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Changes in antibiotic prescription requirements

Amy Martell for Progressive Dairyman Published on 16 January 2019

As we start the new year, there are some new regulations regarding medically important antibiotics. However, chances are you are already compliant with the changes, so take a deep breath and sip some hot chocolate.

These new regulations will closer align Canada to the U.S. and the EU, and will have minimal impact on most dairy farms.



Medications licensed after 2004 and deemed medically important were already on the list of antibiotics requiring a veterinary prescription. A list of medically important antibiotics can be found online (Government of Canada - Prescription drug list). Antibiotics licensed before 2004 have been added and, regardless of route (injectable, oral including water solubles and suspensions, or in feed), it requires a prescription.

Commonly used antibiotics, such as chlortetracycline, neomycin, spectinomycin, penicillin, tilmicosin (Micotil) and lincomycin will require a prescription. Sulfonamides, such as Sustain or Sulfa boluses used to treat coccidiosis, will also require a prescription.

A prescription, in turn, requires a valid veterinary-client-patient-relationship (VCPR). In other words, the prescribing veterinarian needs to have visited your facilities and acquired a familiarity with your farm, production practices and animals; this allows them to make informed decisions when prescribing medication in response to a disease outbreak. Remember, prescriptions are for your facility only, regardless of how much you appreciate your neighbour. Indications for use of medically important drugs can no longer include growth promotion or prevention of disease.

Veterinarians are also adjusting to some new requirements, particularly in regard to writing prescriptions for feed. It will be helpful if you plan ahead and give your veterinarian a little extra time to write that prescription. Useful information when requesting a prescription includes:

  • Clinical signs (coughing? scours?)

  • Age, weight and sex of animals to be treated

  • If applicable – production phase (lactating vs. non-lactating, for example)

  • Number of animals to be treated

  • Other medications already being given to this group

  • If a feed script is required, how do you plan to administer the feed? Which mill should the script be sent to?

Regulations vary from province to province on how a producer can purchase medications. Generally, you can purchase medications from your veterinarian if you have a valid VCPR. In some provinces, you can purchase from a drug distribution center or a veterinary pharmacy with a prescription from your veterinarian.


Some Class II and III feed-grade antibiotics can no longer be used as growth promotants or disease prevention. Oral products such as Aureo S700 crumbles that had no treatment claim on the label have been taken off the market. You can no longer purchase bags of Class I or II feed medications from the feed mill.

You will have to purchase these feed medications from your veterinarian or a veterinary pharmacy with a prescription from a veterinarian. Class IV feed grade antibiotics, such as ionophores like Rumensin, Decoxx and Bovatec, do not require a veterinary prescription except in Quebec.

Why do we care?

Farmers and veterinarians share a goal of preventing disease in food animals and treating sick animals. Unfortunately, food-animal medicine can be a common punching bag for public concerns about responsible use of antibiotics. The new regulations help assure the public Canadian farmers and veterinarians are serious about responsible use of antibiotics.

ProAction has helped prepare for this

During earlier proAction modules, Canadian dairy farms have already established prescription drug records as part of the food safety module, helping guide responsible antibiotic use as well as following prevention methods, such as SOPs for colostrum administration. A veterinarian signs a cattle health statement, verifying knowledge of your cattle and production methods.

As part of the upcoming biosecurity module, Canadian dairy farmers are already assessing strategies to reduce disease risk. These measures, including vaccination and management of new arrivals on-farm, will help reduce the need for antibiotics on your farm. Examining disease incidence will help you and your herd veterinarian predict prescription drug needs.

How can you turn the regulations into an opportunity?

While most dairy farms have an established relationship with a veterinarian, VCPR visits are a good opportunity to take your veterinarian through your facilities. Please, if you are paying for a farm call, make us earn it. Discuss your headaches and goals and challenge us to help you solve those headaches and help you achieve those goals.


I am optimistic that, in four years of veterinary education, my colleagues gained knowledge in more areas than just palpation. We study pharmacology, learning how the drugs we prescribe work. It means when we know a client has a problem with mycoplasma, we know that drugs targeting the cell wall (such as penicillin) will be ineffective because mycoplasma lacks a cell wall.

Knowledge of your disease history combined with pharmacological knowledge helps to create an effective treatment plan. In addition to university education, food-animal veterinarians benefit from visiting a variety of facilities, noting ideas that work and ideas that do not. My clients are accustomed to me asking permission to take pictures of ingenious solutions they create to problems. Please challenge your herd veterinarian to provide more for you.

Recognizing a problem and doing our part

The existence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics is inescapable. Some antibiotics are very important for treatment of disease in human medicine, such as fluoroquinolones. These drugs are labeled for treatment of respiratory disease, along with many other effective drugs which are not commonly used in human medicine. This means we can make an effort to not use a drug important to human medicine as a first-line treatment.

This can easily be accomplished without compromising the health of our cattle. A nail does not necessarily require use of a sledgehammer (even if more regulations make you inclined to reach for a sledgehammer).

Please be patient with your veterinarians as we adjust to the new requirements for prescriptions.

For many farms, these new regulations will have minimal impact while providing an opportunity to show the public responsible use of antibiotics is a part of Canadian milk production. It provides consumers with another reason to look for the little blue cow when shopping. Canadian dairy farmers already set an international standard for responsible livestock care and milk quality. Please keep up the good work.  end mark

Dr. Amy Martell is a practicing veterinarian with Livestock Veterinary Services in Alberta. Dr. Al Scorgie from Tavistock Veterinarians, Ontario, assisted with this article. They are both members of XLVets Canada.