Sweeping new federal antibiotics regulations aren’t something that caught veterinary student T’Lee Girrard off guard. In fact, Iowa State University’s (ISU) College of Vet­erinary Medicine helped her prepare for the new rules before they were in full force on Jan. 1, 2017.

Girrard, a fourth-year veterinary medicine student from Creston, says the college was proactive in its approach to teaching aspiring veterinarians.

She learned about different types of antibiotics, what they’re used for, how they work and how they’re administered during the first three years of veterinary school. Now, during her fourth year, she’s able to apply what she learned.

“We look at treatment records and evaluate on- and off-site use of antibiotics and treatment protocols,” Girrard said.

Students then evaluate the protocols and make suggestions to improve those protocols, she said.

As one of the first classes of veterinarians practicing after the implementation of the expanded antibiotics rules, Girrard said it’s important that she and her classmates understand not only which antibiotics can be used after the implementation of these regulations, but how they can work with different types of health management programs.

“We’re the first ones out there that know this stuff, and we need to be really current about it,” she said.

As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rolled out regulations and expanded rules to protect the efficacy of antibiotics important to human health, it limited the use of certain antibiotics available for use in food animals. Though some worried that the new and expanded rules would eliminate the necessary use of antibiotics in sick animals, that’s not the case.

“I think there is often a sort of knee-jerk reaction that more regulation is worse, but I’m not sure that’s entirely the case in this situation. What these (antibiotics) regulations have done is brought more awareness and more people to the topic that veterinarians have been concerned about for a long time,” said Locke Karriker, interim chair of the veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine department at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Amping up instructions

Since the expanded rules were implemented in January 2017, the College of Veterinary Medicine has amped up its instruction regarding the legalities of the judicious use of antibiotics.

“It’s emphasized that we have to prepare students for the legal regulations that they will encounter so they don’t discover those by accident,” Karriker said.

It’s also had an impact on the curriculum, said Grant Dewell, beef extension veterinarian for Iowa State University.

In the college’s pharmacology course, for example, more focus is on the judicious use of antibiotics. “It’s not just about knowing the chemical structure of the antibiotic, but how it fits into the whole judicious use of antibiotics and the societal implications of its use,” Dewell said.

When Dewell talks about diseases, he reviews with his class which antibiotics could be used to treat the animal under the expanded regulations from the FDA and the USDA.

All veterinary students learn about antibiotics through a variety of required and elective courses and rotations, Dewell said.

Though some students focus their efforts in companion animal veterinary medicine rather than food animals, Karriker said all students are required to have knowledge of antibiotic use to obtain their veterinary license.

With that license comes the responsibility in keeping animals healthy and also protecting important antibiotics. Not only that, but consumers have a greater interest in the use of antibiotics, said Chelsea Ruston, a fourth-year veterinary student from Altoona, Pennsylvania.

“If animals are sick, they need to be treated, and we need that treatment to be effective,” she said.

The college is not only preparing students to take care of sick animals, but also to defend their choice in treatment options. Con­­sumers have questions about their food and want to make sure that the food they eat is safe for their families. Ruston understands that.

“So a lot of it is getting the public to understand safe meat and understand what we’re trying to do to produce safe meat for them,” she said.

Abiding by the regulations regarding antibiotics use, adhering to appropriate withdrawal times and proper selection of a treatment are important, she said.

Disease prevention

Karriker and Dewell said there’s a greater focus on preventing diseases rather than simply treating them.

“There’s a whole lot of things we can look at to manage cattle,” Dewell said. “We can look at different vaccines, look at ways to decrease stress, those types of things that can limit our need to use antibiotics.”

This puts an emphasis on careful management and treatment considerations, he said. “We have to evaluate how we’re going to use antibiotics. We can’t use them all the time; it’s not a good use of money, and it’s also not a good use of the antibiotic.”