Veterinarians and Animal Antibiotic Use

Licensed veterinarians help protect public and animal health and keep our food supply safe


When medically necessary animal antibiotics are prescribed to fight disease in animals, they are often administered to entire groups of animals (flocks or herds) via food or water. The FDA makes the judgment whether or not an animal drug like an antibiotic must be restricted to veterinary supervision. In this case the agency has determined that medically important antibiotics must include such a restriction on the label and a specific order must be produced. The FDA has in place a regulation called the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) that outlines the information that must be supplied by the licensed veterinarian when an order for a VFD drug is written. A VFD for food animals is like a prescription for humans.

Under the VFD, producers are required to obtain a written order to use medically-important antibiotics in animal feed. The VFD is a type of prescription for antibiotics used in animal feed but is not filled by a pharmacy like it is in humans.

Current FDA policy also covers a smaller set of products called water soluble powders. These are storypartnerspdfedited-17antibiotics mixed in water medication systems for a specified period of time to control or treat bacterial infections. They are considered dosage form products, not feed form, and therefore they are subject to labeling regulations that are different from feed products. The FDA mandates that companies marketing water soluble powders that contain medically important antibiotics submit a supplemental application to change the labels from over-the counter to veterinarian prescription.

Bottom line: Licensed veterinarians will write a VFD for antibiotics used in animal feed, and a prescription for antibiotics used in water.

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