Environmental mastitis

Mastitis is inflammation of the udder and is a major disease seen in dairy cattle. Environmental mastitis is an intra-mammary infection of the udder originating from bacteria in the cow’s environment. Environmental bacteria thrive in habitats that naturally exist alongside cows, such as, faeces/slurry, organic bedding, and contaminated soil. Even water can harbour bacteria which can get splashed on to the udder when walking through dirty pooled water/footbaths. Some common bacteria found in the cow’s environment which can cause mastitis include, Streptococcus uberisEscheria coli and Klebsiella. The occurrence of environmental mastitis is dependent on the level of exposure to these environmental bacteria and the cow’s ability to resist an infection.

Signs of environmental mastitis in individual cows

  • Watery, yellow milk +/- blood
  • Clots in the milk
  • Swelling, heat, and pain in the udder
  • Sick cow: depressed, off food, temperature – in severe cases recumbent and unable to stand

Signs of environmental mastitis at herd level

  • Generally low bulk milk SCC, but high number of clinical cases
  • Seasonal problem. This may be summer or winter or whenever the cows are challenged by environmental conditions

Treatment depends on the severity of the clinical signs

  • Mild cases - where early changes in the milk are detected. These can be managed with intra-mammary antibiotic tubes alone. In these cases, topical udder creams can be beneficial to help reduce inflammation.
  • Moderate cases - where there are major changes in the milk, alongside heat and swelling in the udder but the cow is not visibly sick. Such cases will require a combination of intra-mammary tubes and NSAID.
  • Severe cases - where the cow is visibly sick and potentially unable to stand. These cases need prompt aggressive treatment. Initial antibiotic and NSAID treatment should be given intravenously and combined with fluid therapy for best results.

Prevention and control

Prevention and control rely on maximising the cow’s ability to resist infection by improving udder health and reducing exposure to environmental bacteria.

Improving cow resilience

  • Dry period management is key – freshly calved cows are most at risk and have reduced immune defences
  • Cows with concurrent disease and those in negative energy balance are more susceptible to mastitis
  • Correct nutrition is important for a fully functioning immune system and loose cows create environmental contamination
  • Good udder prep to ensure quick milk let down and regular parlour maintenance to reduce udder stressors and avoid teat end damage will help keep infection out
  • Ensuring standing times post milking allow enough time for the teat end sphincter to fully close and will reduce the challenge from the environment

Reduce exposure

  • Clean and dry lying areas are essential to reduce environmental contamination
  • Cubicles that encourage correct use will reduce contamination of beds
  • Keep tails regularly trimmed and udders free of hair
  • Ensuring passageways are scraped regularly will keep legs and udders cleaner
  • Pre-dip and dry to kill any surface bacteria present before milking

If you have any concerns with your herd, please call and ask to speak to one of our farm vets.