Advice on treating mastitis effectively

Prompt and appropriate treatment is a key component in the control of mastitis. Sarah Trickett speaks to XL Vet’s Bridget Taylor, Wright and Morten, Cheshire, about correct treatment protocols.

The saying “prevention is better than cure” is correct when it comes to the control of mastitis, with good parlour routine and environmental management vital in disease control.

But knowing how to tackle mastitis properly is equally important, which is why a treatment protocol is a must on every farm.

“Treatment isn’t just about grabbing the first tube from the medicine cupboard,” says Ms Taylor, “it’s about knowing what bacteria are present so treatment can be targeted.”

Many antibiotic tubes used to treat mastitis are broad spectrum, but certain tubes and treatment regimes are more appropriate against specific bacteria. This is why Ms Taylor recommends using bacteriology to identify the bugs present in a flare up of mastitis.

She says all too often mastitic cows are tubed for several days and when still showing symptoms another type of tube will be given.

“When tubes are used in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions, and results are disappointing, this is the time to consult your vet as to whether a new treatment protocol is required. We shouldn’t just keep chucking drugs at cows when they fail to work, as this wastes money and may increase the threat of antibiotic resistance.”

But as well as knowing what treatment to administer, knowing when to treat is important. “Identifying mastitis promptly will have an impact on success of treatment,” she adds.

How to identify and assess severity

1 Clots in milk and/ or watery or thickened milk, may even be discoloured with bloody tinges. Quarter may be hard and swollen.

2 Look at the whole cow-has her behaviour has changed? Is she milking in a different order and/or has she lost her appetite?

3 When a cows behaviour has changed then take her temperature. When it reaches 39C/102F that indicates an infection that will likely need whole cow treatment as well as intramammary tubes.

When the whole cow is affected and she has a temperature, then she should be given a suitable injectable antibiotic, as well as an antibiotic tube and non steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relief (NSAID).

However, when symptoms are just isolated to the udder and there are no apparent changes to the cows demeanour, intramammary tubes would be the first line of treatment, says Ms Taylor. “NSAIDs used at this stage can also help speed up recovery of the udder as they reduce the inflammatory response.”

Following recommendations on the data sheet provided with tubes is critical.

“Stick to what it says on the box. When you have cases of mastitis recurring in the same quarter and you have used a selected treatment, then is the time to review that treatment.”

In addition to treatment during lactation, having a correct treatment protocol in the dry period is also important. “The dry period is an important time for current infections to be treated and new infections prevented. So every farm should also have a protocol for this period too,” adds Ms Taylor.

Take home messages

• Have a treatment protocol

• Know what and when to administer treatment

• Target treatment by knowing the bug

• Follow drug specific recommendations for treatment 

Case study: Michael Wainwright, Buxton, Derbyshire

Hitting cows hard and fast with a targeted treatment is the key to keeping mastitis at bay in Michael Wainwright’s herd of 60 cows in Buxton, Derbyshire.

With an annual SCC average of 64,000 cells/ml, and for last month alone 26,000 cells/ml, he is obviously doing something right.

“As soon as we see symptoms of mastitis in a cow we will treat,” says Mr Wainwright. “We don’t wait to see how she is the next day we will use an antibiotic tube and injection as well as a NSAID on recommendation from our vet.

Our motto is to treat hard and fast,” he says. Mr Wainwright also uses diagnostics so he knows what bugs he is targeting.

However, mastitis isn’t a massive issue on this farm, mainly due to good environmental and milking routine management as well as monitoring SCC levels when cases do occur.

Cubicles are limed every other day, cows teats are cleaned using a medicated wipe and he keeps an eye on records. “When we get a cow with a cell count any more than 200,000 we will make sure the clusters are back flushed and then dipped in peracetic acid.”

Mr Wainwright also believes his drying off protocol is important in the fight against mastitis and keeping SCCs low. “When drying off we use a good teat sealant and tube. When late lactation cows have high SCC we will also jab them with an antibiotic before they go dry.”