Department warns against footbathing cattle with antibiotics

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has issued advice for farmers on the use of antibiotics for footbathing cattle, warning of the consequences of ‘off-label’ treatment.

In recent times, the department has received queries about the use of soluble antibiotic powders, including erythromycin and lincomycin, in footbaths to treat lameness – mainly caused by digital dermatitis in cows.

Bovine lameness can be a serious issue, particularly in dairy herds, leading to welfare issues and economic loss.

Therefore it is essential that lameness is correctly diagnosed and that an effective lameness control programme is implemented by the farmer, in conjunction with the herd veterinary practitioner.

There are currently no antibiotics licensed in Ireland for use in footbaths; however, there are other licensed treatments available.

Recent research has shown that the use of antibiotic footbaths only provides short-lived relief for affected cattle, with many cattle remaining acutely or chronically infected.

‘Off-label’ use of antibiotics

The practice of using antibiotics in foot-bathing solutions for cattle is based on their use ‘off-label’ – in other words using a product for a purpose for which it is not authorised.

The unauthorised use of a veterinary medicine carries a significant risk to public health, due to potential residues in milk or meat in treated animals, contribution to antimicrobial resistance, and possible environmental contamination.

Unauthorised use of veterinary medicines in food producing animals poses reputational risks to our agri-food sector.

The antibiotics that the department has received queries about in relation to footbathing cattle are among the world’s most critically important antimicrobials.

These antimicrobials are of huge importance in treating life-threatening infections in humans.

Improved animal health and disease prevention, and using antimicrobials only when necessary in food animals, are key steps to reducing the development and spread of antibiotic resistance, the department has stressed.