Loading ...

AgriQuora . 20th Jul, 2021

Mastitis & Milk Fever In Cows: Diagnosis, Treatment And Prevention Measures

In this post, we are going to study how to deal with mastitis and milk fever. These are two common animal diseases that most farmers have to deal with at the farm.

It is advisable that you always get the best advice from your vet. However, there are going to be times when your vet is out of reach and you need to act out of emergency (in case of milk fever) and also be informed on how to manage your farm so as to minimise cases of mastitis at the farm

We are going to start with mastitis then we'll look at milk fever later on.

Mastitis: Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention Measures

Poor hygiene and handling is the number one accelerator for most cases of mastitis at the farm. This is because mastitis is a bacterial infection and bacteria tend to thrive in unhygienic conditions.

Mastitis in cows is manifested as the inflammation of the cow's mammary gland and udder tissue. This disease/condition is a major endemic disease of dairy cattle but can affect all other lactating mammals as well (including humans).

When the bacteria gain entry into the udder through the teat canal, they find nutrients in the udder and multiply rapidly. Their metabolic byproducts cause poisoning of the udder tissues resulting into an inflammation. The inflammation is due to the cow’s autoimmune response to the toxic metabolites released by the bacteria.

Predisposing factors for the development of mastitis in cows

In this post, we highlighted some sources of bacteria that you may need to check if you have to control bacterial infection at the farm level. It is important to take note that mastitis can also occur due chemical, mechanical, or thermal injury to the cow's udder.

The bacterial metabolites released in the udder tissue can damage the milk-secreting tissues and ducts throughout the udder. In some situations, the damage is permanent and the udder loses its functionality. Acute cases can lead to fatalities while cows that recover will be incapacitated for the rest of their lactation lives.

Mastitis in cows can be a very complex illness since the farmer may not be able to detect it during its subclinical phases. This is to say that the herd may have mastitis without showing any signs and symptoms. At this stage, the disease can spread very fast to the rest of the herd if proper handling is lacking in the farm.

To manage the situation, you should consider paying a very close attention to the milking hygiene to avoid cross contamination. You should couple this with good housing and proper nutrition to promote general good health of the animals. In extreme cases, you may need to cull the severely infected cows.

The losses a farmer is likely to incur due to mastitis:

  • Farmers will throw away milk contaminated by medication for being unfit for consumption.
  • The cows will produce less during the illness. A permanent udder tissue injury will negatively affect the yields.
  • The farmer will have to spend more in extra labor required to tend to the sick/mastitic cows.
  • Medication and veterinary services for treating the sick cows tend to be high.
  • Sick cows will have a reduced productive lifespan due to the injured udders. You may have to cull them before exploiting their full potential.
  • Cross contamination in the farm can lead to loss of the entire herd due to culling

Given the gravity of the effects of mastitis in cows, it is important to take precautions to ensure that you do not end up with mastitis in your farm. Dairy cows have many predisposing factors to mastitic infections such as the risk of contamination from the milking equipment, hygiene of the milking equipment handlers, and cleanliness of the cleaning water.

Since farmers tend to milk their animals at predetermined hours, their udder sphincters tend to be under stress than beef cows whose calves nurse regularly. The stress may lead to loosening of the teat canal through which the bacteria will gain entry into the udder to cause mastitis.

Public health concerns

There are occasions when incidences of mastitis may qualify to be a public health concern. When this is the case, farmers must do all they have to do to ensure that their animals are not infected. At the same time, they must manage the already infected animals to prevent any further spread of the disease.

Consequently, it is not uncommon to see the farmers to procure intramammary antibiotics due to its low risk of administration.

Organic dairy farmers on the other hand prefer to use limited antibiotics and prefer to use alternative therapies, e.g. homeopathy, to treat mastitis. Such farmers also prefer to take a more holistic approach in their farms to prevent mastitis.

Avoid prescription abuse when treating mastitis in cows

While applying any treatment method you prefer to use, you must be sure that you know what you are doing. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian or animal health care expert. There have been incidences of prescription abuse, which puts us on the precipice of losing the war against bacteria.

When the bacteria have developed sufficient resistance to the antibiotics, you will be forced to look for a more potent alternative, which could be very expensive or non-existent. Whenever you treat a bacterial infection in your herd, it is important not to go for the strongest medication first because if it fails to deliver, you will not have an alternative.

Important terms on mastitis in cows

i) Severe clinical mastitis

Characterized by an extremely ill cow that may die if untreated. The udder becomes gangrenous and the milk may look normal even the though the cow is sick in the early stages. Soon enough, the milk becomes abnormal.

ii) Acute clinical mastitis

Here, the cow may not necessarily be sick but the udder is visibly swollen, painful, and hot. The cow produces abnormal milk with clots and blood.

iii) Clinical mastitis

The cow looks indifferent and the udder does not show any observable changes. You will notice abnormalities in the milk.

iv) Mild clinical mastitis

The cow looks fine and the udder does not have any abnormalities. You will notice a few clots or flakes in the milk.

v) Chronic mastitis

The cow looks very fine but you may feel lumps in the udder tissue. You will also observe changes in milk e.g. the milk can be very watery. This could be the reason why your milk is always rejected at the dairy despite feeding your cow well and treating it from all diseases.

vi) Subclinical mastitis

Your cow looks fine and the udder is well. You may not make out any observable changes in the milk but a chemical analysis of the milk will show significant changes in the milk composition.

How to test for mastitis in cows

There are many scientific methods for testing and confirming mastitis in cows. Some of the tests are straight out simple while others are complicated and require sophisticated equipment, e.g. DNA testing method.

The most common method for mastitis testing is the California Mastitis Test (CMT). This cow-side testing method works by disrupting the cell membranes of the somatic cells present in the milk sample and exposing the DNA of the cells to the reagent.

Upon touching the reagent, the mixture turns into a gelatinous mass, which confirms the presence of mastitis in cows.

To perform this test, you will need the CMT test kit. You can get one from Amazon at a reasonable price and it will be shipped to you.

Here is the CMT procedure:

  1. First, begin by cleaning the teats then strip a few squirts of milk onto the ground. After stripping the teats, milk several milliliters from each quarter into the corresponding well/compartment of the paddle.
  2. Tilt the plate to get a better estimate of the volume you collected and then add an approximately equal volume of the CMT solution into each well.
  3. Swirl the paddle gently to get a uniform mixture of the CMT solution and milk.
  4. Observe the results. A purple gelatinous mass will indicate a positive reaction.

You can have a look at this short video to see how it actually works.

(Source: NBC Field Service).

Some pathogens that cause mastitis in cows

Where foundManifestationManagement
Pseudomonas aeruginosa – Causes subclinical mastitis
Found in soil-water environments in dairy farms.  

May cause infection from contaminated water, teat cup liners or intramammary treatments
Severe mastitis with toxaemia and high mortality results in some herds. May also lead to subclinical infections.

The bacteria can persist in the glands for up to five lactations. Spontaneous recovery may occur
Ensure clean feeds and water for the cows. Clean the milking equipment and aseptically clean the udders.

Therapy may not work for the affected cows. Cull the sick animals.
Mycoplasma spp. Causes severe mastitis that spreads quickly
M bovis is the most common cause. Other species include M. californicumM. canadense, and M. bovigenitalium  

Carrier animals do not show symptoms.

Common in growing farms that have brought more animals into the farm.
Carriers are asymptomatic. Shed the bacteria through the intrammamary or respiratory disease transmissions.  

The disease is very severe when it breaks out.

Leads to a dramatic drop in productivity. You may observe a granular flaky substance in the secretion.
Take a lot of care when introducing animals into the farm because carriers do not show symptoms.  

Maintain high levels of hygiene at the farm.

Segregate cows during active outbreaks.

Routinely check bulk milk to identify infected cows.

Do not feed calves on milk from sick cows; may lead to respiratory or inner ear infections.

Cull cows with signs of systemic infections
Trueperella pyogenes. Causes characteristic mastitis in heifers and dry cows
Common in dry cows/heifers that graze in the pastures and access water from the ponds.  

Carrier fly for this pathogen is Hydrotaea irritans.
Produces an inflammation with a foul-smelling exudate.
May occur in lactating cows with injured teats, as the pathogen takes the opportunity as a secondary invader to cause infection.
Therapy is rarely successful; do not milk infected quarters.

Avoid grazing cows in pastures where they have to stand udder-deep.

Treat susceptible cows with long-acting penicillin to reduce infections.

Cull cows with abscesses.
Nocardia asteroids. Causes destructive mastitis
Characterized by high fever, loss of appetite, loss of weight, udder inflammation.The udder inflammation exhibits extensive fibrosis with palpable nodules.Practice aseptic intrammamary treatment to prevent infections.
Cull infected cows by slaughtering them.
Serratia spp.
Infections arise from contaminated cleaning water, dirty hoses, contaminated teat dips and other milking equipment.The bacteria is resistant to disinfectants but infected cows show clinical signs of mastitis.Cull cows that continue to show clinical signs of mastitis.
Yeasts and molds
Common in cows with prolonged antibiotic/penicillin treatment. These fungi are introduced during preparation of infusions.

However, even heifers that have never received intrammamry infusions may also develop yeast mastitis
Severe infection, high fever .

The animals may heal on their own after 1 – 2 weeks.

Cows that fail to heal may develop destructive mastitis.

Certain strains of yeasts cause only limited inflammation.
Reduce contact between the teat dip container and the teats when treating the cows
Prototheca spp
These bacteria tend to inhabit wet and humid environments.

Muddy environments in dairy farms is prime for their survival.

There are carriers of the pathogen that occasionally shed it leading to spontaneous infections.
Chronic and asymptomatic.

Sporadic severe infections may occur in subsequent lactations.
Hard to predict and therapy does not work with this pathogen.

Farmers must, therefore, manage the disease as it comes.
Cull cows with chronic mastitis

Common methods for treating mastitis in cows

a) Antibiotic applications

Milk the cow dry and apply an intrammamary antibiotic. Do not add the affected cow’s milk into the batch tank until the drug clears from the cow’s system. You can only use such milk to feed the calves, otherwise, just drain the milk.

It is illegal and unethical to sell milk with antibiotics in it. You can use a physical marker (e.g. leg bands) to mark out sick cows in a large herd. Keep health records of the herd.

b) Intrammamary infusions

Clean the teat and disinfect with ethanol, after which you allow it to dry for a few seconds. Partially insert the cannula containing the infusion onto the teats to reduce contact, which can introduce fungi that will cause a different form mastitis.

Once the teat comes into contact with the antibiotic infusion, streak the teats by pinching and palpate a little bit to make sure that the antibiotic treatment enters the mammary gland.

c) Oxytocin treatment

Effective treatment of mastitic cows depends on complete removal of milk from the teat cisterns. You can achieve this by increasing the intervals of milking.

Bacteria thrives in milk because it gets nourishment from the milk. When you empty the teat canal, the bacteria will not find nourishment and the antibacterial drugs will be more effective.

If the cow is a high producer, you may need to streak it in between the milking times. You can inject the cows with oxytocin to increase milk let down so that you can achieve complete milking.

In some instances, the bacteria may fail to go away despite regular streaking and application of the antibacterial drugs. This will lead to chronic infections, which is associated with Staphyloccocus aureus, bacteria that naturally exist on the skin.

In such cases, the cow will remain a constant source of contamination for the rest of the herd. You will have no option but to cull such a cow if you must protect the herd.

How do you prevent mastitis in cows?

Given the magnitude of the effect of mastitis in a dairy enterprise, it is important to look for ways to prevent the spread of this disease in the farm.

Having a firsthand knowledge of mammary anatomy and physiology, the defense mechanisms, microbial behaviors, aetiology and manifestations, farm and equipment hygiene, and antibiotics/germicides will be very helpful in controlling the spread of mastitis.

There are several intervention methods that can help a farmer to achieve this and they include:

i) Vaccination methods

Researchers have been able to develop bacterins from E. coli and Salmonella that can help reduce the severity of mastitis caused by coliforms. They also observed that repeated application of these vaccines during the dry period can significantly reduce clinical coliform mastitis in the early lactation.

The effectiveness of these vaccines reduces after 50 days; therefore, large herds may warrant extended immunizations.

Sadly, the researchers have not yet developed an effective vaccine for Staphyloccocus aureus, which is a big pathogen for mastitis in cows.

ii) Controlling the environmental and contagious factors that promote mastitis in cows

Environmental pathogens pose a special challenge to the farmer in terms of control. They are not specific to the cow or the farm; therefore, the farmer must find the source/habitat and control it from the source. Usually, one can achieve an effective control of the pathogens by eliminating their habitat.

You can also reduce their effectiveness by implementing the following:

  1. Dip the teats in a germicide after every milking to decrease incidences of the disease
  2. Treat each quarter separately with antibiotics to avoid disease prevalence
  3. Milk infected cows last and use separate milk handling equipment for their products to avoid cross contamination
  4. Use individual disposable towels for cleaning the udders. If you have to use a cloth towel, each cow should have a separate towel. Clean the towel thoroughly with hot water after milking and air dry.
  5. The milkers should be clean and preferably wear latex gloves while milking
  6. Isolate new additions into the herd and culture their milk to find out if they have the pathogens that cause mastitis.
  7. Cull chronically ill animals
  8. Give your heifers dry-cow antibiotic treatment if you notice that they have Staphyloccocus aureus infection
  9. Clip the udders to reduce dirt dangling around the teats
  10. Pre-dip the teats in a germicide before milking and ensure you only milk clean dry teats.
  11. Keep the cows standing after milking to ensure that their teat canals close to avoid entry by bacteria. You can achieve this by giving the cow some feed.
  12. Use single-dose infusions to avoid cross contamination when performing udder cleaning and sterilization.
  13. Maintain high levels of hygiene by keeping the milking parlor very clean, using clean milking equipment, and using sterile teat dippers.
  14. Clean the pipes regularly to avoid buildup of bacteria. In case of Pseudomonas spp. Invasion, you may be forced to replace the heating and piping systems.

Milk Fever: Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention Measures

Milk fever is a disease that affects dairy cattle but can also occur in beef cattle, goats, or even dogs. It occurs when there is reduced blood calcium levels (hypocalcaemia) in cows a few days before or after calving. Some people call this condition postparturient hypocalcemia while others call it parturient paresis.

A positive diagnosis is given when the blood calcium level goes below 8.5 mg/dl (or 2 mmol/l). Incalf cows need to replenish the calcium that the fetus needs for growth, which is about 30 g per day. The cow should replenish this calcium through the feeds or by supplementation.

The coefficient for converting concentrations into mmol/L from mg/dl: mg/dl/mmol/l = 18. You can get this value as follows:

100 mg/dl = 100 mg/100 ml = 1000 mg/L

Molar mass of glucose is 180

Divide the concentration by the molar mass of glucose to get the concentration in mmol/l

1000/180 = 5.55 mmol/l.

The coefficient of concentration is (100 mg/dl)/(5.5 mmol/l) = 18

When the demand is not met through feeding, the calcium reserves in the skeletal muscles drop. After parturition, the cow needs even more calcium to replace what is lost through the colostrum. The cow loses plasma calcium through the udder to make the colostrum for the calf.

When the plasma calcium drainage is so severe that it affects the cow's neurotransmitter functions, the cow will exhibit the clinical signs of milk fever.

Causes and predisposing factors for milk fever

High producers have a higher risk to hypocalcaemia since the fall in their blood calcium level is greater. They may not be able to replenish the large volumes of calcium reserves that drain into the milk.

Heifers are rarely affected by milk fever since they have not fully realized their production potentials. Older dams that have calved multiple times have a higher productivity, hence higher susceptibility to milk fever.

The feeding regime during the closeup dry period has a great bearing as to whether a cow will suffer from milk fever or not. During this time, there is an increased demand for calcium, which the cow should replace from the feed.

However, you should be cautious when making the ratios so that you do not unnecessarily increase the alkalinity of the feed to an extent that calcium becomes non-bioavailable for the cow.

A highly alkaline environment hinders mobilization of calcium from the bones and absorption of calcium in the intestines. The imbalance increases the cow's risk to milk fever.

Cows that get milk fever before parturition are attributed to the rapid fetal growth, which demands a lot of calcium. If the cow cannot replenish the minerals through the feeds, it will have milk fever. Such cows should have a well balanced diet that will supply all the needed nutrients.

The feeding program should continue until after parturition. You should incorporate as much calcium and clover-rich pastures as possible because the two will help prevent grass tetany (magnesium deficiency caused by feeding on lush grass).

  • Fat cows with good body condition at parturition since they tend to produce more milk.
  • Channel isle breeds, e.g. Jersey
  • Cows with a history of milk fever
  • High green feed diet during the dry period or feed with potash

Symptoms and different stages of milk fever

Milk fever affects about five percent of all lactating cows annually. Large herds may be more susceptible, especially if most of the animals are old or exhibit the risk factor listed above. The old stock may pass the undesirable traits to their calves, which compounds the problem in the farm.

You can diagnose milk fever in three distinct phases:

i) Phase 1

Cows are hypersensitive, restless, and may have body tremors. They shift body weight and have unbalanced gait, especially in the hind legs. This phase is tricky because you have only one hour window to detect and treat the cow. If you do not treat the cow at this stage, it progresses to phase 2

ii) Phase 2

This stage lasts a bit longer, ranging from one hour to half a day (12 hours). The cow has a clearly observable difficulty while moving around and is generally dull. Body temperature drops and the muzzle dries up. Heart rate increases to more than 100bpm. The strength of the heartbeat (tarchycardia) falls and may not be easily noticeable.

The cow loses ability to stand on her feet and lies down sternally. You may observe constipation and the cow will have difficulty defecating or urinating since the smooth muscles will have paralysis. The cow tucks the head in the flanks.

You still have a better chance of saving the cow. However, if you do not treat the cow, the condition will progress to phase 3.

iii) Phase 3

The cow has lost all the ability to stand, body temperature has dropped drastically and the heart rate has increased to over 120bpm. Cow exhibits lateral recumbency (lies on the side) and does not respond to stimuli. Tarchycardia is very weak and if you do not introduce an intravenous injection, the cow will slip into a coma and die after a few hours.

How to treat milk fever

Treat the affected cow as soon as possible because death is certain if you don't. Collect the animal's blood sample for further clinical analysis before you administer any treatment.

Depending on the stage of the condition, you may choose one of the three options available for administering the treatment.

a) Oral treatment

For animals that are still in the early stages of the condition, oral treatment is a viable option. The advantage of this option is that the calcium gets absorbed in the intestines.

However, some people may be reluctant to use this option because calcium gels ulcerate the oral cavity or the cow's intestines. Furthermore, the unpalatability of these gels will lead to reduced feed intake.

On the other hand, administering a liquid calcium solution increases the risk of pulmonary aspiration since the solution is very caustic. You can use 300 ml, or more, of a 40% solution of calcium gluconate.

Since a myriad of other minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus and glucose (for energy) may be in short supply at the same time, you can use a combined mineral solution that contains these minerals.

b) Subcutaneous administration

You inject calcium solution in the peripheral parts. Since the animal has a low pulse and an inefficient circulation, you should split the dose and administer it in different parts. This will facilitate a speedy uptake of the treatment into the system.

One problem with this method is that, there is a likelihood of the drug causing necrosis at the injection site. This is attributed to the poor circulation of blood in the peripheral tissues.

c) Intravenous injection

Administer 500 milliliters of 23 percent calcium gluconate intravenously. It will boost the blood calcium level, which is not only necessary but also critical in an emergency situation. IV injection provides a rapid increase in blood calcium and provides the desired result almost instantly.

Take caution while administering an IV treatment so that you do not end up killing the cow with a heart attack. Administer the dose slowly to boost the blood calcium levels slowly.

Take note that blood calcium will drop again after four hours, taking the cow back to a hypocalcaemic state. Administering large IV doses will not benefit a cow with milk fever much. Once the cow has regained strength, add oral treatment to reinforce the IV.

What other progressive treatment options for milk fever exist?

Always keep packets of calcium gluconate solution together with an injection kit for emergency situations. Ensure they are clean and sterile. If you do not know anything about animal health, keep your vet's number on speed dial. Always call your vet to do IV injections because you can easily kill your valuable cow.

When your cow has slipped to the later stages of phase two of milk fever and phase three and it is lying on the sides, prop it up before you start administering treatment. Propping the cow will help you expel the gas in the cow's stomach and reduce flatulence.

Feed the animal and give it plenty of clean water. Keep it as comfortable as possible.

Cows that have slipped into a coma may have inhaled rumen into their lungs. You can tell this if rumen content is present around the nose. If that is the case, administer antibiotics because your cow may die due to inhalation pneumonia.

Refrain from milking the cow for  the next 24 hours to allow it extract as much calcium as possible. Gradually increase the amount of milk over the period of 48 - 72 hours.

Preventing milk fever episodes

i) Feeding management

Feeding plays a key role in preventing the occurrence of milk fever. Keep cows on low calcium diets to stimulate their body systems to mobilize calcium from the bones. This will help in maintaining a level concentration of calcium in the blood. It is easier for the cow to mobilize calcium from the bones than from the feeds.

Conduct mineral test for the feeds and check for availability of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur, and chloride. Consult an animal nutritionist to help you develop an effective feeding plan that will take care of your cow's mineral needs and prevent incidences of milk fever.

Identify the animals that are at risk of developing milk fever and put them on dry matter feed for about three weeks before calving.

Limit the amount of grass and green pasture feeding to reduce the risk of grass tetany. Ensure that the feed has no mold or traces of mycotoxins (e.g. afflatoxin) in it.

Administer high energy low calcium feeds to improve productivity. Cereals have high energy and phosphorus as an added advantage. You can add  about 100 grams of ammonium chloride to the feed if the cow's rumen has a high pH (test urine pH).

Begin administering this ration to the cow two days before parturition and continue until two days after parturition.

ii) Physical monitoring

When the cows are about to calve down, keep a closer watch over them to allow you detect milk fever early should such an incidence occur.

After parturition, gradually introduce calcium rich feeds and do not restrict the cow's feeding. You can even use calcium feed supplements.

iii) Vitamin supplementation

If you cannot find proper dietary management programs readily, you can inject the cow with vitamin D intravenously (co-factor for calcium absorption). Administer this before parturition (usually between two to seven days before calving).

If the cow does not calve down withing the projected window and the seven-day window elapses, repeat the treatment after 10 days (as necessary).

Supplement vitamin D intake for all the lactating animals. Peg the supplementation to 50,000 units per head per day for all the cows. This will help the cows to utilize calcium much better.

iv) Mineral supplementation

Some farmers prefer to take the precaution and inject the cow with calcium gluconate just before or after calving. This method is quite a success in preventing milk fever since the boost builds up calcium reservoir in the blood to make it readily available for making milk.

There should be a caveat here. IV administration of calcium will boost calcium level in the blood but the effect is likely to wear off after some time if the cow's biological calcium regulation system has not taken effect.

You can drench the cow with a calcium solution for two days before parturition. Since magnesium deficiency is almost always associated with milk fever, you can add magnesium into the drenching solution. Drenching after injecting the cow will prevent relapse of milk fever.

A solution of Epsom salt can help flush out toxins from the cow's gastrointestinal system. The cow will be able to stand up in two to four hours after administration. Do not give up before you try this option.

Make sure to contact your vet or animal health officer for guidance since every cow has a unique need.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions and directions carefully.

Shopping Cart