Easing the pain associated with mastitis - Veterinary Practice
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Easing the pain associated with mastitis

PETER EDMONDSON reviews the latest findings and developments in the control of mastitis.

PAIN relief with mastitis has not received a huge amount of attention over the years but the implications of this are very significant to cows. It’s interesting that using NSAIDs in cows that have had a difficult calving for pain relief and well-being has had really significant benefits.

The poor cow with a hard, swollen quarter must be in significant pain every time that she lies down. Consider any part of you that might be swollen and painful and then imagine lying on this: it’s not a nice thought. Now consider that a cow is about 600 to 700kg and tears start to come to your eyes.

A New Zealand study involving 11,163 cows on 15 herds was carried out to assess the impact of administering a single dose of NSAID, in this case meloxicam, in conjunction with three days of penethamate injections to treat mild clinical mastitis.

In New Zealand, the majority of clinical mastitis is caused by Strep. uberis. Control cows received an injection of the vehicle for meloxicam. In total 724 cows were enrolled in this study.

Lower cell counts

The outcome showed that the cell counts of cows treated with meloxicam were lower (550 compared to 770 in the control group) three weeks after treatment. Remember that it can take between four and six weeks for cell counts from clinical cases to fall to below 400,000.

In addition, there was a significant difference in culling rates with 16.4% of cows culled from the meloxicam group compared to 28.2% of the control group. These culls will include everything (lame, not pregnant, sick, etc.) and suggests that the knock-on effects of mastitis could be significant.

Pain relief for mastitis is something that should be considered along with the other benefits that arise from NSAID use.

Diagnosing pathogens

PCR testing for the diagnosis of mastitis pathogens has been introduced into the UK in the past year. This relies on DNA technology to identify the mastitis pathogens.

Sterile samples are taken, a preservative tablet added and they can be sent off for testing without the need to keep the samples cold. The good news is that testing takes about three hours compared to 48 or 72 hours for conventional bacteriology.

The tests are more expensive than conventional bacteriology due to the high cost of the test kits and the Pathoproof testing equipment. Ease of getting samples to the lab along with the speed of testing is invaluable.

On the downside, this does not identify all bacteria in milk, it just picks up 10 commonly found bacteria. New bacteria are being added and in the near future it should be able to pick up 14 bacteria.

If you are someone who likes sensitivity testing carried out along with bacteriology, then this is not available. However, it does identify the beta lactamase gene which tells you if the bacteria are resistant to penicillin, which can be useful. NMR and Biobest are offering PCR testing.

Teat seal

The majority of dairy farmers are using Orbeseal along with dry cow therapy but in some parts of the country some farmers are still sceptical about the benefits. In our practice we have almost all of our farmers using this combination treatment at dry off.

In fact, I attended a cow with toxic mastitis after calving in a herd which had been using Orbeseal and the owner was really worried that this case had occurred.

When we talked about post-calving mastitis problems before using Orbeseal, he said that he would have about 10 cases a year. It’s funny how farmers have now just come to accept that Orbeseal has had a major impact in reducing toxic mastitis.

So, just a reminder about why every farmer should be using Orbeseal at dry off. Andrew Bradley and Martin Green showed that up to 50% of all coliform cases of mastitis originated from dry period infections.

Work done by Williamson in New Zealand showed that 50% of New
Zealand cows, giving an average of about 4,000 litres of milk, had open teat canals 10 days after dry off and 20% were still open 6 to 8 weeks after dry off.

Without an effective teat seal, bacteria can enter the teat canal, into the udder where they remain dormant. They can’t multiply as they need iron and this is all locked up with lactoferrin which is in very high levels during the dry period.

Orbeseal creates an artificial teat plug which forms a physical barrier sealing the teat. Scrupulous hygiene is needed prior to infusion and it’s important to pinch the teat so that the Orbeseal remains at the bottom of the teat.

So, how well does it work? I would see at least one toxic case of mastitis each week prior to using Orbeseal. If I see one or two a year now, that would be the maximum.

I was talking to a New Zealand farm manager who had 50-plus cases of mastitis in his maiden heifers back in 2008. He used teat seal on his heifers in 2009 and only had two cases of mastitis. That is the power of Orbeseal.

I would never recommend using this in heifers unless there was a real justification for its use.

It’s a dangerous procedure for the operator, can cause damage to the teat canal of the heifer, and provided heifers are kept in a clean environment, there should be no need to carry out this procedure.

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