Veterinarians can be vital to tackling global antibiotic resistance through their own clinical practices

December 21, 2018

Dr. Erin Frey

Dr. Erin Frey

By practicing proper microbial stewardship in their clinics, companion animal veterinarians can be critical to fighting the global issue of antibiotic resistance. That was the finding of Erin Frey, DVM, master’s degree candidate in the Public Health Leadership Program at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, in her paper, “The role of companion animal veterinarians in one-health efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance,” published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Antimicrobial-resistant organisms are found in people, animals and the environment. These organisms spread not only between people, but also between people and animals, and via food and water. Frey said practitioners and owners of companion animals (pets) can help in addressing antimicrobial resistance.

“Pet health and family health aren’t separate things,” she said. “The promotion of public health is part of the Veterinarian’s Oath, so we are constantly considering both.”

When an animal is sick, it can have an impact on the whole family, and over-prescribing antibiotics can occur within both human and veterinary medicine. Preventing infection in the first place is essential.

“A big part of veterinary medicine is preventative health for pets, including helping families keep their pets healthy,” Frey said. “We also want to protect young children from fleas on cats and dogs, or body fluids when a pet is sick. I’m here to protect the health of furry patients, but that informs the health of clients that come in.”

In her capacity as a companion animal veterinarian, Frey has served on committees for both the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to draft policy and guidelines that practitioners, clinics and hospitals can use to encourage proper antimicrobial stewardship. Good stewardship includes following the AVMA’s Core Principles of Antimicrobial Stewardship and guidelines, such as those from the International Society of Companion Animal Infectious Disease (ISCAID), which can help both veterinarians and pet owners understand prescribing practices and preventive medicine.

“Pet owners with young children often have already had a conversation with a pediatrician about which circumstances require antibiotics,” she said. “That’s a good starting point for a veterinarian – just as you don’t need to overtreat your children with antibiotics, you don’t want to overtreat your pets. Is it possible to first try lots of rest and proper nutrition? Antibiotic resistance makes care a lot more complicated.”

Antimicrobial resistance is a global issue that needs cooperation from stakeholders in all areas of health care and environmental protection. Many human health clinics have a staff member designated to lead efforts on antimicrobial resistance to ensure proper stewardship is followed and the potential impacts of the issue are well understood. The same should be true for a veterinary clinic, said Frey.

“This issue affects all of us, worldwide,” she said, “and we have to find commonality and support each other, whether that’s in making personal behavioral changes, or in getting buy-in within practices, or working within professional organizations to support policy that preserves the effectiveness and availability of antimicrobial drugs for our patients, whether they are animal or human.”


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Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@listserv.unc.edu.

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