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What is Mastitis?

Mastitis is the inflammation of the mammary gland and udder tissue (in layman terms, the “breast” of an animal from where milk is produced). It is commonly found in dairy cattle herds but can sometimes be observed in beef herds. Mastitis can occur in any animal (or human) but for the purpose and relevance of milk consumption to the human diet, we are focusing on mastitis in cows.

What causes mastitis?

There are two major causes of mastitis and they include;

  1. Infection – Most cases of Mastitis usually occur as a result of a bacterial infection such as Streptococcus agalactiae and Staphylococcus aureus. These bacterial organisms may be transmitted to the cows through bedding or contaminated teat dips. The infection then incites an immune response that will develop to mastitis in the cow
  2. Injury – Mastitis can also occur as a result of injury to the cow’s udder. The injury may be physical, chemical, mechanical, or thermal.


What are the predisposing factors and risks of a cow having mastitis?

It is important to note that generally, mastitis is usually multi-factorial; resulting from factors that may include the farm’s production system, the environment the cows are kept in, level of immunity of the cow and the type of invading pathogen that causes the infection.

Also, flies are a large factor in the spread of the disease most especially if the cows are held in confined areas with high fly populations. Flies carry the disease, moving bacteria from the skin surface into the tissue by biting at the teat ends and exposing live tissue. This is the entry point of the pathogen which allows the bacteria into the udder infects the specific quarter.
Older cows, are at greater risk of getting mastitis because they typically have larger udders than younger cows. Therefore, the chance of physical injury by being stepped on is greater, and in early lactation the udder often contacts the ground, allowing the entry of bacteria into the teats.

Calves can also spread the infection from quarter to quarter when they suckle for milk and they suckle across teats.Also, if cross suckling across cows occurs, bacteria can be spread to other cows

Weather is also a risk factor for mastitis to occur. Higher instances of mastitis can occur when the weather changes from hot and humid, to wet and muddy conditions.

Economic implication of Mastitis

Mastitis causes significant economic losses to the farmer as most farmers depend on the milk produced from the udder to care for the calves and also to sell/process into milk and milk products (cheese, wara etc.). So, generally, a cow with mastitis has a lower milk yield, leads to reducing weaning weights of the growing calf and reducing profitability of the animal farm operation. Also, mastitis can reduce fertility (first service conception rates) and delay the onset of heat cycles in cows which also reduces the overall profitability of the farm.


How do you know a cow has clinical mastitis?

The most obvious symptoms of clinical mastitis in cows are as follows; Swollen udder, heat, hardness, redness or pain. Also, the infected cow’s milk takes on a watery appearance and flakes, clots or pus is often present. Other common signs include a reduction in milk yields, increases in body temperature, lack of appetite, and a reduction or reluctance to move due to the pain of a swollen udder.

How do you treat mastitis in cows?

Due to the infectious nature of mastitis, they should typically be treated with antibiotics. Even the mastitis that result from injury should be treated with antibiotics to prevent and resolve any infectious complication of the injury. To treat, the cow can be milked out and then the antibiotic can be infused directly into the infected gland. It is best to contact your veterinarian for the specific antibiotic to use, correct dosage and method of application specially to avoid antibiotic abuse.


Other ways of treatment and resolving mastitis in cows is the administration of oxytocin to stimulate milk let-down and milk flow so as to relieve the udder of bacterial load and growth medium. Also NSAID (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) can be given to reduce the swollen state and pain of the udder.

For mastitis that refuse to heal even after constant and prolonged treatment, it might be best to cull the animal so that the (mastitis) infection does not spread to other cows in the cattle herd.

How can you prevent Mastitis in the cows on your cattle farm?

  • By hygienic management of the cow teats which includes good housing management, effective teat preparation and disinfection for good milk hygiene, teat health and disease control.
  • By maintaining a healthy habitable environment in your farm. In fact, managing the environment is much more important that using medications. When treating active cases, ensure the treatment area is clean, as more problems can occur with poor sanitation and unhygienic environment. Also, avoid keeping cows in confinement areas as much as possible.
  • By prompt identification and treatment of clinical mastitis cases including the use of the most appropriate treatment for the symptoms. You veterinarian would be the best to know about this. For example, if there is a history of mastitis in the herd, heifers they should be treated one month prior to calving
  • By culling chronically affected cows; cows whose mastitis infection have refused to heal and might become sources of infection to the rest of the herd.
  • By regular and hygienic maintenance of the milking equipment daily, weekly or monthly basis.
  • By maintaining good record keeping of all aspects of mastitis treatment and cases so as to monitor incidence of infection, changes, treatment and prevention plans in the cattle herd.
  • By ensuring that cows are receiving proper nutrition and clean grass so that they can maintain a proper immune system and would be less prone to infectious micro-organisms causing mastitis

Through everything, ensure you consult your veterinarian for a proper plan on the treatment and prevention of mastitis on your farm. This would save you from economic and financial losses in the long run.




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