Think about what medicines you take or have in your medicine cabinet. Are they antibiotics? Wound creams or ointments? Insulin? Aspirin? Anti-anxiety pills? Antiseptics? Eye drops? What vaccinations have you received, either as a child or an adult?

Chances are similar types of medicines and vaccines are used in animals, because animals need medicines, too! Sometimes they are the same types of medicines as those you take, but animals get a variety of diseases and infections that humans do not. And, these may require different medications. Given the multitude of animal species on our planet, how these medicines are delivered may also differ from those commonly used in human medicine.

Animal Health Products are the pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and feed additives used to keep animals healthy.

Different types of animal medicines include anaesthetics, antacids, anti-infectives (antibiotics, antimicrobials), biologicals (vaccines, immunisations), anti-inflammatories, parasiticides, muscle relaxants – in other words, there is likely to be an animal health product available to treat or prevent most common animal ailments and injuries.

Animals get their medicines primarily by injection, in their feed or water, orally (tablets, capsules, bolus, feed blocks), or topically (creams, pastes, ointments, sprays, pour-ons).

Responsible use of animal health products is based on a holistic approach of minimising disease through biosecurity, a set of preventative measures aiming to keep groups of animals healthy or to limit the spread of disease within an animal population through good housing, appropriate nutrition, regular monitoring of health and welfare of animals, herd health plans tailored to record specific actions at individual farms and vaccination programmes. When disease occurs, diagnosis and treatment under veterinary care should follow. Veterinary medicines should be used according to the instructions given by the veterinarian and/or medicine manufacturers. Different regions have different programmes in place to promote responsible use of animal health products, such as:

In the US: Judicious Use of Antimicrobials is a set of principles and guidelines developed collaboratively by veterinarians, government (FDA, CDC) and livestock producers that are specific to different livestock and aquatic species for safe and response use of antimicrobials. These guidelines, designed to minimise the need for antibiotic use and maximise their effectiveness when needed, are used as the basis of production education programmes. These programmes represent public and private voluntary efforts designed to ensure that antibiotics are used effectively to control and treat animal disease while at the same time safeguarding public health. (Animal Health Institute, US Food and Drug Administration, American Veterinary Medical Association)

In Europe: EPRUMA which also provides links to similar initiatives in EU Member States

Animal Health Terms

Anti-infectives are substances capable of acting against infection by inhibiting the spread of an infectious agent or by killing the infectious agent outright. Anti-infective is a general term that encompasses antimicrobials, antibiotics, antifungals, and antivirals.
- Antimicrobials are agents that kill bacteria or suppress their multiplication or growth and include antibiotics and synthetic agents.
- Antibiotics are substances produced by or derived from living organisms, such as molds, and that kill or inhibit the growth or reproduction of bacteria.
- Antifungals are medicines used to treat fungal infections such as ringworm, thrush, or athletes foot by killing or inhibiting the growth of fungi.
- Antivirals are medications that shorten the course and lessen the severity of illness due to viral infections. Some can reduce virus shedding, minimising contagions, and some may also prevent infection after exposure.

  • Biologicals are products that detect, stimulate or enhance an animal’s immunity to infection, and are generally derived from living organisms.
  • Feed additives are substances added to animal feed to improve its nutritional value, enhance growth or control disease.
  • Infestation refers to parasites living in or on a host (animal), such as worms, fleas, ticks, or blood parasites.
  • Infection is an invasion of an organism by a pathogen such as bacteria or viruses. Some infections lead to disease.
  • Medicines are substances intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease in humans or animals.
  • Microbe/Microorganism is any organism, such as a germ, virus or pathogen, of microscopic size.
  • Oral refers to medicines taken by mouth.
  • Parasiticides are agents that control internal and external parasites in livestock and companion animals. For example, they are used against flea and tick infestations and internal parasites like heartworms in companion animals, and against parasites that affect the health of farm animals.
  • Pathogens are bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that can cause disease.
  • Prophylaxis is the use of medicine to prevent or limit occurrence of disease.
  • Topical refers to medicines applied to the surface of the body.
  • Vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. Typically contains an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism, and is often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe or its toxins.
  • Zoonotic disease refers to those diseases that can be transferred between people and animals. Some of the most commonly-recognised zoonotic diseases include West Nile virus, E. coli 0157:H7, avian flu, and rabies. Experts estimate 60 percent of all human diseases can move from human to animal and vice-versa. In fact, over the past three decades, approximately 75 percent of new emerging human infectious diseases have been zoonotic.
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