Antimicrobial Resistance

At the time of writing this article, it is World Antimicrobial Awareness Week: an important week not only in terms of equine, animal and human health, but also in helping us to be more conscious of how we use antimicrobial agents.

The availability and use of antimicrobial herbal and pharmaceutical medicines gives us the ability to help our equines live longer, healthier lives. If we want this to continue, however, we need to be incredibly judicious in how we use these treatments.

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites no longer respond to antimicrobial agents. Using antimicrobial drugs inappropriately or unnecessarily increases AMR. This means that antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents become ineffective in helping our horses in conditions they were once effective in helping to resolve.  This can mean that when our horses actually genuinely need such medications to help, our options are more limited.

The largest contributor to AMR is overuse and misuse of antimicrobial agents. It can be quite easy to accidentally fall into the trap of using such medications without stopping to give thought to what we are actually doing. For example, we give our horses antibiotics unnecessarily, such as in the case of a horse with a snotty nose (viral infection), which we want to ‘treat’ with antibiotics. Antibiotics are ineffective in the case of viral infections. Or when we routinely deworm our horses on a seasonal basis as opposed to employing strategic deworming, faecal egg sampling and pasture management methods (for example regularly picking up manure, harrowing and/or rotating paddocks). To learn more about deworming, see the article: Drenching/Deworming with Panacur.

In some parts of the world (such as Australia and New Zealand), the use of feed supplements that contain antibiotics is a real concern. An example of this is a product which claims to assist in helping prevent laminitis (claims which are not supported in many other parts of the world) Laminitis ‘Prevention’- But at what cost? Even something as innocent as using anti-fungal washes on any skin condition that we may see on our horses and ponies increases the risk of AMR.

Starting with sound animal husbandry practices such as feeding our horses well-balanced diets which meet key nutrient requirements Nutrient Requirements for Horses: Fortified Feeds and the need for Supplementation; employing good pasture management and stable hygiene practices; avoiding self-prescribing for our horses ‘just-in-case’; and disposing of unused antibiotics and anti-fungals appropriately are all really good places to start to help reduce AMR.

In many instances, appropriately applied and selected nutritional supplements and herbal medicines can be used to effectively prevent, treat or manage health challenges in our equines: sometimes used as stand-alone therapies, other times used in conjunction with standard medications. In both cases, they can help to significantly reduce AMR.

We can also be mindful not to pressure our vets to prescribe medications when they don’t feel it is necessary for our horses and ponies. This is in the best interests of not only our equines, but all animals and humans for the long term.

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