Does My Cow Have Mastitis? How to Diagnose and Treat Mastitis

Reader Contribution by Candi Johns
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Mastitis is my enemy.

I nursed 4 children. I have had mastitis. It is a mammary infection. Whether you are a human, or a cow (or any other mammal I would suppose) you are susceptible to mastitis.

If you have a milk cow, I hope you never have to deal with it. Some fortunate folks out there never have and never will.

I am not one of them. I have had my share (and then some) of battles with mastitis. It has not been pleasant, however, it has provided many learning opportunities.

Thanks to all my adventures in mammary infections I am now a self-proclaimed expert in all things mastitis. A-hem.

There are many types of mastitis. There are dangerous strains that are life threatening. There are strep infections that are easy to cure. And there is Staphylococcus auerus. It isn’t dangerous, or life threatening, but it is a pain in the neck and practically impossible to cure.

We have owned a cow who has never had mastitis. We have also owned a milk cow who was infected with reoccurring, difficult to treat, pain-in-the-neck, Staphylococcus aureus. Hopefully, you cow does not have a Staph infection. If it does, I’ll show you how we have lived with it. You don’t have to cull the cow.

If you are dealing with mastitis for the first time, or the 30th, I want to encourage you that I have been there. I know it can be difficult. I also want to share something I heard from a cow expert. She said, “Cows get mastitis all the time. It’s not the end of the world.”

I needed to hear that. Maybe you do too. I’ll say it again just in case.

Cows get mastitis all the time. It’s not the end of the world.

Some signs your cow may have mastitis:

• She has a swollen quarter that is still puffy and tight after milking
• You can’t get much milk, if any from the quarter
• The cow tries to kick you if you touch her udder
• The cow does kick you if you touch her udder
• The cow keeps trying to kick you while you attempt to relieve her from her misery and pain: “Faith! I am trying to help you.”
• Your cow feels warm, or has a fever
• The milk is slow to go through the strainer
• The milk won’t go through the strainer
• The milk is thick and laughs at your strainer
• The cream does not separate from the milk
• The milk sours quickly (in a few hours or days instead of staying sweet for a week)
• The milk tastes salty
• The milk tastes cheesey
• The milk tastes cowy
• The milk tastes like the barn
• The milk smells cheesey, cowy, or like the barn
• When you make butter, it takes 1 hour for the butter to “come” (it should only take about 15 minutes)
• When you make ice-cream – it tastes like cow

I am sure there are even more signs to look for, but these are the ones I have experienced live and in person. Yes, I have eaten ice-cream that tastes like a cow. I do not recommend it.

I really, really, really wish I did not know this much about mastitis. I would rather be the girl who is ignorant to the whole thing & has never even heard of it. But I am not. I am the queen of mastitis. Or maybe my cow is the queen of mastitis. So, let’s get our sweet bovine some help.

First, you must determine if your cow indeed has an infection, and which quarters of her udder are infected. I use the California Mastitis Test (CMT). This can easily be ordered off the internet and one bottle should last you years.

Collect a couple squirts of milk from each teat. It is best to get this sample before you milk her. It is important that you clean & dry the cow’s teats before collecting. If you have a hunch which quarter is the problem, be sure to clean it last so you don’t spread the infection to another quarter.

After her “cleanse and dry spa-treatment,” squirt a couple of squirts in a bucket, or onto the ground. Those first squirts will be highly likely to contain bacteria even if she doesn’t have mastitis. This is especially true if your cow is like mine and likes to sleep in her poop.

The goal here is to get a very clean sample of milk from each teat. If the teats are unclean – it could give you a false-positive test. So, wash and dry well & then send the first couple of squirts of milk onto the floor. Now, you will be sure to get a very clean sample so you know for sure if there is an infection up in the udder.

When squirting those clean streams of milk into your testing paddle be sure to keep track of which way you are holding it. If your cow does have an infection, it’s kind of important to know which teat you should squirt the medicine into.

Tilt the paddle until the milk in the sample wells are filled to the indicator lines.

This is the California Mastitis Test Liquid concentrate. It is very simple to use.

The directions tell you a precise amount of the CMT liquid to add to each milk sample.

Now, just swirl the paddle around to combine the CMT liquid with the milk samples. If you look closely at this you can see all the samples are looking clean except the one on the top left. It has a glob. Globs are bad. Globs are evil. Globs mean your pigs will get all your milk for the next week. Ugh.

After swirling and swirling, and praying, and hoping, and crossing your fingers, and praying some more — you can see that the top left sample is still globby. Darn it! It has little bits of white chunks in it. Darn it! This means my cow has mastitis in this one quarter. Darn it!

At this point, you could take a milk sample to your vet to determine what strain of bacteria you are fighting. I don’t need to do this. We already know that our cow has a staph infection in one of her quarters. She has had it since … well, since we got her. I did go to my vet. He gave me a box of this. I love my vet.

This is Pirsue. It is a prescription teat infusion for mastitis. We have had really great results with it. You will need to talk to your vet to determine the best route for your situation. The period of treatment should also be determined by your vet.

Here is how to give the cow the infusion.

First, you must milk your cow completely. Strip her out very well. Be sure there is no milk left, especially in the infected quarter. If the medicine is added to a bunch of milk it will be diluted and not as effective. Get all that milk out so the only thing that will be in that quarter is the Pirsue.

Clean the infected teat well with the alcohol pad included with the medication.

Shake up the tube of medicine.

Take the protective tip off the injector. It just looks like a big plastic shot.

Gently insert the end of the shot (injector) into the hole in the cows teat. Yes, you are just sticking this plastic thingy into the hole where the milk comes out. Then press the plunger. The medication will squirt up into the quarter.

Last, you pinch the end of the teat closed so the medicine you just squirted up there won’t come running out. Now, while pinching the end closed, milk the cow’s teat backwards. You are milking the medicine up into the infected quarter. Once you have squished it up to the quarter, rub, massage, and knead that quarter. You are helping the medicine get up in there & do it’s work. Be sure to avoid any legs that are kicking in your direction as you do this. Cow legs hurt.

After you have administered the medicine you will need to keep the calf (if your cow has a calf) away from her for 12 hours. If the cute baby slurps all the medicine out — it can’t work.

We give our cow the Pirsue at night after we milk her. During treatment you will continue to milk your cow at 12 hour intervals. We still let the calf run with her all day while being treated. Our vet advised us that the milk is safe for pigs & calves, just not humans while she is on Pirsue. So, it looks like this:

1. Evening — milk the cow — be sure to strip her out completely.
2. Inject the Pirsue into infected quarter(s).
3. Keep cow separated from calf 12 hours.
4. Morning — milk the cow.
5. Turn cow out with calf for the next 12 hours

Keep repeating the entire process for the length of time your vet tells you to.

My understanding is, even though you milk your cow in the morning, the Pirsue continues to work for 24 hours. Some of the medication hangs in there to help make her better.

That’s it. As you probably saw from the pictures, my 12 year old is the one giving the infusion to our cow. It is not difficult at all. The cow doesn’t even act like she can feel it. Easy as pie.

Pirsue has a 36 hour withdrawal period. This means that during treatment and for 36 hours after your last treatment you need to discard the milk.

For more on mastitis:
What Causes Mastitis?
What is a Good Mineral Program?
9 Reasons to Get a Jersey Cow and 3 Reasons Not to
How to Stop Your Cow From Holding Up Milk

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If you are fighting mastitis, hang in there. It will get better.



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