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Antibiotics for Beef Cattle
By Heather Smith Thomas
The most common reason that antimicrobial drugs are given to beef cattle is to treat or control respiratory disease, although other conditions (such as foot rot, pinkeye, wooden tongue, diphtheria, etc.) are also treated, to help the animal fight off bacterial infection. Kelly Lechtenberg, DVM, PhD (consulting veterinarian at Midwest Veterinary Services in Oakland, Nebraska) specializes in bovine medicine and has worked with many issues regarding use of antibiotics. “The BRD (bovine respiratory disease) complex is a syndrome that is usually a bacterial infection combined with viral infection and various stress factors,” he says. Viruses are not affected by antimicrobial products, but antibiotics are usually given to the sick animal to treat or control bacterial infections.

Commonly used products today include Draxxin (Pfizer), Nuflor (Schering-Plough), Excede (Pfizer), Baytril (Bayer), Micotil (Elanco), LA-200 (Pfizer), Tetradure 300 (Merial), Naxcel (Pfizer). It is important to recognize that all of these products, except for LA-200, must be used by or under the direction of a veterinarian and all require a prescription. There are also some over-the counter antimicrobials that are still used by stockmen and they include penicillin G, sulfas, tylosin, various versions of oxytetracycline and erythromycin.

Draxxin (tulathromyicin), is one of the newer products and is a long-acting drug that has been very useful for combating respiratory disease. It is labeled for use both as a therapy and as a control (to prevent disease). “We can legally administer this product to cattle that we as veterinarians believe are at risk of developing disease,” explains Lechtenberg. For instance, it can be given to stressed animals after a long transport, upon arrival at their destination.

“Draxxin carries a bovine respiratory disease label and could be used at weaning if calves are stressed, especially in large cow-calf operations where even though it’s a closed herd large groups of calves may be co-mingling—not from different sources but from different ranches in their own operation. There might be significant trucking and stress moves,” he says.

People ask, “‘How long after I administer Draxxin can I be comfortable that we still have therapeutic levels in the lung, or when should I have to re-dose?’” Lechtenberg’s reply: “In my hands, the duration of effectiveness for this drug is at least 10 days.” If an animal has not responded adequately to my first therapeutic regimen, I re-evaluate my diagnosis and then if I feel that additional treatment is necessary, I usually switch drugs and go to a different class of antibiotics. This is not a universally held opinion, but it has served me well,” he says.

“In the same drug class (macrolides) we also have Micotil (tilmicosin). It’s been around longer, and is also a long-duration therapy product (at least 3 or 4 days). One cautionary note with Micotil is that it has more human safety considerations,” he says. Micotil can be fatal to humans if accidentally injected. This is especially important for the cow-calf operation, where the stockman may be putting a syringe in a saddle bag or taking the drug to treat one calf—often grabbed in the pasture or crowded into a gate corner or wherever you can get hands on the animal—without ideal restraint conditions. A feedlot operator, by contrast, will be putting the animal in a treatment facility where there’s less risk for struggle and accidental injection of a human. It is important to realize that Micotil can be used safely, and Elanco has provided very specific instructions for doing so.

Erythromycin is another macrolide class antibiotic, but it isn’t used as often because it is very irritating to muscle tissue and requires daily administration. “Due to its inflammatory effect on the muscle, it is my opinion that there is no place for injectable erythromycin in modern cattle therapy,” he says.

Phenicol class drugs are potent, broad spectrum antibiotics that are important tools for antimicrobial therapy. Nuflor (florfenicol) is the representative of this group that is labeled for use to treat BRD and foot rot in cattle. “Nuflor’s effective duration of activity in my experience is at least 4 days when given at the highest label dose,” says Lechtenberg.

With respect to respiratory disease, the main question stockmen or feedlot cowboys ask, for any of these drugs, is how many days should I give the drug to work before I decide to change due to lack of response? “First, it is important to confirm the diagnosis and make sure that we have realistic expectations of therapy. With all other questions answered and all appropriate supportive care provided, I’ll give Draxxin and Excede at least a week (up to 10 days), Nuflor 4 days and Micotil 3 days,” explains Lechtenberg. It is important to understand that there can be value in leaving cattle alone to adapt to their pen and feeding conditions without being excessively irritated over zealous therapy. It is very, very important that your veterinarian work with you in designing treatment protocols, which have many considerations such as this.

The cephalosporins are another class of drugs, introduced for cattle therapy about 20 years ago. These include Naxcel, Excenel and Excede. “Naxcel and Excenel are shorter acting versions of ceftiofur than Excede (about 1-2 days depending on the regimen) but a wonderful product in respect to residues. The ceftiofur products have relatively short slaughter withdrawal times. They are very good for respiratory disease and foot rot. Treating foot rot is one of the big uses for cephalosporins because this keeps your slaughter options open for adult cows,” he says. If an older animal gets foot rot and you want to try therapy, but realize that you might have to butcher or sell the animal, you won’t have to wait so long on withdrawal time.

Another class of antibiotics is the fluoroquinolones, which includes Baytril (enrofloxacin) and A180 (danafloxacin). “These are different variations of this class, and both can be very effective. It is important to realize that these are treatment only drugs. No use of these products for prevention or control (or any extra-label use) is legal,” he says.

“Baytril and A180 have some restrictions, which producers need to remember. They carry warnings on the label, saying it is illegal to use them in any extra-label fashion, such as for baby calf diarrhea or for control of BRD,” explains Lechtenberg.

All of these newer drugs require a prescription from your veterinarian. You should not be using them without advice from and consultation with your vet. The only drugs you can legally purchase over the counter without a prescription (from a feed store, catalog supply company, etc.) are penicillin, some sulfas, tylosin, and the tetracyclines. “There is some talk that this will change, but at this point in time they can be purchased over the counter,” he says.
“When your veterinarian is setting up a metaphylaxis program to treat stressed cattle before they get sick (if they feel that it is appropriate for your situation,) and deciding whether to use Micotil, Nuflor, Draxxin, Excede, or oxytetracycline, they will take various risk factors and herd history into consideration. If a particular operation is considered to be at risk for having cattle suffer from Mycoplasma pneumonia, it is likely that a product will be selected with proven efficacy against M. bovis. Mycoplasmas do not have a cell wall, so selection of a product that inhibits the synthesis of a cell wall as its mode of action will not likely be selected,” explains Lechtenberg.

If the calf is slipping backward—not making progress in recovery, you should work with your veterinarian to re-evaluate the diagnosis. He or she will likely start by working through some of these questions:

  • Is this in fact respiratory disease or does the calf have other issues?
  • Is the infection primarily viral in nature? If so, the antibiotic is fine to use (to keep bacterial load down) but the real problem is viral disease. In that instance, changing antibiotics won’t do much good.

  • Is the disease condition too chronic to reasonably expect resolution? In newly weaned calves that are still on the ranch, this is generally not the problem, since the stockman will usually be dealing with a calf that’s sick for the first time (unless they are detected after an extended period of illness). In that instance, you generally expect the response to be pretty good.

The Old Reliables
Most ranchers are very familiar with the traditional drugs that have been in use a long time, like sulfa boluses, long-acting oxytetracycline, penicillin, and injectable tylosin. “There are still some appropriate applications for these products, however, in many cases; more effective therapies exist with new products to treat the same infections. In many cases the effectiveness is similar to several years ago, but in other situations, the new products are simply superior,” he says.

“Many farms or ranches have not had the pressure experienced by large feeding operations that are always bringing new cattle in, with a lot more pathogens than you have on the home farm. With antibiotics we are trying to support the animal in its fight with disease, even though they will primarily succeed or fail on their own ability to fight off the infection,” says Lechtenberg.

Some of the older, less expensive products still do have a place. If they still work on your ranch, there’s no reason to not use them. If they don’t work very well, then you can switch to the newer, more expensive drugs. “The rule of thumb in the feedlot world is that we shoot for about an 85 to 90 percent success rate (response to therapy, in the animals treated). In the cow-calf world, however, this is not good enough, but to expect 100 percent response rate is unrealistic. In the cow-calf environment, regarding respiratory disease, if you are getting 95 percent success in response to therapy, this is great, and I wouldn’t go changing antibiotics. We expect some cattle to fail, and the first time you have a calf that needs re-treated doesn’t mean you had antibiotic failure,” he explains.

“Your veterinarian should be involved in this process—for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Generally speaking, if the cattle are responding well to an inexpensive program, with low relapse rate, there’s no need to change just because there’s a newer antibiotic available,” he says.

One of the newer formulations of oxytetracycline is Tetradure 300. “This is injectable oxytetracycline that contains 300 milligrams per milliliter, compared to 200 mg/ml products such as Biomycin 200, LA-200, and generic equivalents. The higher concentration in the formulation results in higher concentrations and longer duration of concentration when administered at the same volume to the animal,” he explains.

The drug companies have focused on several things in creating various products, not only looking at the spectrum of activity (the types of bacteria the drug will kill) but also putting the drug into carriers that don’t require excessive volume. “The characteristics of products that Lechtenberg prefers are:

  • Safe to animals
  • Safe to the people using the drug

  • Tissue friendly (no or minimal injection site reactions)

  • Highly effective (low failure rate)

  • Subcutaneous route of administration

  • Low volume

  • Low viscosity (easy to administer)

Tylan-200 (tylosin) is still available (Elanco). “When given intramuscularly it is very irritating to the tissues. There are some programs that still use a significant amount of tylosin intravenously. The IV usage is extra-label. The most common use of that drug, however, is in feed to prevent liver abscesses, and it is sometimes used in a salt/mineral product for pinkeye control. There’s also a powder foirm used for pinkeye treatment in baby calves,” he says.

“Sulfas are used in the form of boluses for baby calf diarrhea, boluses for pneumonia and foot rot, and injectable formulations for pneumonia and foot rot,” explains Lechtenberg. It is very important that the injectable sulfa available for cattle be administered intravenously, according to the label.

There are many options, today, and more choices for selecting a product that fits a specific need. “When I graduated from veterinary school we only had the penicillins, sulfas and tetracyclines. This is why there were many products used extra-label and products were compounded in veterinary clinics and pharmacies. Today, we have numerous products with excellent safety and efficacy data.”

Penicillin is still used, but one of the biggest concerns about penicillin is that it generally needs to be given in higher than label dosage to be effective. Even though you can purchase it over the counter, in order to use it extra-label you need to have a prescription from your veterinarian. Penicillin is frequently used above label directions for certain indications (foot rot). There are other infections, such as clostridial infections (e.g., blackleg) where you need to consult you veterinarian for some substantially altered dosing regimens. Any time that penicillins (or other OTC antibiotics) are used in an extra-label fashion, they also require the prescription of your veterinarian, even though the product can be purchased without a prescription. “Penicillin is safe. But when used off label, someone must be responsible for residues,” he says Thus you need to work with your veterinarian for proper withdrawal time for the higher dosage.

Some of the newer drugs are more expensive than the older ones. Categorically, the newer generation products will cost more, running 2 to 3 times higher than the older products, partly because less volume or fewer doses are needed. The new products try to compete cost-wise on a therapeutic regimen.

Lechtenberg explains, “All of these drugs we’ve talked about so far are injectable. When ever the label allows, the route of injection should be subcutaneously, in keeping with NCBA’s guidelines for beef quality.”

“We must be ever conscious of providing supportive environmental care and be ready to euthanize cases to prevent suffering if required. Your veterinarian will be able to help establish criteria and recommended humane procedures for euthanasia if necessary.”

Most antibiotics, vaccines, anti-inflammatory drugs and some vitamins and minerals are given to cattle by injection, so it is important to know how to administer them properly. Always follow label directions and/or your vet’s advice for giving any injectable product regarding dosage, route of administration and injection site, timing (if it should or can be repeated), etc. Improper use of any injectable product may be ineffective at best, or dangerous/life threatening at worst.

Most vaccines and antibiotics are given intramuscularly (IM) or subcutaneously (SubQ). Some medications are given intravenously (IV). The animal should be adequately restrained before you administer any type of injection. If an animal is moving around, it’s difficult to give the injection; the product may be wasted or the animal may be at risk if not properly injected.
Use a clean needle and syringe of appropriate size for the injection. If using a single dose syringe, select a small one for a small injection and a larger one for a large dose. It’s easier to measure accurate dosage for a small shot with a small syringe. For a large dose you need a larger syringe to accommodate the larger volume.

Injection Sites
For vaccines, IM and Sub Q injections should be given in the triangular mass of muscle on the side of the neck. The acceptable area starts about 3 fingers’ width behind the ear, extending down to a few inches in front of the shoulder, staying away from the top of the neck (which contains a thick ligament) and the bottom of the neck where windpipe, esophagus and jugular vein are located. An alternative choice for SubQ injections, especially on small calves, is the area of relatively loose skin behind the shoulder blade.

For antibiotics, the neck is a preferred location (whether the product is to be given IM or SubQ). If a large IM dose must be given and there’s not enough area on the neck to absorb all the injections (since the product must be split into multiple sites no closer than 4 inches apart if the total dose is more than 10 cc, to have adequate tissue to absorb the medication), an alternative site is the back of the thigh. Also, if more than one product is being given at the same time, the sites should be at least 4 inches apart.

Most shots should be put into the neck, to avoid injecting into parts of the body that will eventually become important cuts of meat. Any scarred or damaged tissue can be more readily trimmed from the neck than the rump, for instance, at slaughter. If there’s scar tissue (gristle) in the neck it’s not as critical, since the neck muscle is usually made into hamburger. Today there are also some new long-acting antibiotic products that can be injected under the skin on the back of the ear (being careful to avoid the major veins), to avoid damage to any meat. In future, injections may become easier and safer, without use of needles. New devices are now being tested that will administer injections through intact skin by use of compressed air.

The rump is no longer acceptable for injections, even though these thicker muscles are much better for absorbing an injection, particularly if a large dose of antibiotic must be given. Many types of injections occasionally create scars or an abscess, which would damage the best cuts of meat if put into the rump. It’s better to put an IM injection into the neck, splitting a large dose into 2 or more sites if necessary. If an animal needs multiple injections or repeat treatment, vary the injection sites on subsequent injections.

Sometimes it’s a tradeoff between what might be ideal from a carcass standpoint and what’s practical or best for the animal. Due to the large volume of some antibiotic injections or a need for multiple treatments in the course of a severe illness, it may not be feasible or humane to put all injections into the neck. That area can become so sore and swollen that a calf might not want to raise his head to nurse, or any animal might be reluctant to lower the head to eat or drink. Stress of discomfort can diminish effectiveness of the treatment, making the animal slower to recover. Your first concern is to save the animal. If both sides of the neck are not adequate to absorb all the IM injections, the back of the thigh can be used, putting the injection at right angles to the leg (less risk of hitting the nerves that run down the back of the muscles).

Intramuscular Injections
IM injections are given with a needle long enough to go deep into the muscle. For an adult cow you need a needle at least 1.5 inches long and 2 inches is better—especially for a large dose such as an antibiotic product. Use a 16 gauge needle; it’s large enough diameter to go through a cow’s thick skin without bending or breaking. Don’t use anything larger than 16 or there’s more chance for tissue damage and for the product leaking back out. For a calf use a smaller needle; 18 gauge and 1 to 1.5 inches long is best. Diameter is determined by gauge size; the smaller the number the larger the needle.

The biggest mistake people make when vaccinating cattle, especially when running a lot of cattle through the chute, is not taking time to do a good job. Hurried work and improper injection may result in some animals not being adequately vaccinated (if some or all of the product leaks back out), and also increases the risk of tissue damage, abscesses, reactions, etc. To reduce chances of leakage after the injection, keep the needle inserted for at least 2 seconds after the injection, before removing it from the muscle. Another way to prevent leakage is to pull the skin taut across the injection site with one hand while you inject with the other, then release the skin after you remove the needle. The skin then moves over the hole and closes it. You can also rub the injection site briefly afterward to help distribute the product within the muscle and reduce the pressure so it’s less apt to ooze back out.

When using a trigger-type syringe for IM shots, it’s easy to thrust the needle into muscle and pull the trigger. When using a smaller or disposable syringe, detach the needle and press your hand firmly against the skin to desensitize the site so the animal won’t jump when you insert the needle, then thrust it in quickly and forcefully. A new, sharp needle always goes in easier and causes less pain and damage than a dull one. If the animal jumps, wait until she settles down before attaching the syringe to the inserted needle and giving the injection. If the needle starts to ooze blood, meaning you’ve hit a vein, take it out and try a slightly different spot. Never inject an intramuscular product into a blood vessel.

Subcutaneous Injections
Originally, SubQ injections were used because a particular product was highly irritating to muscle tissue or designed for slower rate of absorption. Today, however, due to concerns about carcass quality (trying to avoid IM shots, where possible) more injectables—including some antibiotics as well as vaccines—are being approved for subcutaneous use and no longer must be given IM. When you have a choice, according to label directions, it’s best to inject the product under the skin rather than into muscle, for less tissue damage. IM shots are more likely to develop a serious abscess if a needle is dirty. An infection introduced by a SubQ shot is merely beneath the skin and an abscess more readily breaks open to drain.
For a SubQ injection, lift a fold of skin on the neck or shoulder where skin is loosest, and slip the needle in between the skin and muscle. If using a trigger-type syringe, aim it alongside the animal so the needle goes under the skin and not into the muscle. For a small calf, it may be easiest to give a SubQ injection under the loose skin of the shoulder, and if there’s any local reaction it won’t make his neck sore (and hinder his desire to nurse).

Giving injections SubQ rather than IM allows you to use a shorter needle (¾ inch if using a trigger type syringe, or up to 1 inch if using both hands to tent the skin and slip the needle underneath) so it’s less likely to bend or break. In the confined space of some chutes, insert the needle at an angle so you can use a one-handed technique with a syringe gun, rather than both hands to tent the skin. There’s less risk of getting your hands injured (jammed between the animal and the chute) or accidentally hitting yourself with the needle, if you can do it one handed.

Intravenous Injections
Some medications are more effective (acting faster and more readily absorbed) if given IV. Some are very irritating to muscle tissue and must be given IV. It’s not difficult to give IV injections, but they must be done properly. Chances for problems are greater, as is the speed with which a serious problem may develop, so you must know which products can be given IV (follow label directions) and know what you are doing. Large volumes of fluid or medications given too swiftly can put too much load on the heart, and some drugs speed up the heart. Heart rate should be monitored when giving fluids or certain IV medications, and rate of administration adjusted accordingly.

Any large vein will work for an IV injection, including the large veins under the tail, the big milk vein ahead of the udder on a lactating cow, or the jugular vein on either side of the neck (located in the groove above windpipe and esophagus). A large needle (at least 16 gauge and 2 inches long or longer) works best for adult animals.

For IV injections, needles and any other equipment (syringe or tubing) must be sterile. The animal must be well restrained so it can’t move around during the procedure. If using the jugular vein, find it and press down on it with your fingers or fist to build up pressure (between your hand and the animal’s head) so the vein stands up and is easier to inject. Still pressing on the vein, insert the needle into it at a point between your hand and the animal’s head, then move the needle a little forward (inside the vein) parallel with the neck. If blood flows freely from the needle, this shows it’s in the vein and you can then attach your syringe (or tubing, if giving fluid).

The most common problem is pushing the needle too far, clear through the vein and out the other side. Sometimes the animal moves and the needle slips out of the vein. Don’t just assume it’s in the vein just because you see some blood. Blood will flow rapidly and steadily from the needle if it’s actually in the vein. Make sure the needle stays in the vein when you give the injection or administer the fluid. Injecting some products into tissues around the vein can cause severe irritation and stress (and sometimes death, depending on the drug). If the needle slips out of the vein while giving fluid the tissues around the vein will start to swell. If the needle slips out of the vein, take it out and start over. If giving fluid, which means the needle must be in the vein awhile, it’s best to use an IV catheter, which is longer than a needle and more flexible, and stays in the vein better.

Always use a sharp, sterile needle. Use of disposable needles ensures the needle will be clean and sharp, but avoid those with plastic hubs because they are more likely to break. Use proper diameter for the job; too large and it allows leakage, too small and it may break or slow the procedure and more pressure is needed to inject the material through it (never try to put a thick product through a small needle). If it’s too long it may bend or break. Too short and it may not deliver the product into proper location.

Needles should not be reused unless they’ve been boiled between uses. Exceptions are when a large number of cattle are being vaccinated at once. In this instance, care must be taken to make sure the needle stays clean and sharp during multiple uses. Injections should never be put into dirty hide (covered with mud or manure). Make sure the area to be injected is clean and dry. Thrusting a needle through wet or dirty skin will take contamination with it, creating risk for an abscess at the injection site. It’s always better to vaccinate cattle when they are dry, rather than wet from rain or snow. Even if you are using the same needle multiple times on several animals, always use a clean sterile needle for refilling your syringe; never insert a used or dirty needle into the bottle or you may contaminate the contents.
If a needle gets dull or dirty after being used on several animals, exchange it for a new one. Needles are designed to cut into the skin, not puncture it. After you’ve used a needle on 10 or more animals, it starts to dull and develop a burr on the tip. Once it’s dull, you need more force to put it through the skin, producing more tissue damage. Instead of cutting through the skin, a dull needle punctures it and folds a small piece of skin under, possibly carrying dirt or bacteria with it. If a needle starts to get dull or gets a blunt tip from being bumped on the chute, discard it for a new one, even if you’ve only used it on one animal.

Always discard a needle if it becomes bent. Bending weakens it and it may break. You don’t want it to break off in the animal. Make sure the needle is still attached to the syringe when you finish the injection. On the rare occasion one breaks off in an animal, it may be sticking out and you can grab it. Otherwise, mark the site so your vet can surgically retrieve it—and do it as soon as possible. A needle shaft can migrate several inches within an hour, working deeper into the muscle or traveling laterally under the skin. When working cattle, have a container by the chute for disposal of used needles.

Some of the gun-type syringes have flexible ends to minimize the risk for bent or broken needles. If you use a trigger type syringe, make sure it’s easy to use and well lubricated for quick ease of motion, especially if you have small hands. The easier and faster you can give an injection, especially if the animal has any room to move around, the less likely you’ll end up with bent or broken needles. Make sure you have good access to the injection site and your hand or syringe/needle won’t be jammed into the bars or front of the chute if the animal lunges forward or backward. Many of the new squeeze chutes have access doors at the neck area or a neck extension that holds the head and neck still while you are trying to give an injection.

A Local Veterinarian’s Perspective
Certain illnesses and disease conditions in cattle are caused by bacteria, and stockmen generally treat these with antibiotics. Some types of antibiotics kill bacteria and others inhibit their growth. Use of the proper antibiotic can help the sick animal fight the infection. The important thing is knowing when an antibiotic would be helpful (or not) and which drugs might work best for certain conditions. This is why it is crucial to work with your veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Jeff Hoffman, DVM, raises cattle and has a veterinary practice near Salmon, Idaho, a ranching area where his clients are mainly cow-calf producers. Choice of an antibiotic when an animal is ill should always be a case by case situation; there are no hard and fast rules for what works best. “We basically use antibiotics in beef animals for 3 purposes—prophylaxis (preventative medicine), metaphylaxis (a combination of treatment and prevention, as when a group of stressed calves arrive at a feedlot after a long transport, and all of them are mass treated upon arrival), and therapeutic—actual treatment of an illness. So you need to have a plan about what you are doing,” he says.

“Most over the counter drugs (penicillin, tetracyclines and some of the sulfas) list on the label what they can be used for so you need enough knowledge to know what you are treating. All the newer drugs require a prescription to obtain, so you must be working with your veterinarian anyway, on diagnosis and treatment. This is the whole idea behind prescription drugs. An adequate label (to cover everything it might be used for, or stipulations regarding proper use) can’t be written,” he explains. In order to use a prescription drug there also has to be a valid doctor/client/patient relationship. The veterinarian must diagnose and prescribe, before he/she will put a drug into the client’s hands to treat the animal. Otherwise, these drugs are not legal for stockmen to use.

“The 2 main classes of antibiotics are bacteriocidal (that kill pathogens) and bacteriostatic (that inhibit their growth). Bacteriodical products include penicillin, the cephalosporins, aminoglycocides, peptides, and trimethoprim. Bacteriostatics include the tetracyclines, chloramphenicol (which cannot be used in food animals), the macrolides, sulfonamides and tylosin,” says Hoffman. Drugs from these 2 classes generally should not be used at the same time. Some products can be used effectively together, such as two bacteriostatic products (like tetracycline and long-acting sulfa boluses, for treating pneumonia or foot rot), because they are synergistic and work better together.

“But if you mix a cidal and a static, they tend to cancel each other out. If the bacteria are growing very slowly or not at all (due to use of a bacteriostatic drug), the bacteriocidal drug won’t work to kill them,” he explains. Thus you have to know what you are doing, or follow your veterinarians advice on which drugs to use.

Another factor to be aware of whenever you use antibiotic products is residues and observing proper withdrawal time before the treated animal is sold or butchered. Different products have different withdrawal times, and the time frame is also contingent upon dose. If you overdose the animal, withdrawal time would be longer than stated on the label. It is illegal to sell an animal before an adequate withdrawal time has elapsed, and any carcass containing drug residues will be condemned.

“In our region, cow calf operations are fairly isolated and not having a lot of cattle coming in from other regions. For the most part I rarely use antibiotics, and when I do I generally stick with the cheaper traditional over-the-counter products. They work just as well as the newer, more expensive products,” says Hoffman. There hasn’t been as much problem yet with resistant strains of bacteria, and the older products still work. It’s not like a feedlot, with cattle intermingling from several sources.

“If antibiotics haven’t been abused on a ranch and there are no resistance issues, the older products work fine. In most cases, depending on the situation, pneumonia can be adequately treated with LA-200 and sulfa, and this is what I’ll use for the first line of attack. If I have a herd-wide outbreak where I know the cattle are stressed and I know they have other problems going on, I have at times gone through and treated everything with Micotil, to head it off. But usually on an individual case by case basis I don’t jump for the big guns,” he explains. And in the majority of cases, he knows the herd health and knows the cattle have been vaccinated, covering all the viral diseases.

First of all, when dealing with any disease condition, you need to figure out whether you are dealing with bacteria or a virus, and if the herd health management is good, and you know that a viral outbreak is less likely. The herd husbandry makes a big difference in the health of the animals. If stress levels are kept low and there’s a good herd health program, there’s much less need for use of antibiotics.

“Except in rare situations, I almost never use antibiotic in scouring calves anymore,” says Hoffman. Supportive care, like giving adequate fluids and electrolytes, is more important. In some cases he will use antibiotics, depending on the situation, but years ago a person automatically gave scouring calves pills and a shot. He stopped doing that some years back because it didn’t make that much difference.

The animal has to fight off the infection; the immune system of that individual animal is what determines whether it can recover or not. Antibiotics merely help buy time for the animal to mount its own defenses. The state of the animal will also be part of the determining factor regarding which antibiotic you choose. “In a really stressed, immunocompromised animal, you’d want a bacteriocidal antiobiotic that will kill the bacteria, because the body isn’t as able to fight them off,” says Hoffman.

“Antibiotics by themselves are never going to cure the problem. You are just helping tip the scales in the right direction. This is why people with AIDS die. If the body doesn’t have a viable immune system, no matter what you do, that animal will die. Antibiotics by themselves won’t cure the disease.” This is why it’s important to have good health conditions, with proper nutrition (including adequate trace minerals) and a healthy immune system, and a good vaccination program to stimulate immunity.

Good supportive care can also help tip the scale in the animal’s favor. “Banamine is helpful in a case of pneumonia (and approved for this use), because it decreases the incidence of lung lesions. It also reduces fever and inflammation and makes the animal feel better,” he explains. If they get back on feed and will eat and drink and get their strength back up, they can fight off the disease quicker.

Regarding which antibiotic to use in a specific case, he says the only way you absolutely know is to grow a culture and do a sensitivity test. “Then you know exactly what that bug is and can test it with different antibiotics to see which one works best. You also have to know whether it’s a drug that will get to the target organ (such as the lungs, or wherever the infection is located),” he says. Every situation is not ideal for figuring this out, however.
Usually you don’t have time to grow a culture before you start treatment (the animal may be dead before you get the results), so the veterinarian chooses something he/she thinks might work in the meantime. A culture can help guide your decision in the future if you might have multiple cases in that herd, however. “You need to have enough knowledge to know that what you are growing in the culture is the cause of the infection, and not just a secondary bacterium that just happens to be there, too,” says Hoffman.

Thoughts From a University Professor
Dr. Geoffrey Smith, North Carolina State University, says there are several good antibiotics effective against pneumonia-causing bacteria. “This is a huge market for drug companies and there aren’t any control trials done by independent researchers to show that a certain drug works the best. All we have is drug company data. There are 5 or 6 products that I consider good. Some work better in some situations, and others work better in other cases. The ones I use a lot are Micotil and Nuflor, but you should not use Nuflor in calves less than 30 days of age because it tends to make them scour. It’s hard on the GI tract,” says Smith.

“Baytril is fairly good and some people use it for pneumonia in calves. Another good one is A180 (Danafloxacin). It’s about the same as Baytril but it concentrates in the lung a little better. In our region it’s been about half the price of Baytril, so I use more of it than Baytril. Slaughter withdrawal time is only 4 days for A180, which is a lot shorter than some of the other drugs,” he says.

“Draxxin is the newest product and the good thing about this drug is how it concentrates in lung tissue and stays there for about 8 to 10 days. The down side is cost,” he says. The big market for it is in feedlots; they have a lot of respiratory disease and use a lot of antibiotics and have more total dollars at stake with each animal lost. Feedlots use it in large quantities and can get a better price break than veterinarians can get, says Smith. But eventually it may become more affordable for the cow-calf producer.

“With any drug, we need to monitor how the calf is doing and if it’s not getting better within a few days we need to give something different,” he says.

Cost Sampling at a Local Clinic
Costs of drugs will vary from region to region and from time to time. Here is what the most commonly used antibiotics are at the Blue Cross Veterinary Clinic in Salmon, Idaho, and the cost to the client on a certain day in January, 2008 (costs can vary with each new order, however):

  • LA-200 500 ml. $53.00
    Baytril 100 ml. 95.00
    Nuflor 100 ml. 64.00
    Draxxin 100 ml. 350.00
    Tribrissen tablets (100) 21.00

Abscesses & Scar Tissue
An abscess will usually show up as a lump, a few days after the injection. It may grow larger then break and drain. If it doesn’t break on its own it should be lanced and drained and flushed. An even greater problem, however, is an abscess deep in the muscle, since it may not be detected until the animal is slaughtered. Scar tissue from a surface abscess can result in significant carcass trim, but a deep abscess may contaminate the meat around it and it must be trimmed even more drastically.

Even a poke into muscle with a clean needle without injecting anything leaves a small scar and a tough area in the meat. Sterile scar tissue in the muscle after a shot can still be there months or years later. Injections given to a calf may create lesions that must be trimmed at slaughter 2 years later or even a dozen years later when a cull cow goes to market. These sites contain more connective tissue and fat than normal muscle, and the meat may be less tender in an area up to 3 inches around the lesion—a piece of meat the size of a grapefruit.

When you give any kind of injection, always keep in mind the possibility of an adverse reaction. These problems are most common if a product is given in overdose or inappropriate location. For instance, a product might be safe when administered SubQ but fatal if injected into a blood vessel. A few animals are sensitive to certain products and will react even if the injection is given properly. The reaction may be as mild as local swelling at the injection site that subsides in a few days, or may be serious and life threatening if the animal goes into shock.

Temporary swelling is usually nothing to worry about, but if you inject the neck too close to the shoulder, swelling makes it hard for the animal to walk. That shoulder can’t be moved forward without discomfort. Some types of vaccine are notorious for causing local swelling, and some animals react more than others. To avoid making the animal lame, put a neck injection well ahead of the shoulder, closer to the head.

A more serious type of reaction occurs when an animal is very sensitive to the product being injected, producing a severe allergic response (anaphylaxis). This may result in constriction of air passages and difficult breathing. The animal may go into shock, collapse, and die. Signs of severe hypersensitivity reaction may develop within 10 to 20 minutes or longer. Usually the more severe the reaction, the sooner it occurs.

When using any injectable product, keep an emergency antidote on hand, and know the proper dosage to give. You may never need it, but if you do, swift injection of epinephrine (adrenalin) and dexamethasone (a steroid—safe for a non-pregnant animal) will usually reverse the condition and enable the animal to recover. Always observe cattle after vaccinating (or any other injection) and check them for at least 2 hours for any signs of shock. If a certain animal ever shows a serious reaction to a particular product, do NOT give it again to that animal. A second exposure usually produces an even greater reaction in the already sensitized animal, and it may die.

Using any animal health product in a way not specified on the label (at higher or lower dose, more frequent intervals, in different location or route of administration, or in a different species than intended) is illegal without a veterinarian’s prescription. Even if it’s not harmful to the animal, there may be more risk for residues. A drug intended for another species (such as a non-food animal) may leave residues in meat since withdrawal times have not been determined. Detectable residue at slaughter is a violation that results in condemnation of the carcass.

There are situations, however, when a vet will prescribe a product in an off-label use for certain purposes or to treat an unusual condition. This is acceptable, according to the FDA, only if there is no approved drug already labeled to treat that condition or if treatment at recommended dosage or location would not be effective. There must be a valid veterinarian/client/patient relationship for this to be legal, which means the vet has a good working relationship with the client and has seen and diagnosed the animal and agrees to take responsibility for making a judgment regarding health and treatment—and the client agrees to follow the vet’s instructions. A record of any off-label treatment must be kept, and withdrawal time before marketing for slaughter must be extended in the case of some products or overdoses, with the time determined by the veterinarian.

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