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Safety First When Administering Drugs

Treating animals for illness is part of farming. Livestock producers have been taught to medicate their animals with awareness that whatever we do to them can affect the health of others when they consume our livestock. Although this is a valid concern it is also important to remember that some of the drugs we are using can also potentially harm the person administering it.

One of the ways that farmrs can save themselves from harm is to have a frank conversation with their veterinarian about their own personal drug allergies or health conditions. For example, my husband is allergic to penicillin and our vet knows this. He makes sure to research drug withdrawal times for us in relation to my husband’s condition. As a rule of thumb he recommends doubling the label milk withdrawal times if my husband is going to consume milk from an animal that we have had to treat. His reason is because we drink all the milk from the one animal at at ime. Previous to this our assumption had been that at the point of withdrawal there is no more penicillin in the milk. That’s not true; there is an acceptable amountallowed in the milk at this time but for a person that is allergic, it could still be harmful.

Lutalyse, a drug that is regularly used to synchronize animals for artificial insemination, is a drug that can be harmful to asthmatics. Although there are warnings on the package insert, I for one, do not always get the package insert upon purchasing drugs. Again our regular veterinarian is aware my husband is asthmatic and takes care to caution us about the usage of this drug. We have chosen not to use these hormone shots to synchronize our cattle and use observation of heat cycles instead.


The drug that is most commonly used in my area for pneumonia in cattle and sheep is the one that truly terrifies me to have in our yard. This is because it has the ability to kill the human that accidentally comes in contact with it through needle stick injuries, skin cuts, puncture wounds and contact with skin and mucous membranes. Tilmicosin phosphate, sold under the trade name Micotil, has a warning on its label that it can cause adverse reactions in humans. Upon researching the reactions I discovered that it is cardio toxic and there is no antidote. According to Health Canada, accidental injection of less than one milliliter usually results in nothing more than a painful injection sight, but higher doses can result in fatalities.

This case study found at outlines how easy it would be to accidentally be injected with this or any other potentially harmful veterinary drug.

“On March 8, 2003, a 38-year-old cattleman was preparing to inject Micotil 300 into a heifer secured in a squeeze chute inside a barn. The cattleman was carrying a 12-cc plastic disposable syringe in his right hand. The man was knocked to the ground when a cow in an adjacent pen charged, striking the fence panel. As a result of either the strike or the fall, the cattleman was injected with an unknown amount of the antibiotic. He immediately began to feel dizzy and nauseated. He was able to call for help, and his wife, in the house nearby, called an ambulance. The victim was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died an hour and a half later. The death certificate indicated the cause of death was respiratory failure as a consequence of cardiac arrest caused by a lethal injection [Nebraska Department of Labour 2003].”

As another example, we were working cattle in the chute area one spring day and one of the calves appeared to have a navel ill. I asked my youngest son to go to the house and bring me a bottle of Liquamycin. It was brand new, in the box, and I thought it was safest to ask him to bring the bottle and a syringe and needle instead of him carrying a full syringe.

When it took him a long time to return, my husband went to find out what was wrong and found him frantically trying to clean up the mess he had made in the garage when he had dropped the bottle on the cement floor and it broke. It was all over his skin, his clothes and the floor. We quickly placed him in a shower and followed the same procedures we would have with any chemical spill. All I could think was, “What if that had been Micotil? Would he have died? Would enough absorb through your skin and eyes if you broke a whole 500 ml bottle to kill?” No one really knew and I will not take that chance. There are plenty of other veterinary drugs (besides Micotil) to battle respiratory illnesses that don’t have such dangers.


The other consideration with using drugs on the farm is how to dispose of the used needles and empty drug bottles responsibly. We are lucky that our local dump will take empty drug bottles as hazardous waste, but if in question, farmers need to call their local municipal office.

Sharps can be stored on farm in an old plastic container such as an old milk jug. When it is full it needs to be taken to a proper disposal location where they can be incinerated. Each province has their own protocol and in some areas local hospitals/veterinary hospitals will accept them from farmers.

As food animal producers we all need to be aware of using drugs safely as they relate to the safety of the outside world, but remember that safety starts at home. We research the safety of all the drugs/ chemical options before we expose our family to them.



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