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Animals, like people, suffer from disease and require proper care from the veterinarian, the farmer and the pet owner. When disease occurs, diagnosis and treatment under veterinary care should follow. Whenever possible, prevention is always better than cure. Keeping animals healthy and treating them with dignity is one of the main objectives of the animal health industry and applies equally to companion animals, livestock and wild animals.

Read more about the animal health industry's value to society in our paper: A healthy community depends on healthy animals 

What are animal health products?

Animals, just like humans get sick and require medicines. Animals can get illnesses similar to human illnesses and so use similar types of medicines but they also get a variety of diseases and infections that humans do not, requiring very different types of medicines. How animal medicines are delivered may also differ from how people take medicine.

Animal health products also known as veterinary medicines 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 and muscle relaxants. 

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).


Anti-infectives: Substances 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: Agents that kill bacteria or suppress their multiplication or growth and include antibiotics and synthetic agents.

Antibiotics: Substances produced by or derived from living organisms, such as molds, that kill or inhibit the growth or reproduction of bacteria.

Antifungals: Medicines used to treat fungal infections such as ringworm, thrush, or athletes foot by killing or inhibiting the growth of fungi.

Antivirals: 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: Products that detect, stimulate or enhance an animal’s immunity to infection, and are generally derived from living organisms.

Feed additives: Substances added to animal feed to improve its nutritional value or control disease.

Medicines: Substances intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease in humans or animals.

Parasiticides: Agents that control internal and external parasites in livestock and companion animals. 

Vaccines: Biological preparations that improve immunity to a particular disease. They typically contain an agent that resembles a disease-causing microorganism, and are often made from weakened or killed forms of the microbe or its toxins.

Responsible use

The animal health industry promotes the Responsible Use of medicines in animals in the EU in order to maintain efficacy and both prevent and minimise adverse reactions. 

Responsible use of medicines in animals is based on a holistic approach of minimising disease through concepts including:

  • Biosecurity: a set of preventative measures aiming to keep groups of animals healthy or to limit the spread of diseases within an animal population
  • Good housing and ventilation
  • Good hygiene
  • Appropriate nutrition
  • Regular monitoring of health and welfare
  • Herd health planning as a voluntary and flexible management tool tailored to record specific actions at individual farms
  • Vaccination

Veterinary medicines should be used according to the instructions given by the veterinarian and/or medicine manufacturers.

IFAH-Europe is a member of the European Platform for Responsible Use of Medicines in Animals – EPRUMA – which sets out guidelines and best practices to support Responsible Use.

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