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Tetracycline regulations and their impact on digital dermatitis in dairy cattle

Kayla Pecora for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 January 2019

New regulations around tetracycline use and availability means there will now be some red tape around the antibiotic commonly used to treat digital dermatitis.

As of Dec. 1, 2018, there are new regulations on the disbursement of antibiotics in Canada. Mainly, medically important antibiotics (MIAs) will be supplied by veterinarian prescription for the use of disease management and prevention; however, they will no longer be administered for growth.



This is a topic that is important to discuss to better understand the reasons behind why this is being put into place and how this may alter hoof care strategies, particularly when it comes to battling digital dermatitis on dairy farms.

Tetracycline is a Category III antibiotic, which means, in relation to human health, it is categorized to have medium importance relevant to medicine. Medium importance signifies there are other antibiotics that can be used to treat the bacterial infection, therefore we have alternatives for treatment. Whereas a category IV has high importance, with limited alternatives to treat the infection.

It is important to realize the type of bacteria and infection is going to determine the required antibiotic needed in human health to combat an infection. Furthermore, as antibiotic usage increases, we become more susceptible to resistance to the type of antibiotic that will work against a bacterium.

This is why these regulations have been put into place, since we are ultimately going to consume food from livestock and may need to rely on certain antibiotics in the future to fight minor to serious infections.

How will it impact digital dermatitis treatment?

Tetracycline is widely used by farmers and hoof trimmers to treat digital dermatitis in Canada. The new regulations may influence dairy farmers and hoof trimmers in their treatment approach to the infectious disease.


With the new antibiotic regulations, there will be a lot more tracking of antibiotic usage per farm and animal. This is why a veterinarian prescription is needed to determine the amount used on-farm. If the farmer has a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR), then the vet is able to prescribe antibiotics for the farm all at once for the year.

Therefore, this new regulation should not have a huge effect on the dairy farmer; however, it could become more difficult for hoof trimmers to obtain tetracycline for the use of treating digital dermatitis.

A study performed in Canada suggests tetracycline is one of the leading Category III antibiotics administered (topical, injection, etc.) in Ontario – mainly for treating digital dermatitis. With the new regulations and tracking of prescriptions, it is anticipated we will have a more accurate report in the future to determine antibiotic usage in Canadian livestock.

As progressive as dairy farming is in Canada, we should be aware tetracycline usage in many countries is now nonexistent or minimal, as it has been banned or there are stricter regulations in dispersal of the antibiotic.

Exploring alternatives to antibiotics

Although we are still able to access and use tetracycline in Canada, we should continue to strive to reduce or refrain from using antibiotics in livestock production. As there is a reason for these new regulations in Canada and around the world, progressive dairy farmers are already discovering how to reduce antibiotic usage and to also prevent contamination in milk.

There are strategies and alternatives to antibiotic treatments to fight or prevent digital dermatitis that farmers have already incorporated into their operational management systems. The main factors to implement on a dairy farm to ensure overall hoof health are foot bathing, hoof trimming and biosecurity (including good hygiene practices).


Investigating the efficacy of various topical treatments and footbath options for digital dermatitis can be useful to all dairy farmers who are interested in exploring options to improve hoof health.

A study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of topical treatments on digital dermatitis using fairly conventional treatments. The results suggest there is no significant difference between the efficacy of zinc sulphate and chlor-tetracycline, which was used as a positive control in this study.

Furthermore, they compared formalin and copper sulphate; the results also suggest there is no significant difference in the effects of these treatments on digital dermatitis – granted, both were significantly more effective in relation to the saline control.

Another study states “in vitro antimicrobial susceptibility studies of digital dermatitis treponemes and effective treatment of human treponematoses clearly indicate antibiotics frequently selected for digital dermatitis treatments are not the most efficacious ... more needs to be done to identify, license and implement more appropriate antibiotic treatments, since continued overuse of less efficacious antibiotics, applied incorrectly, will lead to increased disease recurrence and transmission.”

Competitive agricultural companies exist in Canada that provide alternative options for treating or preventing digital dermatitis. When using a new product, I recommend to always read and follow usage directions for best results and to prevent bacterial resistance.

It is also important to research the active ingredients to decide whether the product is safe to use, Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) permitted, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) registered (if required) and effective for the purposes you intend to use the product.

When using antibiotics, always follow the instructions as prescribed by a doctor or veterinarian to decrease the chances of anti-microbial resistance. I also encourage all dairy farmers and hoof trimmers to try alternatives before using tetracycline, which should be used as a last-resort treatment.  end mark

Kayla Pecora is an Agriculture Specialist for FloChem Ltd.