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You are here: Home / Species Specific / Dairy Cattle / Neonatal Scours, Antibiotics and Dairy Calves / 12. When to Use Antibiotics

12. When to Use Antibiotics

Calves with bacteremia are candidates for antibiotic treatment.  These calves are generally recognized by persistent systemic signs, such as fever, depression and lethargy.   For example, depressed calves with a temperature above 104.0°F should probably be given an antibiotic.  Clinical judgment is needed for deciding when to treat a calf that has a lower temperature.  Importantly, calves should be treated with antibiotics only when it is necessary.  Unnecessary antibiotic treatment creates a selective pressure for the dissemination of bacteria resistant to that particular antibiotic, and perhaps others that are genetically linked.  Resistant bacteria can greatly complicate the treatment of scours. 


Anti inflammatory drugs 

Banamine can reduce fever and inflammation in calves and is indicated in cases with endotoxemia.



Determine the amount of dehydration before administering fluids.  Dehydration in a calf can be estimated by using a “skin tent” technique, assessing the appearance of the eye of the calf, and determining whether or not the calf is alert and has a suckling response.  The skin tent technique is done by pinching and releasing the skin in the neck area and estimating the number of seconds it takes for the skin to return to normal.  The appearance of the eye is assessed as normal or depressed (e.g., enopthalmia).


Appearance of calf

Percent dehydration

Calf standing and alert with a good suckling response and normal appearance of the eye; skin tent 5 seconds or longer

Mild dehydration:  5% or less dehydrated

Calf standing but depressed with no suckling response; eye appears depressed 5 millimeters or less; skin tent 6–7seconds

Moderate dehydration:  6%–8% dehydrated

Calf lying on chest severely depressed without suckling response; eye appears depressed greater than 5 millimeters; skin tent greater than 7 seconds

Severe dehydration:  9%–11% dehydrated

Calf lying comatose on side, eye appears depressed; skin tent greater than 7 seconds

Critical dehydration:  12% or more dehydrated


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