Four Steps Your Dairy Can Take Toward More Judicious Antibiotic Use

Kenna Rathai, Mark Bixler

More than 60 percent of producers responding to a recent survey said they have changed their mastitis treatment protocols in the last few years to be more judicious with their antibiotic use.1 These producers are on the right track; using antibiotics correctly and minimizing unnecessary use on an operation can have a tremendous impact on animal health, food safety and consumer confidence in dairy products.

In addition to working closely with a veterinarian, the following practices can help your operation make strides toward more judicious antibiotic use:

1. Treat the infection, not the inflammation

Clinical mastitis is recognized when a producer sees abnormalities in the milk, the cow’s quarter or in the cow. Visible changes in the milk are the result of inflammation or the cow’s response to infection. The standard practice is to treat until the mastitis inflammation is gone, which is why some five-day treatment regimens have become common. However, this may be leading producers to over-treat with antibiotics.

“Visible abnormalities in the milk are often the first sign of mastitis, but they should not determine the length of treatment,” said Linda Tikofsky, DVM, senior associate director of dairy professional veterinary services, Boehringer Ingelheim.

Dr. Tikofsky added that the bacteria may be effectively killed within the first 24 to 48 hours of treatment, but the inflammation will go on another three or four days while the body eliminates the dead bacteria and white blood cells. Boehringer Ingelheim offers a tube with a three-treatment regimen that is effective at killing mastitis bacteria. However, the milk may still look abnormal at the time of the third treatment.

2. Culture milk before deciding to treat

For mild or moderate mastitis cases, Dr. Tikofsky recommends producers take a milk sample, culture it and wait 24 hours for results before treating. This can be done without a negative effect on cure rate or animal welfare. However, for severe mastitis cases, treat cows right away with an appropriate treatment protocol.

“In 30 to 40 percent of the cultured samples, there are no bacteria present since the cow has eliminated the infection herself, so producers are only seeing inflammation,” she explained.2,3,4 “Just wait until the inflammation subsides, then put the cow’s milk back in the tank when it returns to normal.”

3. Use antibiotics according to the label

Product labels contain important information including indications, dose, route of administration, treatment duration, milk withhold and meat withdrawal times, class of animals (lactating or non-lactating) as well as treatment frequency and duration. Veterinary oversight of extra-label antibiotic use is mandatory; otherwise, animal health can be impacted and result in violative residues.



Following the label is important to ensuring a safe food supply. “It’s our job to earn consumer trust and confidence to ensure there’s a future for our products,” said Jami Schultze, winner of the 2018 Boehringer Ingelheim Producers for Progress recognition program. “If a farm gets a drug residue violation, it means a consumer loses confidence in your product.”

4. Adhere to established protocols

Every dairy should have written protocols in place. Schultze works with her veterinarian to determine where they can make improvements. “Our veterinarian regularly reviews our mastitis cases and protocols to make sure we’re up to date and giving the best treatment,” she noted.

At Schultze’s operation, cows with gram-negative culture results aren’t administered antibiotics. “With any culture that’s gram-positive, we’ll take a look at the cow’s records and make sure she’s worthy of treatment,” she said. “If so, we’ll treat her.”

Of course, responsible antibiotic use requires an industry effort. “It can’t just be one farm making that decision,” advised Schultze. “Everybody’s got to jump on board.”

*Image available upon request, contact Kenna Rathai.


1 Boehringer Ingelheim. Mastitis treatment – survey results. Duluth, Georgia. Available at: Accessed Nov. 21, 2018.

2 Hoe FG, Ruegg PL. Relationship between antimicrobial susceptibility of clinical mastitis pathogens and treatment outcome in cows. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;227(9):1461–1468.

3 Schukken YH, Zurakowski MJ, Rauch BJ, et al. Non-inferiority trial comparing a first-generation cephalosporin with a third-generation cephalosporin in the treatment of non-severe clinical mastitis in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2013;96(10):6763–6774.

4 Vasquez AK, Nydam DV, Capel MB, et al. Randomized non-inferiority trial comparing two commercial intramammary antibiotics for the treatment of non-severe clinical mastitis in dairy cows. J Dairy Sci 2016;99(10):8267–8281.

Improving the health and quality of life of patients is the goal of the research-driven pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim. The focus in doing so is on diseases for which no satisfactory treatment option exists to date. The company therefore concentrates on developing innovative therapies that can extend patients’ lives. In animal health, Boehringer Ingelheim stands for advanced prevention. 


Family-owned since it was established in 1885, Boehringer Ingelheim is one of the pharmaceutical industry’s top 20 companies. Some 50,000 employees create value through innovation daily for the three business areas human pharmaceuticals, animal health and biopharmaceuticals. In 2017, Boehringer Ingelheim achieved net sales of nearly 18.1 billion euros. R&D expenditure, exceeding three billion euros, corresponded to 17.0 percent of net sales. 



As a family-owned company, Boehringer Ingelheim plans in generations and focuses on long-term success rather than short-term profit. The company therefore aims at organic growth from its own resources, with simultaneous openness to partnerships and strategic alliances in research. In everything it does, Boehringer Ingelheim naturally adopts responsibility toward mankind and the environment. 


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About Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health

Boehringer Ingelheim is the second largest animal health business in the world. We are committed to creating animal wellbeing through our large portfolio of advanced, preventive healthcare products and services. With net sales in 2017 of 3.9 billion euros ($4.4 billion) and around 10,000 employees worldwide, we are present in more than 150 markets. For more information, visit here:   

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