need more investigations and a different approach.

“This doesn’t necessarily mean they need another antibiotic or a bigger dose, but a different course of action might be needed,” Sally says.

Total antibiotic use in all New Zealand animals has fallen in recent years. These efforts are contributing to the NZVA’s aspirational goal that by 2030, New Zealand will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness.

Information about antibiotic resistance and what animal owners can do to prevent it occurring can be found on the NZVA website