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About the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)

What is a veterinary medicine?

How do I know the medicine is safe for my animal?

Why control animal medicines?

What are the standards the VMD applies?

The VMD Product Information Database

How can I obtain veterinary medicines?

Who can administer medicines (including vaccines) to animals?

Can I buy medicines on the internet? The Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme (AIRS)

Can I use a human medicine on my animal?

Can I import veterinary medicines?

Where do I report suspected illegal products?

How do I report that my animal has had a reaction to a medicine or the medicine doesn't work?

    What is an adverse reaction?

    What is pharmacovigilance?

Vaccines/Vaccination

    Why should I vaccinate my dog or cat? What vaccinations do I need for my dog or cat?

    What is a vaccine and how do they work?

What should I do with any left-over medicine?

If I have veterinary medicines I don't need, can I sell them?

How do I know food products are free from unsafe concentrations of veterinary medicines?

What action is taken where unacceptable residues are detected?

Antibiotic Resistance

    What is an antibiotic? What is antibiotic resistance?

    Why should we worry about antibiotic resistance

Anthelmintics/De-wormers

    Anthelmintic resistance and use of anthelmintic drugs

The VMD Exemption for Small Pet Animals (medicines for cage birds, homing pigeons, aquarium animals, terrarium animals, small rodents, ferrets and pet rabbits)

What medicines can I use on bees?

Medicines for horses and the need for record keeping

Are Homeopathic preparations safe?


About the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)

The VMD is an Executive Agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

We authorise veterinary medicines and continue to monitor their quality, safety and effectiveness following authorisation. We're responsible for the Veterinary Medicines Regulations which set out UK controls on veterinary medicines. We inspect sites in the UK that manufacture, distribute and supply veterinary medicines including accredited internet retailers to ensure they comply with the regulations.

You can find more information about our work at www.vmd.defra.gov.uk.

Leaflet 'The Work of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)'


What is a veterinary medicine?

Veterinary medicines are given to animals to treat or prevent disease. For example, antibiotics are used to treat infections in animals and vaccines are used so that animals don't get a particular disease.

Veterinary medicines are usually prescribed by a vet after they've examined your animal and established what is wrong with it. Some veterinary medicines which don't need a vet to be involved and which are generally considered to be safe, such as some flea treatments and worming tablets, can be bought directly from pet stores and supermarkets.

Veterinary medicines in the UK must be authorised by the VMD. Every authorised product has a marketing authorisation. The process of authorisation ensures the safety, quality and effectiveness of the medicine.

You can tell if a veterinary medicine is authorised in the UK as it will include English language labelling which it is important that you read and understand. The label will include a unique UK marketing authorisation number which will appear in one of the following formats:

  • Vm 04321/4001
  • Vh 05467/4007
  • EU/1/99/099/001-001

Alternatively, they will include a statement "This veterinary medicine is marketed in accordance with Schedule 6 of the Veterinary Medicines Regulations - Exemptions for small pet animals" or similar on the label and packaging.

You should only buy or use these medicines. Medicines which are not authorised may be harmful to you or your pet, and may be of little or no use for treating your animal. If you are in any doubt whether a medicine you've bought is authorised or not, please speak to your vet, pharmacist or a suitably qualified person (SQP). Another way to check whether a medicine is authorised is to refer to our product information database as this lists all UK authorised veterinary medicines and provides extra information on them including the Summary of Product Characteristics (SPC) which includes all of the information on the labels/leaflets as well as some additional information.

If you're not sure whether a veterinary medicine is authorised, read the following leaflet and if you're still in doubt please phone us on 01932 336911 to check.

Leaflet 'How to Identify Veterinary Medicinal Products; Legal or Illegal?'

If you can't find a product on the Product Information Database, and you think there are statements on it's packaging which gives you the impression that it treats or prevents disease, you can report this using the Unauthorised Product Complaint form.


How do I know the medicine is safe for my animal?

We have produced a leaflet to tell pet owners about the high standards animal medicines must meet before they are allowed to be sold as veterinary medicines in the UK. This explains how pet owners can have confidence in the medicines they give to their pets.

Leaflet 'Is this medicine safe for my pet?'


Why control animal medicines?

The controls in the Veterinary Medicines Regulations we oversee protect the health of your pet, your own health and that of your family when using the medicine and they help to ensure the protection of the environment. Similar safeguards apply to medicines for farm animals to make sure that the food produced does not contain unacceptable levels of medicines and is safe to eat.


What are the standards the VMD applies?

Before authorising any new veterinary medicine we examine all the evidence provided by the company and assess the benefits and risks. Medicinal products should be of consistent quality, safe to use on the animal being treated, safe to people giving the animal the medicine and the environment. In the case of medicines given to food producing species such as cattle and sheep, it has to be shown that the food produced from treated animals e.g. meat, milk, won't harm consumers. Medicines will do what they claim to do, as long as the label instructions are followed. The labels also provide advice on user safety and environmental exposure.

If necessary, we seek independent advice on whether to grant a marketing authorisation from the Veterinary Products Committee (VPC), an independent advisory body of experts and where appropriate, the Food Standards Agency and the Health Protection Agency.

Whilst we decide whether to approve an application we do consult the VPC where there are specific scientific issues on which we require advice. In these cases, VPC members with the appropriate expertise are asked to lead the discussion to address the concerns we've raised.

We work with similar veterinary medicines agencies in other EU member states and with the European Medicines Agency to make sure that similar standards apply across Europe.


The VMD Product Information Database

This is our online database which provides details of every veterinary medicine authorised in the UK. You can carry out simple product searches and you'll be able to download the results. You can also view and print individual Summary of Product Characteristics which includes all of the information on the labels/leaflets as well as some additional information. Where the UK has led the assessment of an application for the marketing authorisation and where the product was after 2005 , you'll be able to find the public assessment report which tells you about the studies performed by the manufacturer to support the product as well as a list of changes which have been made to the product.


How can I obtain veterinary medicines?

You can obtain veterinary medicines from your vet. You can also obtain certain veterinary medicines from a pharmacist or a suitably qualified person (SQP). SQPs are a group of professionally qualified individuals who are trained to prescribe and/or supply certain veterinary medicines. You can find SQPs working in some vet practices and in premises approved by the VMD, which include saddleries, country stores and pet stores (click here to find an approved SQP retailer). Certain veterinary medicines which are very safe and that are used for conditions where no specialist knowledge is required can also be obtained as a general sales items. You should not give any medicine to your animals unless those medicines have a marketing authorisation for its use in the UK and they've been correctly prescribed and supplied as explained below otherwise you may be putting your animal's health at risk and committing an offence.

In the UK, veterinary medicines are classified into one of four distribution categories which indicates how they can be prescribed and supplied. An authorised veterinary medicine will show its distribution category on its label:

  1. Prescription Only Medicine - Veterinarian (POM-V)
    These may only be supplied by a veterinary surgeon or a pharmacist and must be supplied in accordance with a prescription from a veterinary surgeon.
  2. Prescription Only Medicine - Veterinarian, Pharmacist, Suitably Qualified Person (POM-VPS)
    These may only be supplied by a veterinary surgeon, pharmacist or suitably qualified person and must be in accordance with a prescription from one of those persons.
  3. Non Food Animal - Veterinarian, Pharmacist, Suitably Qualified Person (NFA-VPS)
    These may be supplied without a prescription by a veterinary surgeon, pharmacist or suitably qualified person.
  4. Authorised Veterinary Medicine - General Sales List (AVM-GSL)
    There are no restrictions on the supply of AVM-GSL products. You can buy these off the shelf at pet shops and supermarkets.

Who can administer medicines (including vaccines) to animals?

Veterinary medicines in the distribution category POM-V (Prescription Only Medicine-Veterinarian) may only be administered by a veterinary surgeon or by another person under his/her guidance. There is no restriction on the administration of other categories of veterinary medicine, however this should only be done with the permission of the animal's owner.


Can I buy medicines on the internet?
The Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme (AIRS)

Yes, but you need to be cautious...
Animal owners are now more regularly looking to buy veterinary medicines online. Whilst many of the sites supplying veterinary medicines operate legally there are some that don't and these pose a risk to your animals and to you as well. We've therefore developed the Scheme (AIRS) to help you buy veterinary medicines safely.

How will the scheme help you?
AIRS will help you as an online buyer of veterinary medicines by:

  • showing you that the retailer has voluntarily applied for and has been granted accreditation
  • confirming that we've inspected the website and found that it complies with the Scheme's requirements and the Veterinary Medicines Regulations
  • reducing the risk of you buying unauthorised veterinary medicines
  • reducing the risk of you buying inappropriate or ineffective veterinary medicines for your animals.

Look for this logo:

Accredited Retailer


You can also check an internet retailer against the list of accredited websites by looking on the relevant page of the VMD website and clicking on the retailer link. Also, if you are on a retailer website displaying our logo you should be able to click on the logo to link back to its entry on our website.

Leaflet 'Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme (AIRS)'


Can I use a human medicine on my animal?

In the majority of cases no, but a vet can prescribe a human medicine for use on your animal if a suitable veterinary medicine isn't available in the UK to treat a particular species or condition to prevent the animal from suffering.


Can I import veterinary medicines?

No. If your veterinary surgeon thinks your animal needs a medicine from outside the UK then they can prescribe the medicine and they will apply for a certificate to import it for use on your animal.


Where do I report suspected illegal products?

If you think a product is being supplied illegally please contact the Enforcement team enforcement@vmd.defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Enforcement Strategy


How do I report that my animal has had a reaction to a medicine or the medicine doesn't work?

If you think that your animal has reacted badly to a veterinary medicine i.e. suffered a side effect and you need advice, you should first contact your veterinary surgeon who will be able to discuss the reaction with you, start any treatment required and, where appropriate, report it to the VMD. If possible take the medicine container (or label for a large pack) or package leaflet with you. Similarly, if you think that a veterinary medicine is not working properly, despite following the label instructions, you should let your vet know so that they can consider reporting this to the VMD and, if necessary, prescribe a different medicine.

If you think you have reacted badly after handling or being in contact with a veterinary medicine, according to how bad the reaction is you may need to seek medical advice. You should always check the label/leaflet of the veterinary medicine to see if there is any specific advice on what action to take if, for example, you splash the product on your skin. If you have seen a doctor or a pharmacist you can ask them to report the incident to the VMD.

If you would prefer to report the side effect or the medicine not working directly to the VMD you can use the interactive reporting form on www.vmd.defra.gov.uk


What is an adverse reaction?

An adverse reaction is a harmful and unintended reaction (side effect) caused by use of a veterinary medicine. This reaction could be in the animal treated, other animals or humans.


What is pharmacovigilance?

The activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse reactions or any other medicine related problem are known as pharmacovigilance. The objective is to ensure:

  • the safe and effective use of veterinary medicines in animals
  • the safety of people who come into contact with veterinary medicines
  • the safety of veterinary medicines for the environment

Leaflet 'Pharmacovigilance'


Vaccines/Vaccination
Why should I vaccinate my dog or cat? What vaccinations do I need for my dog or cat?

Vaccination is the only proven method of protecting against specific diseases your pet might be at risk of contracting. Often, there is no complete cure for life threatening diseases such as distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and cat 'Flu. Even the treatments available to ease the symptoms are of limited help.

There are other diseases, such as kennel cough in dogs, which are less life-threatening but where protection can also be provided.

Current rates of infection of pets with serious disease are low in the UK. That is mainly because most owners have their pets vaccinated.

You should speak to your vet to find out which specific vaccines are appropriate for your pet.


What is a vaccine and how do they work?

Vaccines contain a small dose of either dead or live organisms. These trigger the pet's immune system to produce antibodies against disease. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to neutralise or destroy disease-causing organisms and toxins.

Vaccination primes your pet's immune system on how to produce the correct antibodies quickly. If your pet then comes into contact with one of the germs, its immune system will recognise it and immediately produce the antibodies needed to fight the infection.

However, nothing in the natural world is 100% certain, including vaccines. A pet may fail to gain enough immunity from a vaccine for a number of reasons which may include, for example, disease present at the time of vaccination or poor nutrition. For this reason vaccines should generally only be used in healthy pets. The short term immunity a mother passes to her newborn offspring through her milk can also block the newborn's ability to create antibodies when it is vaccinated. That is why young animals need to be vaccinated at very specific ages to maximise the chance of providing protection. This is why your vet's advice on the timing of vaccination is important.

Leaflet 'Vaccines for Dogs and Cats - Advice for Owners'


What should I do with any left-over medicine?

There will be instructions on the product label or leaflet. If you obtained the medicine from your veterinary surgeon, return it to the veterinary practice for safe disposal, otherwise place the medicine in the rubbish bin ensuring that animals and children cannot reach it. There may be special requirements for some medicines e.g. sheep dips.


If I have veterinary medicines I don't need, can I sell them?

No. It is an offence to sell veterinary medicines (except AVM-GSL) unless you have authorisation to do so, for example registered pharmacists, veterinary surgeons, agricultural merchants and registered saddlers.


How do I know food products are free from unsafe concentrations of veterinary medicines?

Monitoring and inspection procedures ensure that animal meat and products are safe for human consumption.

We operate a sampling and testing programme to check food samples for residues of veterinary medicines, unauthorised substances and environmental contaminants. The programme covers: red meat, poultry, salmon and trout, eggs, wild and farmed game, honey and milk. Over 35,000 samples are collected for analysis each year. They are collected from farms, egg packing stations, abattoirs and meat cutting plants.

More details of this surveillance and all of the results are published at www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/vrc/reports/surveillance.html and on the website of Veterinary Residues Committee - an independent expert committee that advises on the surveillance programme (http://www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/vrc/index.html).


What action is taken where unacceptable residues are detected?

Action is taken where unacceptable concentrations of a residue of an authorised veterinary medicine are detected. An authorised officer, such as a vet or fish health officer carries out a thorough on-farm investigation at the farm of origin to discover the source of the residue. The farmer and their own vet can then be given Antibiotic Resistance advice to help avoid a recurrence.

Where very high concentrations of authorised substances or unauthorised substances are detected in food, an investigation will be undertaken by an investigation officer from Defra's Rural Payments Agency. Prosecutions may be pursued if there is sufficient evidence of misuse of an authorised product or use of an unauthorised substance.


Antibiotic Resistance

What is an antibiotic?

Over time the term antibiotic has been used to mean slightly differing things, but now in both a public and professional way it is more understood to mean an antibacterial.

Antibacterials are used to treat bacterial infections in both people and animals and fall under the collective term of antimicrobials (this term also covers antivirals, antifungals and antiprotozoals).

An antimicrobial is a general term for any compound with a direct action on micro-organisms used for treatment or prevention of infections. When the broader term of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is used it is usually referring to, or certainly including, antibiotic resistance.

Further information on definitions can be found on the Heads of Medicines Agency website.


What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria that are usually sensitive to a type of antibiotic to become resistant to it. Resistance is a natural biological phenomenon but is increased and accelerated by various factors such as misuse of antibiotic medicines, poor infection control practices and global trade and travel.


Why should we worry about antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotics are essential medicines for treating bacterial infections in both humans and animals and they are losing their effectiveness at an increasing rate. Bacteria can adapt and find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic and the more you use an antibiotic, the higher the risk that bacteria will develop resistance to it.

It is therefore important we use antibiotics in the right way: the right medicine, at the right dose, at the right time, and for the right duration to slow down the development of antibiotic resistance. There are very few new antibiotics in the development pipeline, which is why it is important we use our existing antibiotics wisely and make sure these life-saving medicines continue to stay effective for ourselves and our pets.

When your vet prescribes antibiotics for your animal it is important that you follow their instruction on giving the medicine to your animal. If you don't you could be contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Further information can be found on http://www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/vet/antibiotic.aspx


Anthelmintics/De-wormers

Anthelmintics are used to treat animals that may be infested with various worms for species such as the liver fluke, roundworm and tapeworm. Anthelmintic drugs play an important role in treating disease in animals.


Anthelmintic resistance and use of anthelmintic drugs

Resistance is the ability of worms to survive a particular dose of anthelmintic which would normally be effective.

Anthelmintic resistance is seen in sheep and goats and to a lesser extent, horses and cattle. Because of growing multi drug resistance in some areas, farmers are left with solutions like clearing their land and restocking at a later time or moving into other business areas altogether.

There are numerous reasons why anthelmintic resistance occurs including: heavy use of the same or different anthelmintics on many farms; the use of low/incorrect doses of anthelmintic drugs; poor knowledge of the various classes of anthelmintics; and the use of inadequate worm control strategies.

You should seek advice from your veterinary surgeon, from a suitably qualified person or pharmacist, so that you use the most appropriate wormer. You should always follow the advice on the label and leaflet to help avoid the development of resistance.

Leaflet 'Anthelmintic Resistance and the Responsible Use of Anthelmintics (Although written for vets you may find the content useful)'


The VMD Exemption for Small Pet Animals (medicines for cage birds, homing pigeons, aquarium animals, terrarium animals, small rodents, ferrets and pet rabbits)

Veterinary medicines sold under the VMD exemption for small pet animals do not have a marketing authorisation as they are exempt from this requirement. The scheme covers only products intended for use in cage birds, homing pigeons, aquarium animals, terrarium animals (e.g. reptiles), small rodents, ferrets and pet rabbits. The products under this exemption do not require input from a vet, so for example antibiotics are not available under this scheme.

Products marketed under this exemption can be identified by a statement on the label, such as "This veterinary medicine is marketed in accordance with Schedule 6 of the Veterinary Medicines Regulations - Exemptions for small pet animals". There is not a complete list of products marketed under this exemption but on our website www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/pharm/saes.aspx there is a list of those active ingredients which may be included in products under the exemption; the list is categorised by species.

Leaflet 'Availability of Veterinary Medicines'


What medicines can I use on bees?

Varroosis is widespread in the UK and across the EU, and there is information to suggest that resistance to some of the active ingredients in authorised products is increasing. Bee keepers are concerned with the threat that the parasitic mite varroa destructor presents to apiculture.

There are products authorised in the UK for the treatment of varroa infestation. However, the VMD acknowledges that availability of medicines to control this condition is a problem. A fast track system has been put in place to allow vets to import products authorised in the EU via the VMD's import certificate scheme, where your vet can justify the use of an imported product.

A vet who is used to treating bees will be able to discuss medicines which can be used for the treatment of disease in bees if UK authorised products do not seem to be working. If this happens, it should be reported to the manufacturer or directly to the VMD. If you are having problems identifying a suitable vet, the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) will be able to advise you of suitable vets in your area.

A full list of UK authorised medicines can be found on the Product Information Database at www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/ProductInformationDatabase/.

Further information regarding treatment for bees can be found on www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/vet/bee.aspx.


Medicines for horses and the need for record keeping

EU legislation defines the horse as a food producing animal. Horses can be declared either as intended for human consumption (food producing horse) or not intended for human consumption (non-food producing horse) in their passport. This declaration determines what medicines can be given to the animal. Therefore, if you keep horses, ponies or donkeys for human consumption, you need to maintain records in the horses' passports of your purchases of all veterinary medicines. The passports are important because they make certain that if the animals have been treated with certain medicines, they aren't used as food for human consumption.

For more information on the use of medicines for horses www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/vet/horses.aspx.

For more information of your obligations under the Horse Passport Regulations www.gov.uk/horse-passport.

A full list of UK authorised veterinary medicines can be found on the Product Information Database at www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/ProductInformationDatabase.


Are homeopathic preparations safe?

Homeopathic products which are registered with the VMD will have a unique code number starting with 'Vh' and their registration process is only to assess their safety, not their effectiveness.

In addition to the small number of registered homeopathics there are other homeopathic products intended for use in animals available in the UK because they have been on the market for decades. The safety of these products has not been assessed by the VMD.


Further information
www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/.

Do you have any other questions?
If you have a question concerning veterinary medicines you can email us at postmaster@vmd.defra.gsi.gov.uk or call us on 01932 336911. If you have a specific question concerning your animal then you need to speak to your vet.

Last Updated: 05/11/2013

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