Reaching for a different antibiotic may not be the most effective way to treat bovine respiratory disease (BRD).
In fact, focusing only on the antibiotic — choosing a cheaper, but potentially less effective antibiotic to start or switching to other products when you feel like the first one is failing to treat BRD — probably isn’t doing the animal (or your wallet) any service.
While your antibiotic choice is important, it’s one part of the big picture. Here are a few questions to discuss with a veterinarian or nutritionist about why your antibiotic treatment might not be meeting your expectations.
- Is your pull rate higher because your risk for BRD is higher? Many factors can contribute to BRD, including stress, cattle type and source, housing, nutritional deficiencies and weather. A veterinarian or nutritionist can often view your operation more objectively to determine what your treatment results should be depending on your situation. When you’re working your operation day after day, it’s easy to become too close to it. An outside expert can often recommend small management changes that don’t cost much but can have a big impact on minimizing BRD.
- Are you treating the right thing? Are you sure it isn’t acidosis, foot rot or something in the environment? Antibiotics are generally effective against bacteria but not viruses. Your veterinarian can help assess if viruses might be the problem and if so, help you re-evaluate your vaccine program.
- Are you intervening early enough? The earlier you can intervene in the disease process, the better. If you can do something the first day you own that calf, whether it’s a vaccine or a management change, to help prevent the animal from getting BRD in the first place, that’s ideal. Prevention is almost always less expensive than treatment. When animals do become sick, it’s important to treat at the earliest sign of BRD. That way, cattle have a better chance of responding to treatment, so they can get back to healthy production faster.
- Are you giving the antibiotic treatment enough time to work? Switching products before the full duration of therapy has elapsed could be contributing to treatment failure. For convenience, the estimated duration for several antibiotic products can be found here.
- Are you using the right antibiotic for your situation? While the cost of an antibiotic is a consideration, the cheapest antibiotic can become very expensive if the animal doesn’t respond. That’s why your veterinarian considers many factors when choosing an antibiotic, including whether it’s Food and Drug Administration-approved to target the pathogens most likely to be involved, if it has proven efficacy, and what the mode of action, or how the antibiotic targets the bacterial pathogens involved, is.
- Are you using the antibiotic properly and according to label? The wrong route of administration, mixing antibiotics in the same syringe or improper timing could not only be contributing to treatment failure but also increase your risk of violative residues in meat.
- Could resistance be a cause? While resistance can occur, it’s usually one of the least likely reasons for treatment failure. Even if a lab report suggests antimicrobial resistance, one of the other reasons above is more likely contributing to failure. Your veterinarian can assess if resistance is truly the issue.
Looking at the big picture and investing in the most effective antibiotic can significantly improve treatment success rates. By setting up your initial treatment to succeed, you can minimize costly and labor-intensive repulls and raise healthier cattle with higher returns.