Dry Cow Therapy - What is on the way

dry cow therapy

In response to national and global concerns about the increase in cases of antibiotic resistance in animals and humans, the following vision statement, “By 2030, New Zealand Inc. will not need the use of antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness” was issued in 2015 by the NZVA. It aligns with government, industry and medical policy for ensuring that we have effective treatments for disease well into the future.

Whenever we use antibiotics, we expose bacteria to antibiotics at a range of concentrations. Over time, bacteria not killed by original treatments become a larger part of the population and pass resistant “genes” to other bacteria. To maintain susceptible populations of bacteria, it is prudent to limit the exposure of bacteria to antibiotics. This doesn’t mean we don’t treat diseased animals with antibiotics when appropriate; it does mean that we reduce the use of antibiotics where they are not, or where more appropriate therapies exist.
What does this mean for antibiotic dry cow therapy? The goals of dry cow therapies are to cure existing infections present in the udder at the end of the lactation; to reduce the incidence of new infections over the dry period, and to reduce the incidence of mastitis in the first month of the following lactation.

Antibiotic dry cow therapy is the most appropriate treatment to cure existing infections in the udder at the end of lactation. However, in a gland free from infection at the end of the lactation, teat sealants are more effective in reducing new infections over longer periods than antibiotic dry cow therapy, and better at reducing dry period infections and cases of mastitis in the following lactation than not providing any therapy at all. Antibiotic dry cow therapy use is appropriate in infected cows and teat sealant use in non-infected cows.

While these principles have been employed over decades and should come as no surprise, recent policy changes that govern how veterinarians are required to authorise antibiotic dry cow therapy have shifted their emphasis from “should” to “must”; and from authorizing at a herd level to authorizing at a cow level. Practices are being audited to assess compliance with national policies on the use of antibiotics.

The two most pertinent changes for farmers to be aware of from the VCNZ Statement on the Authorisation of DCT, Sept 2022, as they have the greatest implications for the authorization process are:

  1. Veterinarians must be able to justify each individual animal’s treatment plan by ensuring there is sufficient clinical evidence to support a need for DCAT use for each animal for which the product is authorised i.e., full herd test results, or validated diagnostic culture, screening culture, or PCR herd testing systems (Point 3). 
  2. Where a veterinarian authorises whole herd DCAT, they must also ensure a comprehensive udder health improvement plan is implemented (Point 5).

In other words, farmers will need to provide diagnostic evidence (see article – What constitutes diagnostic evidence that antibiotic DCT is required?) that cows require antibiotic DCT at the end of the season. If the vet determines that blanket antibiotic DCT is appropriate, farmers will be required to implement formal plans to reduce the prevalence of mastitis and therefore the need for blanket antibiotic DCT.  Your vet will be able to keep you up to date with your farms’ requirements as the season progresses. 

In other words, every farmer will need a diagnostic process in place to enable the prescription of DCT for 2024.

The silver lining in this is the emphasis on reducing the incidence of mastitis in the national herd. This has benefits for the welfare of cows, limiting farm productivity and expenses to deal with a costly and time-consuming disease, as well as ensuring that our treatments remain effective into the future.

Dr David Hawkins BVSc FArm Vet & Consultant


Franklin Vets

Franklin Vets - excellence in veterinary care for dairy, farming, lifestyle, equine and household pets. BESTPRACTICE ACCREDITED NZ.