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Treating cases of mastitis

Dr. Kevin Cox, COO, Alliance Animal Care, LLC 5/24/2019

Mastitis is a common problem in dairy cows that even the best managed herds will experience. Mastitis is prevalent because of the extraordinary amount of work the cow’s udder is asked to perform, combined with the intense management styles that dairy cattle live in. Treating cases of mastitis requires a thorough understanding of its causes and the underlying bacteria.

Mastitis can be broken down into two main categories: contagious and environmental. Contagious mastitis cases are generally caused by Streptococcus agalactiae, Staphylococcus aureus, or Mycoplasma spp. Environmental cases of mastitis are most often caused by Streptococcus uberis, Streptococcus dysgalactiae, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella spp, or Enterobacter spp.

Cases of contagious mastitis are often subclinical and may not even be detectable in the cow. With regards to treatment of both kinds of mastitis, identifying the specific bacteria causing the condition is extremely important. Therefore, milk cultures are the most important diagnostic tool that can be employed to effectively combat mastitis.

For cases of obvious mastitis, which will often be cases of environmental mastitis, the cows to culture will be obvious as they are clinically affected. In subclinical cases, it is important to rely on somatic cell counts (SCC) and SCC trends in the bulk milk tank sample. Contagious mastitis tends to be subclinical but will often show up in high SCC or spikes in the SCC of bulk milk tank samples. Culturing the bulk milk tank sample is helpful in identifying the bacteria, but individual SCC and milk cultures may be important for identifying the culprit cow shedders. Whether contagious or environmental, identification is key to treatment.

Most Streps, both contagious and environmental, are susceptible to various antibiotics: penicillins and many cephalosporins. Staph is less reliable due to the coagulase factor. Antibiotic sensitivity information is also available when sending milk samples in for culture. This sensitivity information is often required for treating cases of Staph and some cases of environmental mastitis.

Cases of Mycoplasma mastitis are not successfully treated, and cows with this type of mastitis should be culled. It is also important to remember when treating cases of coliform environmental mastitis (E. coli, Enterobacter, and Klebsiella), treating intramammary is often not sufficient and systemic therapy will often be required. While there are many options for dry and lactating cow therapies, it is still best to rely on the antibiotic sensitivity to direct antibiotic choice. While culture and sensitivity may not be necessary for each individual case, it is important to get a dairy farmer started in the right direction and can be repeated as necessary for follow-up information.

By using culture and sensitivity information, dairy farmers can be successful in treating and effectively reducing the number of cases of mastitis in their herds.

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