"Passionate about improving cattle health & welfare through innovation, excellence & valued & trusted customer support."

Lactating Cow

What is the impact?

Mastitis means inflammation of the udder and it is usually caused by bacteria entering the teat end from the environment or from other infected animals. Inflammation can result in changes in the milk (clots, colour changes), udder (hardening and pain) and in the cow (off colour, raised temperature etc.) depending on how serious the infection is.

You will be well aware of some of the costs of mastitis every time you buy a box of tubes, but there are many other costs which are less visible. What about the loss of yield? Drop in appetite?

The impact of disease extends beyond what you will spend on direct costs with additional indirect costs being estimated at £200-250 which are even more painful financially1.

Mastitis is THE most costly disease affecting dairy cattle worldwide1. It is almost exclusively caused by a bacterial infection. Just five species of bacteria account for over 80% of all cases (as you can see below)2. These bacteria can be identified by taking sterile milk samples and sending them off to the laboratory for analysis.


Figure 1. Causative organisms cultured from clinical mastitis cases2

In recent years, the infectious cause of mastitis has been changingfrom mainly “contagious” to “environmental” bacterial infections3. Environmental bacteria are those which live in and are picked up from the environment, e.g. from dung or pasture. Contagious pathogens are those living in or on cows and which are spread from cow to cow. Some traditionally environmental pathogens, for example Strep. uberis, can confuse the story by spreading from cow to cow and so behaving like a conventional contagious pathogen3.

Knowing which type of infection predominates helps to address the problem and reduce the risk of even more cases of mastitis occurring. 

Figure 2. Changing patterns of mastitis since the 1960s

How to treat?

Intramammary antibiotics

Intramammary antibiotics target the infectious cause locally without penetrating other body systems. A large volume of antibiotic is infused into the udder through the teat orifice which then disseminates throughout the mammary gland. But how do you know you are using the most appropriate first-line tube? Are you just using a tube because you’ve always used it or because it’s the best tube for your farm? The dynamic nature of disease and the availability of new treatments mean that constant collaboration with your veterinary surgeon is essential to ensure the most appropriate treatment choice.

Systemic antibiotics

If infection of the udder is deep-seated, inflammation associated with infection can interfere with intra-mammary antibiotic penetration3. Antibiotics administered by injection (systemic antibiotics) have the advantage over intramammary administration in these cases in that they reach the udder from the inside so that penetration to the root of the infection may be improved3. They also reach all four quarters with one dose of antibiotics which is useful when if more than one quarter is infected while they reduce the risk of introducing other infections through the teat canal or causing further physical trauma to the teat end which is a risk of the more usual intra-mammary infusion. Systemic treatment, however, is less targeted so that other bacteria in and on the body will be exposed to the antibiotic unnecessarily.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Metacam® are now shown to be an integral part of the treatment of clinical mastitis, whether mild, moderate or severe. This is because even when the mastitis causing bacteria have been killed, there is still damage present as a result of the inflammation which may continue to affect the milk, udder and the cow for several days afterwards3.

It’s not only the reduction in inflammation and improvement in well-being that comes with administering NSAIDs such as Metacam®. A recent study looked at using Metacam® - in combination with an antibiotic - for the treatment of mild and moderate mastitis. This demonstrated a significant reduction in SCC and culling rate of cows when long-acting Metacam® was used5.


The Five Point Plan of the 1960s was the first national scheme designed to reduce mastitis. It focused on improving and optimising the following five things:

  • Milking machine maintenance
  • Prompt treatment and recording of cases
  • Dry cow treatment
  • Post-milking teat disinfection
  • Culling of chronic cases

The five point plan resulted in rapid progress in the control of clinical and subclinical mastitis as illustrated in the previous diagram (Figure 2).

This came about mainly through better control of contagious mastitis pathogens (i.e. those adapted for survival within the udder). The introduction of EC Milk Hygiene Directive (92/46) in 1991, imposing an upper limit of 400,000 cells/ml in bulk milk for human consumption along with incentives offered to dairy farmers to produce milk of higher quality with a low somatic cell count further reduced the prevalence of infected cows in the UK4.

This increased perception of the importance of the environment in mastitis control led, in the late 1990s, to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) introduced the ‘Six Point Plan’ for mastitis control (National Mastitis Action Plan), with the sixth point being management of the cows’ environment4.

More recently DairyCo have funded research to investigate a more focused approach to mastitis control as outlined in other areas of this website and embodied in the DairyCo Mastitis Control Plan4. (www.mastitiscontrolplan.co.uk ).


1. Bradley A.J Bovine Mastitis: An Evolving Disease. The Veterinary Journal 2002;164: 116 - 128.
2. Vale Veterinary Laboratory data. 2011-2012
3. Andrew Biggs. Mastitis in Cattle, The Crowood Press Ltd, 2009. ISBN 978 1 84797 071 8
4. Dairy Co 2012. www.mastitiscontrolplan.co.uk. Website accessed 7.7.2012. [now www.dairyco.org.uk/mastitis]


An educational service from Boehringer Ingelheim Limited, Vetmedica Division, the makers of Metacam®, Bovikalc®, Ubrolexin®, Ubro Yellow®, Ubro Red® and Mamyzin®.

Advice on the use of Metacam, Bovikalc or other therapies should be sought from your veterinary surgeon. Metacam contains meloxicam, UK: POM-V IE: POM. Bovikalc contains calcium chloride and calcium sulphate and is not a veterinary medicine which is subject to authorisation by the Irish Medicines Board. Further information available from Boehringer Ingelheim Limited, Vetmedica Division, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 8YS, UK. Email: vetmedica.uk@boehringer-ingelheim.com | Web: www.boehringer-ingelheim.co.uk

See our Terms of Use

Date of preparation: Jul 2013. AHD 7729. Use Medicines Responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible)