Ask The Vet

Consider Culling Cows With Mastitis

If mastitis is caught early it can be treated with intra-mammary infusions of an antibiotic. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Becky Mills)


I have a cow that has always raised a good calf, but this year was different. Her calf started out good but kept falling further and further behind the rest. When we preg-checked cows, this one had a real hard bag, and we got stuff out of two teats that looked like cottage cheese. My vet said she had mastitis, put some medicine in the teats and gave her a shot. He said she was probably a cull. Is he right? How can I keep this from happening again?


Mastitis is an infection of the mammary gland. It is one of the most common and costly diseases in dairy cattle. In dairy cattle, it is usually easy to detect and treat; but note that I said "treat," not "successfully treat." This is something dairy farmers are all too familiar with.

Fortunately in beef cattle, mastitis is much less common. Here it can be difficult to detect in the early, treatable stages. With careful observation, you may notice a swollen or red teat or teats. The cow may seem to be in pain when her calf attempts to nurse, or she has a calf that looks gaunt for no obvious reason. Unfortunately, many cases go undetected until it is too late to salvage a functional cow.

If the problem is caught early, I treat with intra-mammary infusions of an antibiotic. My preference is Pirsue, a once-a-day treatment. Injectable antibiotics may work in some cases, and some feel anti-inflammatory and pain medications are helpful.

A more severe, life-threatening form of mastitis is caused by a group of bacteria called "coliforms." Affected cows get very sick suddenly. The udder may appear blue and feel cold to the touch. These cattle require aggressive treatment that may include IV fluids, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and, in some cases, amputation of the affected quarters. Many of these cows will die, and very few of the survivors will be functional cows.

There are cases where the cow or your facilities can make repeated treatment dangerous, difficult or downright impossible. You and your veterinarian need to work together to decide whether to treat and, if so, what the best plan is in each case.