Udder inflammation in cows

Udder inflammation (also called mastitis) is one of the most common conditions in dairy cattle.
But what exactly is mastitis? What can you do to prevent mastitis? And how do you treat mastitis? You can read all about it below!


How does mastitis occur?

Mastitis results from pathogens invading and multiplying in the udder. To prevent any pathogen that enters from causing an infection, the cow has built up several defence mechanisms against mastitis.

The first barrier the pathogens must overcome is the skin of the teat.
Healthy teat skin consists of a thick epithelial layer with an outer layer that consists of dead cells and keratin. An intact epithelial layer prevents the growth of bacteria on the teat skin. When the teat skin is damaged, bacteria such as Streptococcus dysgalactiae and Staphylococcus aureus can adhere to it and multiply.
Next, the teat canal has a similar antibacterial action that is most effective when the teat sphincter closes properly.

After milking, it takes at least another 30 minutes for this sphincter to close completely, after which a keratin plug is formed in the teat canal to prevent bacteria from entering.
If bacteria do manage to enter the udder, the cow still has non-specific (innate) immunity (including white blood cells).
This immunity does not distinguish between the types of intruders and the specific (acquired) immunity, whereby a cow becomes immune to this specific disease (antibodies) after an initial infection.


Subdivision of pathogens:

Pathogens that cause mastitis are very common. They can be divided into two large groups based on the extent to which they cause mastitis.

  • The minor pathogens cause an increase in the cell count without visible mastitis.
    • Negative Staphylococci
    • Corynebacterium Bovis
  • The major pathogens are usually associated with clearly visible mastitis.
    • Streptococcus agalactiae
    • Staphylococcus aureus
    • Streptococcus dysgalactiae
    • E. coli
    • Klebsiella spp.
    • Streptococcus uberis

Pathogens can also be classified according to the source of infection.

  • Pathogens specific to cows spread from cow to cow and need the cow to survive. The transmission of these pathogens usually occurs during milking.
    • Staphylococcus aureus
    • Streptococcus agalactiae
    • Mycoplasma
  • Environmental pathogens, on the other hand, occur in the environment, mainly in faeces, soil, bedding material and water.
    • Streptococcus uberis
    • E. coli
    • Klebsiella
    • Pseudomonas


What are the symptoms of mastitis?

  • Subclinical mastitis: in subclinical mastitis, there is no noticeable difference in the milk. The main symptom is an increase in the cell count.
  • Clinical mastitis: the milk from the affected udder quarter shows clear abnormalities: The milk has a different colour, contains flakes, is lumpy and may contain blood. In addition, the affected udder quarter will feel painful and warm, look red and be swollen or have a degree of hardness.

How do you recognise mastitis?

  • Clinical mastitis can be determined with the naked eye in individual cows because the milk has abnormalities, as described above.
  • Subclinical mastitis, on the other hand, is not detectable visually. It is confirmed by an increase in the cell count (CMT, MPR, robot, etc.). In cows, cell count is considered elevated from 250,000 cells/ml, and in heifers, from 150,000 cells/ml.

After detecting mastitis, it is best to perform a bacterial examination of the milk sample to determine which pathogens are present on a farm. This makes it easier to adjust preventive management or treatment.


How do you prevent and treat mastitis?

Since the chance of a cure through treatment depends on numerous factors, prevention is the best approach.

Over the years, a ten-step plan has been developed to tackle mastitis preventively (NMC).

1. Use good milking techniques

  • Pre-treatment
    • Pre-treatment must be done dry, using a new cloth for each cow
    • Water may be used for dirty udders, but dry them afterwards (prevents teat cups from slipping)
    • Pre-foaming teats and then drying them off reduces the risk of environmental contamination
    • Clean milking starts with keeping the barn clean (clean the bedding at least 2x/day and remove manure on grates)
  • Pre-radiate
    • Milk rich in cells and germs does not enter the tank
    • Abnormal milk is immediately noticeable
    • Oxytocin is released
  • Apply the 60-second rule
    • The udder is milked more quickly: less work
  • Hygienic working practices
    • Regularly rinse and disinfect hands with alcohol-containing gel (especially after handling affected cows)
  • Dipping/spraying after milking
    • Make sure the teats are adequately covered
  • Affected cows
    • Immerse the cluster in 75°C water
  • Let cows stand after milking
    • The teat sphincter remains open for 30 minutes after milking

2. Regular maintenance and inspection of the operation of the milking machine

  • Replace teat cup liners in good time: rubber after 2,500 milkings, silicone after 6,000 milkings
  • Only a wet measurement will tell you whether your milk machine is properly milking the cows

3. Optimise comfort and hygiene

  • Comfortable stalls and good bedding coverage

4. Treat both clinical and subclinical mastitis carefully

  • It is best to do a regular bacterial examination so that you know which pathogens are involved

5. Optimise dry period management

  • The chance of healing an existing infection is greatest in the dry period
  • Provide dry, clean and comfortable housing

6. Separate chronically infected cows

  • Chances of recovery are very low and they infect the rest of the stable

7. Pay sufficient attention to the housing of heifers

  • No mastitis milk for calves
  • Good fly control

8. Aim for good general health of cows

  • BVD increases the risk of mastitis
  • Be careful when buying animals
  • Optimise nutrition and minerals
  • Vaccination: only possible against aureus and E. coli

9. Breeding management

  • Udder health is hereditary

10. Monitor your herd’s udder health monthly



 Pathogens specific to cows
 Environmental pathogens

 In the udder or on the teat skin

 Cow’s environment


 Via contaminated milk

 Via a contaminated environment

 Time of infection

 Mainly during milking

 Between milking, during the dry period and around the time of calving

 Main pathogens
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus agalactiae
  • Coagulase-negative staphylococci
  • Streptococcus dysgalactiae
  • Corynebacterium bovis
  • Mycoplasma




  • Streptococcus uberis
  • Coagulase-negative staphylococci
  • Coliform bacteria
    • E. coli
    • Citrobacter
    • Enterobacter
    • Klebsiella
    • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Bacillus cereus
  • Bacillus licheniformis
  • Pasteurella
  • Streptococcus faecalis
  • Fungi/yeasts
 Subclinical or clinical

 Mainly subclinical

 Mainly clinical, Streptococcus uberis may be subclinical

  • Teat dip after milking
  • Dry period therapy
  • Milk hygiene
  • Disposal management
  • Environmental hygiene
  • Pre-dipping
  • Internal teat sealant (preparation to mimic the keratin plug)


These products may interest you

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    Natural dry management of lactating cows without using antibiotics.

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    Mixture of herbal extracts for an optimal udder health and a balanced cell count.

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  • Herbamin-Cel


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