Pharmaceutical agents (PAs) are commonly prescribed in companion animal practice in the United Kingdom. However, little is known about PA prescription on a population-level, particularly with respect to PAs authorised for human use alone prescribed via the veterinary cascade; this raises important questions regarding the efficacy and safety of PAs prescribed to companion animals. This study explored new approaches for describing PA prescription, diversity and co-prescription in dogs, cats and rabbits utilising electronic health records (EHRs) from a sentinel network of 457 companion animal-treating veterinary sites throughout the UK over a 2-year period (2014–2016). A novel text mining-based identification and classification methodology was utilised to semi-automatically map practitioner-defined product descriptions recorded in 918,333 EHRs from 413,870 dogs encompassing 1,242,270 prescriptions; 352,730 EHRs from 200,541 cats encompassing 491,554 prescriptions, and 22,526 EHRS from 13,398 rabbits encompassing 18,490 prescriptions respectively. PA prescription as a percentage of booked consultations was 65.4% (95% confidence interval, CI, 64.6–66.3) in dogs; in cats it was 69.1% (95% CI, 67.9–70.2) and in rabbits, 56.3% (95% CI, 54.7–57.8). Vaccines were the most commonly prescribed PAs in all three species, with antibiotics, antimycotics, and parasiticides also commonly prescribed. PA prescription utilising products authorised for human use only (hence, ‘human-authorised’) comprised 5.1% (95% CI, 4.7–5.5) of total canine prescription events; in cats it was 2.8% (95% CI, 2.6–3.0), and in rabbits, 7.8% (95% CI, 6.5–9.0). The most commonly prescribed human-authorised PA in dogs was metronidazole (antibiotic); in cats and rabbits it was ranitidine (H2 histamine receptor antagonist). Using a new approach utilising the Simpson's Diversity Index (an ecological measure of relative animal, plant etc. species abundance), we identified differences in prescription based on presenting complaint and species, with rabbits generally exposed to a less diverse range of PAs than dogs or cats, potentially reflecting the paucity of authorised PAs for use in rabbits. Finally, through a novel application of network analysis, we demonstrated the existence of three major co-prescription groups (preventive health; treatment of disease, and euthanasia); a trend commonly observed in practice. This study represents the first time PA prescription has been described across all pharmaceutical families in a large population of companion animals, encompassing PAs authorised for both veterinary and human-only use. These data form a baseline against which future studies could be compared, and provides some useful tools for understanding PA comparative efficacy and risks when prescribed in the varied setting of clinical practice.
- Companion animal
- Small animal