It’s been a few decades since I helped my gramps with chores on the farm, but I still have vivid memories of walking lopsided with the weight of the grain bucket in one arm, the milo dust causing me to sneeze, and the sound of him calling cattle to the bunk. How many other careers have the power to invoke such memories?
Part of that culture ingrained in us from a young age is to care for the animals that provide us with a livelihood, while continuing to evolve our care to achieve better outcomes through innovation at each step. As a veterinarian, I get to combine my love of the farm with my passion for innovation.
A basic principle of animal husbandry is disease prevention. Biosecurity – physically keeping viruses or bacteria out of our herds or flocks. It means limiting visitors, washing and disinfecting boots and clothes before going into the barns or pens, showering in and out of barns, or going from youngest to oldest animals as you move through the farm. It is about providing animal environments that limit disease by air filtration, feed quality controls, and water sanitation measures. The science of how microorganisms move between farm locations is constantly evolving, and we are using this knowledge to protect and care for flocks and herds.
Vaccination is a cornerstone of prevention programs for herds and flocks (and even schools of fish)—much as they are for our families. Vaccination programs help prepare and build an animal’s immune system so they are able to overcome disease challenges throughout their lives. Veterinarians and farmers strive to understand what disease challenges exist and match the vaccination program to those specific bacterial and viral challenges. At times, a custom vaccine, or autogenous vaccine, is made for their flock or herd to better prevent disease if one is not commercially available. Vaccine companies are working with producers to make new vaccines commercially available to continue to fight well-known diseases as well as new strains as they emerge.
No matter the animal, nutrition is key to any health program because, just like us, it’s hard for an animal to be physically fit if they eat a diet lacking vital nutrients. Farmers work with trained nutritionists to design diets specifically tailored for the animals in our care, adjusting as the animal ages or at times of stress allowing them to build a healthy immune system, which helps vaccines to work optimally. Innovative research into nutrition, such as how gut microbiome interacts with other parts of the body, is allowing us to use nutrition to fight disease.
Still, animals will get sick. As a mom, I tried my best to make sure I took the best possible care of my son—a clean house, clean clothes, up to date vaccinations, good nutrition—but he still got sick. Sometimes it related to the fact that he was around other kids in school and they got sick; other times, I have no idea where that cough came from.
Even with the best care, illness happens—in people and animals--and we must be able to treat those illnesses effectively. This means supportive care and, when necessary, antimicrobials.
While we need to have reliable measures in place to prevent and control disease, we also have an ethical obligation to treat animals when they are sick—the animals have to be at the center of our decisions, and we cannot put policy before science.
Strict regulations safeguard the use of antimicrobials in the US. Medically important feed and water antimicrobials can only be used under the supervision of a veterinarian with a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) for the therapeutic uses of treatment, control or prevention of disease. The FDA’s 5 year plan for antimicrobial stewardship will continue to further enhance efforts to increase stewardship in all veterinary settings.
At Elanco Animal Health, we have taken action through our eight-point plan. We have removed growth promotion globally from all our medically important feed and water antimicrobials and moved these products from over the counter (OTC) to requiring veterinary oversight where the structure exists. In cases where the structure doesn’t exist, we’re providing additional support to ensure responsible use of our products.
When I became a veterinarian, I took an oath to use my scientific knowledge for the betterment of society; to relieve animal suffering, promote health and welfare, and ensure the health of people and the planet. . I’m proud to be doing exactly that by taking a One Health approach to animal health and welfare.
Learn more about Elanco’s One Health
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