Antibiotics – Three Steps for Responsible Use

Antibiotic use continues to be a hot topic among consumers, and subsequently cattle producers, and others in the livestock industry.

“Many producers know the importance of the responsible use of antibiotics,” said Ron Tessman, DVM, Merial large animal veterinary services. “It’s about giving the right treatment, at the right time, for the right health concern.”

Brad White, DVM, associate professor at Kansas State University agrees.

“There is a whole host of factors that can cause cattle to get sick,” said White. “Not all sick cattle need antibiotics. The goal is to match up the appropriate treatment for the correct disease.”

White and Tessman emphasize that producers should work with their veterinarians on the best way to address diseases. Additionally, they offer the following tips to cattle producers to help achieve that goal:

Step 1 – Develop a case definition

Whether addressing Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) or other diseases, it’s important to have a case definition: clear diagnostic criteria that are regularly used, by all who are accessing the cattle, to determine what might be wrong. In the instance of BRD, a case definition might include the most prevalent signs such as depression, gaunt appearance and labored breathing1.

“There is a lot of variability among calves and environments, but a case definition can bring consistency to a producer’s treatment plan, which can help them in the long run,” said White.

Step 2 – Create a treatment protocol

Once you’ve ascertained the likely culprit of your sick cattle, it again comes down to consistency. It’s important to follow a treatment protocol, which matches an appropriate treatment to a specific disease. For example, many producers turn to ZACTRAN® (gamithromycin) for treatment of BRD 2, which can cost cattle producers up to $900 million annually3. In addition to clinical signs in individual cattle, there are other factors that can be part of your diagnosis of BRD, including recent stressors such as commingling, weather, overcrowding, transportation and weaning 4.

Step 3 – Evaluate outcomes and refine protocols

While the treatment protocol is critical, keeping good records is just as important. Tracking the use of therapeutic agents will provide data over time to help continually refine the operation’s protocols.

Record-keeping doesn’t have to be complicated, but it certainly should track the basics such as first treatment response rate and case fatality. Records can give you signals when herd health is changing one way or another. While the specifics will vary on the type of operation – cow-calf, stocker or feedlot – the variables to measure come down to performance and health.

According to White, keeping good records over time can help answer several questions, such as:

  • Is it time to change my case definition?
  • How well are the treatment protocols performing?
  • Does the therapeutic plan need to be altered?

“If producers use these steps, and work in concert with their veterinarians, they can be well-versed in the responsible use of antibiotics,” concluded Tessman.

ZACTRAN IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION:  For use in cattle only. Do not treat cattle within 35 days of slaughter. Because a discard time in milk has not been established, do not use in female dairy cattle 20 months of age or older, or in calves to be processed for veal. The effects of ZACTRAN on bovine reproductive performance, pregnancy and lactation have not been determined.

About Merial

Merial is a world-leading, innovation-driven animal health company, providing a comprehensive range of products to enhance the health and well-being of a wide range of animals. Merial employs 6,100 people and operates in more than 150 countries worldwide with more than €2 billion of sales in 2014.

Merial is a Sanofi company.

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®ZACTRAN is a registered trademark of Merial. ©2015 Merial, Inc., Duluth, GA. All rights reserved. RUMIOTD1526 (10/15)

1 Bagley CV. Bovine Respiratory Disease, Utah State University Cooperative Extension, 1997;4:1-4.

2 ZACTRAN product label.

3 Science Daily. Bovine Respiratory Disease: New Research to Tackle Major Concern for Cattle Industry. Accessed October 15, 2015 from

4 Sifferman RL, Wolff WA, Holste JE, et al. Field efficacy evaluation of gamithromycin for treatment of bovine respiratory disease in cattle at feedlots. Intern J Appl Res Vet Med. 2011;9(2):166-175.

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