Working with a veterinarian will be a must when former over-the-counter antibiotics require prescriptions

The aim of the new regulations that take effect June 11, 2023, is to have more veterinarian oversight, which is expected to result in more prudent use.

A gloved hand holding a blue-handled  syringe filled with medication.
Some antibiotics, including penicillin, will no longer be sold over the counter, but instead will require a veterinarian's prescription beginning June 11, 2023.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek file photo

When over-the-counter antibiotics for livestock begin requiring prescriptions on June 11, 2023, it will be even more important for animal owners across the United States to have a good working relationship with veterinarians.

In 2021, the Federal Drug Administration released Guidance #263 with an aim to have more veterinarian oversight. It is expected to result in more prudent use and reduce the occurrence of antibiotic resistance in humans.

A prescription will be required for the livestock antibiotics, including penicillin, oxytetracycline,
sulfonamides and mastitis tubes.

Dr. Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian, believes that the prescription requirement is positive for the livestock industry because it will ensure that animals will not be given antibiotics unless it’s necessary.

“Maybe it will be a little more paperwork, but use of antibiotics in food animals is under the microscope, so having them over-the-counter doesn’t make sense any more,” Stokka said.


Under the new law, livestock producers will have to bring a prescription to the business where they want to buy the antibiotics or have their veterinarians call the prescription into the business on the telephone.

Rocky Brown, who manages Wald Fencing and Supplies in Wishek, North Dakota, is prepared for the new law. Brown got a pharmacy license to sell livestock prescriptions a few years ago and has about 30 products available at Wald Fencing and Supplies, he said.

The licensure requirements from the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy include having on-staff pharmacy technicians who can fill the prescriptions. Brown and an employee are technicians. Brown also had to learn how to make a prescription label, which required research because there isn’t information about that readily available, he said. Learning the ins and outs of prescription sales was up to him because there aren't guidelines readily available.

“Until you get that first inspection, you don’t know if you’re doing it right,” Brown said. He was, and he passed the Board of Pharmacy Inspection.

Another challenge of selling prescription livestock drugs will be that pharmacy technicians will have to make a lot of daily phone calls to veterinarians — who will need to have staff to answer them — to get their approval when customers come into the business to buy antibiotics, Brown predicted.

“I’m going to be calling 20, 30 times a day just by myself,” he said.

Sometimes customers lose patience when they’re waiting for Brown to reach the veterinarians, he said. Some livestock owners walk into the store and expect to walk out immediately with a bottle of prescription drugs, he said. But the pharmacy technician won't be able to fill the prescriptions until they contact the veterinarian, who may be out on a farm or ranch visit and unavailable.

It’s important that the livestock owners have a herd veterinarian who has been to their ranches so they know the operation and will authorize the prescriptions.


“It’s really enforcing that need for a good relationship with a veterinarian,” Brown said.

Overall, he believes that it will be a “bumpy road” during the first year of the switch from over-the-counter antibiotics to prescription.

Gerald Stokka (NDSU photo)
Dr. Gerald Stokka is North Dakota State University livestock veterinarian.
NDSU / Contributed

Besides a positive relationship with your veterinarian, another way livestock owners can make the transition to prescription versus over-the-counter antibiotics go more smoothly is to reduce reliance on products to achieve herd health, Stokka said.

“I just want people not to think about products so much, but to think about their whole systems," he said. For example, it’s important that calves get up and nurse as soon as possible so they get colostrum, which can help boost their immune systems.

If the cattle are due to calve within 24 to 48 hours, it’s optimal if they can be inside a building where it’s warm and dry, Stokka said.

However, livestock owners should avoid crowding together cows and calves, which increases the spread of diseases such as scours, he said.

Cattle and calves that are outside also should have a windbreak and dry area to lie down.

Despite livestock owners' efforts to keep their animals healthy, they will still need prescription antibiotics, Brown said. He will work to the best of his ability to help them access the products they need.


“We will do everything in our power to make these transitions positive,” he said.

The changes being implemented on June 11, 2023, are the latest to be put in place from a 2012 Food and Drug Administration plan. The agency had recommended that the use of antimicrobial drugs that are considered necessary for assuring animal health should include veterinary oversight or consultation.

Recommendations made in 2013 that followed that guidance led to the need for a veterinary feed directive — or VFD — for medically important antimicrobials administered through feed and water. New labels implementing that policy went into effect in January 2017 .

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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