Minnesota Group Helps Draw Attention to Pets in Antibiotic Resistance Battle

Market to Market | Clip
Mar 24, 2023 | 7 min

Back in 2018, the FDA unveiled a new 5-year plan for supporting antimicrobial stewardship in veterinary settings. In June of this year, the plan becomes policy in order to help combat AMR or antimicrobial resistance for both animals and people. Over-the-counter access to many antibiotics will be changed to distribution by a licensed veterinarian in just a few weeks.

Much attention has been focused on the agricultural side of the equation but pet health has become a priority in the animal care community.

Colleen Krantz explains in our Cover Story. 


For nearly a decade, the nation’s spotlight has shone squarely on livestock when it comes to antibiotic use in animals and concerns about resistant bacteria. While U.S. regulations implemented in 2017 helped drive down the sales of certain antibiotics for use in livestock by 38 percent between 2015, the peak year, and 2021, concerns about bacterial resistance have not eased.

In response, the European Union in 2022 created greater powers in Europe that would allow them to withhold certain medically important antibiotics from animals. The European Union didn’t focus only on livestock, but included man’s best friend as well as their feline counterparts and other companion animals. 

Dr. Jennifer Granick, associate professor, University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine: “We don’t have those restrictions in the United States right now but there is concern that if we don’t take very good care about the way we are using antibiotics, that we are going to have problems not only with treating our veterinary patients, but in human medicine as well.”

Pets have not been a primary focus of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when it comes to preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics, particularly those also used to combat disease in humans, but that may soon change. The FDA declined Market to Market’s request for an interview but sent a written statement that said: 

“To date, the majority of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine judicious use policies have been focused on food-producing animals. However, as part of FDA’s 5-year plan, Supporting Antimicrobial Stewardship in Veterinary Settings, CVM intends to develop and implement a strategy for promoting antimicrobial stewardship in companion animals.”

Researchers say that more than 60 percent of the roughly 1,500 known pathogens that affect humans can be transmitted between animals and humans.

Dr. Jennifer Granick, associate professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota: “It is pretty new that people are starting to evaluate antibiotic use in pets. I think the reason why food animals have been the focus so long is because they are large so the actual amount of drug per patient is more for, say, a cow than it is for a tiny little Chihuahua. But the thing about companion animals that I think people are starting to key in on is that they share the same environments that we live in. So we have cats and dogs living in our house. We have cats and dogs oftentimes living in our beds too. They sleep with us. We share ice cream cones with them. So the interactions between those animals and humans is actually a lot closer, which means that we are likely sharing bacteria sort of in and on our bodies with those animals much more closely.”

Dr. Granick is one of three women behind the Antimicrobial Resistance and Stewardship Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine. The campaign, partially supported by an FDA grant, provides information to vet clinics and performs research related to antibiotic prescription practices in pets. 

As bacteria mutate or adapt to survive treatment, certain antibiotics are at risk of becoming ineffective. At the University of Minnesota’s small animal vet clinic, which handles some of the state’s more complicated cases, they have seen a dramatic increase in pets with infections associated with resistant bacteria.

Dr. Jennifer Granick, associate professor, University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine: “I certainly have seen that in practice where the human has an antibiotic-resistant infection and a dog that lives with that human comes into us and has an infection in maybe a different location of the body, but with also the same organism, the same resistant pattern….So the closer we are in contact with those animals, the greater the risk. And we’re not going to get rid of our pets, right? They’re part of our wellness. So what we need to do instead is be really careful about how we’re treating our pets because we have to recognize that we’re not just treating the pets, we’re kind of treating the whole household in a way.”

If pet owners are desperate to heal a sick cat or dog, however, Dr. Granick says they may pressure veterinarians to prescribe antibiotics that may not be the best answer.

Dr. Jennifer Granick, associate professor, University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine: “We created a handout that they can utilize and alter as they see fit, but the headline of the handout that goes home with the pet owner is: ‘Your pet does not need an antibiotic today’ with an exclamation point. It’s like a celebration, you know.”

One southern Minnesota clinic that has collected data for the university’s research is Heartland Animal Hospital in Owatonna.

Dr. Anna Wildgrube, Heartland Animal Hospital, Owatonna, Minnesota: “There’s a lot of buzzwords associated with large animal production, a lot of those being: antibiotic resistance, antibiotic use, your meat being safe or not safe. And, of course, everything that’s in the food chain is safe because of the withdrawals… So the challenging part is when you transfer that down to dogs and cats. Dogs and cats aren’t in our food chain… so it makes it a lot different for people and they don’t realize that antibiotic resistance can happen – or antibiotic abuse to be truthful – can happen in the small animal world as well.”

Dr. Wildgrube says they are happy to get university updates on the best practices for treating various illnesses, particularly if an antibiotic has been proven unnecessary.

Dr. Anna Wildgrube, Heartland Animal Hospital, Owatonna, Minnesota: “As veterinarians, we need to balance people’s expectations of their problem, as well as offering solutions to the problems. And it’s not always to reach for antibiotics.”

Pets are not the only overlooked group of animals. Wildlife can be carriers or victims of resistant bacteria.

Dr. Anna Wildgrube, Heartland Animal Hospital, Owatonna, Minnesota: “The great part about veterinarian medicine is that as we gain more information, we can help do our job better….What would be great if it were to happen coming down the road would be suggested guidelines for antibiotic use as veterinarians… as far as having a duration of antibiotic and an antibiotic choice that would be most appropriate for the condition you’re seeing. That would be handy. ”

Wildgrube says antibiotics are critical to controlling certain illnesses, and the cost of losing that tool is too high.

Dr. Anna Wildgrube, Heartland Animal Hospital, Owatonna, Minnesota: “If we didn’t use antibiotics in the world, there would be a lot of death for people and for animals.” 

By Colleen Bradford Krantz, colleen.krantz@iowapbs.org