What Happens if Cows Don’t Form a Keratin Plug Over the Dry Period?

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health

During the dry period, cows typically form a keratin plug — a wax-like substance that seals the teat canal. “A keratin plug is really nature’s way of shutting the door to mastitis-causing pathogens,” explained Dr. Linda Tikofsky, DVM, senior associate director of dairy professional veterinary services, Boehringer Ingelheim.

However, research has shown that when cows are dried off producing more than 45 pounds, about 55% of those teat ends will still be open a month after dry off.1,2

“Years ago, most cows were able to make a keratin plug, but as we dry off animals at these higher production levels, they’re less likely to form one on their own,” said Dr. Tikofsky.

A teat sealant can play a valuable role in defending cows against mastitis throughout the dry period. Teat sealants provide a sterile, antibiotic-free physical barrier between the udder and its environment — they also work well in conjunction with antibiotic therapy. There are two types of teat sealants available:

External teat sealants usually last five to seven days and require regular visual inspection. They must be applied twice: once at dry off, and then again before freshening. Depending on the number of applications, external sealants can become labor-intensive and costly.

Internal teat sealants have been designed to last across the entire dry period and simulate a cow’s keratin plug.


Correct application and correct removal are key to using an internal teat sealant successfully:

  • The teat end should be thoroughly sanitized before infusion. Without proper hygiene and preparation, bacteria on the teat end may be forced into the udder and cause infection.
  • During administration (refer to Figure 2.), the area where the teat joins the udder should be pinched so the sealant is only applied into the teat cistern.
  • At freshening, strip the cow until the teat sealant is gone. If a cow isn’t properly stripped, producers can end up with teat sealant residue in milking equipment. A color indicator, like a cool blue, that’s easy to distinguish from milk or mastitis can ensure the majority of the sealant is stripped out.

“Teat sealants are a great tool for protecting cows that don’t form a keratin plug,” concluded Dr. Tikofsky. “Work with your herd veterinarian to create protocols and identify products that will work best for your herd’s needs.”

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health

The lives of animals and humans are interconnected in deep and complex ways. We know that when animals are healthy, humans are healthier too. Across the globe, our 10,000 employees are dedicated to delivering value through innovation, thus enhancing the well-being of both.

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Boehringer Ingelheim 

Making new and better medicines for humans and animals is at the heart of what we do. Our mission is to create breakthrough therapies that change lives. Since its founding in 1885, Boehringer Ingelheim has been independent and family-owned. We have the freedom to pursue our long-term vision, looking ahead to identify the health challenges of the future and targeting those areas of need where we can do the most good.

As a world-leading, research-driven pharmaceutical company, more than 51,000 employees create value through innovation daily for our three business areas: Human Pharma, Animal Health, and Biopharmaceutical Contract Manufacturing.

In 2019, Boehringer Ingelheim achieved net sales of $21.3 billion (19 billion euros). Our significant investment of over $3.9 billion (3.5 billion euros) in R&D drives innovation, enabling the next generation of medicines that save lives and improve quality of life.

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