Why are antibiotics used in livestock production?

Antibiotics are used in livestock production for two basic reasons: disease treatment and disease prevention. Just like humans, animals are prone to bacterial infections. As in human medicine, antibiotics are used to effectively treat those infections. In livestock production, antibiotics can also be used to prevent disease. There are times in an animal’s life, such as weaning, where certain diseases can be very common. Antibiotics are sometimes used to prevent these diseases from becoming established in the first place. The video below explains how and why antibiotics are used in livestock production.


With fewer infections, animals receiving preventative antibiotics are, in most cases, healthier.  In turn, those animals tend to grow faster. This has led to the notion that preventative antibiotics are “growth promotants.” In reality, all antibiotics have an “indication” or directions as to how the antibiotics can be used. This is dictated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For example, penicillin, a common antibiotic may be “indicated for the treatment of pneumonia in cattle.” There are similar indications on your bottle of aspirin. Of all the antibiotics available for use in livestock, very few have indications for “growth promotion.” Most preventative antibiotics are indicated for the prevention of specific diseases. Preventing diseases, however, can have the added effect of faster growth. 

For more detailed information on how antibiotics are used in livestock production, visit http://www.ansc.purdue.edu/faen/

FAQs about antibiotics in animal production

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