News & Advice

Prudent antibiotic use in lame cows

Dec 10, 2017 | Dairy, Dairy Animal Health & Welfare, Lameness

Hanneke Officer, Veterinarian, Anexa Rototuna

Antibiotic use in the dairy industry is under increasing scrutiny. We need to be proactive in reducing the frequency with which we use those antibiotics at our disposal; especially the ones that have an active ingredient also used in human medicine. Antibiotics are frequently used to treat lame cows. However, there are only a small number of lameness diagnoses that actually warrant antibiotic treatment: 

• Foot rot 
• Joint abscess 
• Infected wounds 
• Arthritis 
There are 5 indicators of infection: heat, swelling, loss of function, redness and pain. Note here that presence of pus is not one of them. A purulent discharge (pus) merely means the body is hard at work to target the infection. The immune system was cleverly designed to deal with pathogens. In those cases where the immune system fails to clear the infection and it starts to impact on the host’s general health antibiotics are indicated. 
In order to make a proper assessment of the origin of lameness, lame cows have to be drafted and treated as soon as possible. This means restraining the cow and lifting her foot to get an accurate diagnosis. Too often newly lame cows get ‘a jab’ and are drafted into the lame mob. In some cases, this appears to be effective, however, the source of the lameness has not been identified and often cows will become repeat offenders and return to the lame mob within 2 weeks. 
White line disease has to be addressed by paring any cracks and underrun tissue (the white line has to be white!). Even the smallest holes need to be dug out – if dust can get in, it will weaken the white line resulting in larger particles getting stuck or tracking up. 
Another lesion which often results in the administering of antibiotics is a sole lesion. It presents as tiny cracks on the surface of the sole with a darker patch underneath. When this is opened up, pus often runs out. These lesions don’t generally need antibiotics, because the bacteria causing these infections are anaerobes. This means they survive without oxygen; opening the lesion to fresh air kills the bacteria. 
In itself, a lame cow brings with her a high cost due to reduced production, reduced reproductive performance, increased chance of culling and treatment time. Adding antibiotics will increase the cost with drug cost and withholding times. On top of that, using antibiotics when it’s not necessary will increase the chance of resistant pathogens. 
So, we have to think twice before administering drugs. If the majority of your lame mob is on antibiotics, but do not have foot rot, take a minute to reconsider your approach to lameness. Please ring your vet if you would like more information or if you need some advice regarding specific antibiotic use. 

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