Eyeballing health treatment? Take a second look.
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Eyeballing health treatment? Take a second look.

November 02, 2014
POSTED BY: Richard Wallace | DVM, MS | Managing Veterinarian | Dairy Technical Services | Zoetis

How often do you or your dairy employees stop treatment because a cow looks better? If your herd manager or person responsible for administering treatment doesn’t show up to work, do your health records provide enough information for someone to pick up where they left off?

Following treatment protocols and recording health events seem like basic tasks; however, many dairies fall short on both, putting themselves at risk for disease relapse and drug residues or worse.

Good records are hard to find

Three veterinary student interns, supported by Zoetis, Inc., recently conducted a study that observed health management practices on 105 U.S. dairies. These dairies are considered the best of the best when it comes to diagnosis, treatment and record-keeping practices for mastitis, metritis, pneumonia and lameness. Using a tool developed by John Wenz, DVM, MS, at Washington State University, the interns assessed the appropriateness of therapies and completeness of treatment records. The results were surprising.

  • Fewer than 50% of these “well-managed” dairies had written treatment protocols.1
  • Of those, only half were actually applying the treatments as written.1
  • Among the dairies that recorded disease events by computer, treatments for mastitis, metritis and pneumonia were only recorded about 50% of the time.1
  • Only 52% of the operations with dairy monitoring software used treatment protocols at all.1

Not one dairy had complete treatment records — described in the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) as:

  • Animal identification
  • Date(s) of treatment
  • Drug and dosage given
  • Route of administration
  • Meat and milk withdrawal time


Understanding the disease process

In order to develop effective treatment protocols, you first need to understand the disease process and how treatments attack the disease. Take metritis, which involves a bacterial species progression that makes it difficult to treat. Typically, a case of metritis begins when an Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection develops in the uterus and paves the way for infections from other bacteria. How do you treat it? Penicillin is not the answer. It doesn’t have the range to attack an E. coli infection. Going off-label won’t help either.

For treatment to be successful, the level of therapy needs to stay above the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC), which is the amount of medicine needed to kill bacterial populations and prevent regrowth. After the initial dose, the concentration of medicine gradually declines, requiring additional doses specified in the protocol.

When diseases multiply

The potential for diseases to multiply is why it’s so important to see the treatment through. Not completing treatment protocols for an initial infection or disease incident can open the door to more problems—more trips to the hospital pen and more chances for new disease exposure.

Treatments that require milk or meat withdrawal also mean cows must go to pens with other treated cattle. Without sound protocols, pens can be ripe for further disease exposure rather than a place for recuperating. In hospital pens, dairy cows are 11 times more likely to contract Salmonella than in regular pens.2 Cows also can contract Mycoplasma bovis. In one study, 70% of cows entering the hospital pen contracted M. bovis clinical mastitis within 12 days.3

Not to mention, every time a cow is moved to a different pen, she needs to familiarize herself with her new surroundings and establish her social rank in the new group. Studies have shown that it can take two to five days for a group of cows to become socially stable after any pen move.4 Even when moving back to the original pen, social stress causes cows to spend less time eating and lying down, which hurts milk production. And when milk production declines, hidden treatment costs start adding up.

Why full treatment matters

And then there’s the concern for relapse. A cow’s immune system is vulnerable to additional bacteria or the development of a chronic infection that is more difficult to treat. A cow may have an initial positive response to a treatment, but if the full treatment course isn’t followed, the level of therapy will drop below the amount needed to effectively kill bacteria, opening the door for regrowth. Cows that relapse represent a bigger threat to Dairy Wellness through propagation of the infection and reduced performance.

That’s why the first time a cow contracts a disease is the best chance to help her recover — by providing a full course of therapy. Cutting short treatment protocols might seem like a way to save money and time, but the true cost of a treatment involves more than the cost of the medication. If the initial treatment fails because of noncompliance, you will need to invest in retreatment, which is just the start of additional costs.

Use a system that works

Dairies have a responsibility to record disease events and treatment protocols. However, health records often are incomplete and lack accuracy and consistency. According to research from Washington State University, 95% of the dairies studied recorded the cow’s identification number, treatment data and drug used.1 However, only 29% recorded the disease treated, 9% reported the dose of drug given and only 19% recorded the withdrawal time.1 Common dairy management software also can track milk and meat withdrawal times of treated cows, but fewer than half of the dairies studied made use of these features.1

Although dairies have been hearing for decades about the importance of good health records, most dairies still lack the accurate and consistent records needed to avoid drug residues and to evaluate the effectiveness of health management.5 Incomplete records of extra-label drug use is the most commonly cited reason for violative residue at slaughter. Though there have been improvements, dairy cattle still are 300 times more likely to be flagged for a carcass residue than their feedlot counterparts.6

Maintaining good records is an important step in avoiding drug residues. And, it’s the only way to properly evaluate the outcomes of health management decisions.  Poor record-keeping also makes it more difficult for dairies to consult with their veterinarians regarding sound treatment practices and disease epidemiology.

Three simple rules

There is a risk of residues in milk and meat any time you use an antibiotic to treat a cow. Antibiotic use is necessary to return the cow to health, and risk should be minimal with proper on-label use and veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) guidance. Prescriptions and protocols include withdrawal times to help protect meat and milk. Straying from protocols increases the risk of violative drug residues.

Here are three simple rules for ensuring good health records and sound protocols:

  • Record all disease episodes, regardless of severity or therapy.
  • Use a single, specific event for each disease. Differentiate clinical from subclinical/screening.
  • Record all event remarks with the same information and order, using consistent abbreviations.

The best way to enforce these three simple rules and prevent residue violations is by involving your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is the most knowledgeable when it comes to animal health expertise, research, product education and treatment protocols. And even veterinarians use more than just their eyes to assess animal health.

1Wenz, JR. Good Health Records, The Foundation of Consistent, Effective Dairy Health Management. Available at http://www.slideshare.net/DAIReXNET/wenz-webinar. Accessed January 15, 2014.

2Cobbold RN, Rice DH, Davis MA, Besser TE, Hancock DD. Long-term persistence of multi-drug-resistant Salmonella enterica serovar Newport in two dairy herds. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;228(4):585-591.

3Punyapornwithaya V, Fox LK, Hancock DD, Gay JM, Wenz JR, Alldredge JR. Incidence and transmission of Mycoplasma bovis mastitis in Holstein dairy cows in a hospital pen: a case study. Prev Vet Med 2011;98(1):74-78.

4Boe KE, Faerevik G. Grouping and social preferences in calves, heifers and cows. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2003.;80(3):175-190.

5Wenz JR, Giebel SK. Retrospective evaluation of health event data recording on 50 dairies using Dairy Comp 305. J Dairy Sci 2012;95(8):4699-4706.

6U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations. Available at http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions. Accessed January 15, 2014.


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