Consider the Cost: Deciding When to Re-treat for BRD

Establish a treatment protocol that works for both you and your herd.

DULUTH, Ga. (May 4, 2022) — Producers often fall into the “pull, treat, repeat” cycle when it comes to managing bovine respiratory disease (BRD). “It becomes a tough conversation very quickly,” said John Davidson, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “It’s a gut-wrenching situation when you’ve treated a calf and it doesn’t seem to be responding to your best efforts.”

Every re-treatment not only puts additional stress on calves, but it also reduces profit margins due to the additional medicine and labor costs. On the other hand, waiting too long to re-treat calves that do need an additional dose can increase the number of sick calves.

The decision to re-treat

If you feel the need to re-treat, it is possible that the treatment was not successful, however, it’s also very possible that the antibiotic was not given enough time to complete its job. Consider the time it takes for your own health to improve after starting a new medication or treatment.

“Much like we see with our families and children, it can take a few days for calves to start feeling better after starting an antibiotic.” said Dr. Davidson. “Some treated calves can appear to feel better later the same day, or the next morning. For others, it may take closer to a week before you see any noticeable improvement.”

It can be tough to determine when a sick calf may need another treatment — or if the antibiotic should be allowed a few more days to clear the infection. Dr. Davidson suggests working with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate post-treatment interval (PTI), which he defines as “the time after a treatment is administered before a re-treatment should be administered.”

A recent trial found that a six- to nine-day PTI resulted in the best health outcomes for calves infected with BRD.1 Depending on the specific product and circumstances, the ideal PTI for your operation may be shorter than six days or longer than nine.

Downfalls of re-treating for BRD too soon

Although the decision to re-treat for BRD is based on good intentions, prematurely re-treating can cost both you and your calf. For calves, the price is undue stress coming from the change in their usual rhythm, and the strain of going through an unnecessary treatment. For producers, prematurely re-treating can be costly in many ways.

“It’s costing you financially and it’s costing you time. You’re working harder, and if you are treating a calf that doesn’t need to be re-treated, those dollars and time could be better spent elsewhere,” said Dr. Davidson. “The one resource that’s most scarce is our time.”

Judicious antibiotic use is an important part of this conversation as well. No producer wants to make the mistake of giving too many antibiotics, too quickly or too frequently. “If we’re treating a calf unnecessarily with an additional antibiotic, then it’s not judicious use, and it’s going to have a long-term impact on the availability of antibiotics in the future,” explained Dr. Davidson.

Establishing a protocol that works

Good animal husbandry and management practices are extremely important to increase your chances of first-treatment success and avoid the need for re-treatment. “Focusing on nutrition and the transition through the weaning process can do more for calf health than we could ever fix through an antibiotic,” Dr. Davidson shared.

If an antibiotic treatment is warranted, it’s crucial to choose a product that best fits your herd’s needs. Dr. Davidson recommends selecting an antibiotic that has broad-spectrum coverage against the the major BRD causing pathogens: Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni and Mycoplasma bovis. In addition, the treatment should be proven to get to the lungs (the site of the infection) quickly, and last up to 10 days.

Remember that following the label is an essential part of successful treatment. Product labels contain important information, such as the correct route of administration and the right dose needed, based on the animal’s weight.

If you are wondering whether re-treatment is necessary, it’s always a good idea to consult a veterinarian, and remember it could be beneficial to discuss a post-treatment interval with them. Finding the PTI sweet spot for your operation may take some effort, but it does pay off.

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