Mastitis in ewes and cows: are they the same?

May 11, 2023

Mastitis in ewes and suckler cows: are they the same?

There are two main types of pathogen that can cause mastitis: contagious and environmental.

Contagious pathogens live on animals so can be controlled using good hygiene and antibiotics.

Environmental pathogens are widespread in the environment so can be much harder to control.


  • Mastitis in ewes is normally caused by contagious pathogens. This is mainly Staphylococcus aureus but can involve other bugs such as Mannhaemia haemolytica. These are bacteria that are found normally on udder skin and in lambs’ mouths.
  • Mastitis in suckler cows can be caused by a much wider variety of pathogens, both contagious and environmental.


  • In sheep, the main route of entry is via the udder when defences are compromised, for example if the teats are damaged.
  • The same occurs in cattle but bacteria may also enter from the environment due to poor hygiene. Summer mastitis normally affects dry cows or heifers at pasture and is spread by flies.


  • The biggest risk factor for ewe mastitis is over-suckling due to milk production not meeting demands of lambs. However, orf infection may also damage teats and Maedi-visna virus causes the udder to harden predisposing to severe mastitis.
  • Cow mastitis is most common in the first three weeks after weaning and first month after calving. There is also a higher risk in older cows. Inadequate nutrition, including poor energy balance, predisposes to mastitis.


  • Injectable antibiotics that can penetrate the mammary tissue e.g. amoxicillin (Trymox LA), penicillin (Pen+Strep).
    Anti-inflammatories reduce inflammation, and enable antibiotics to penetrate the udder e.g. meloxicam (Animeloxan/Meloxidyl).
    DO NOT use intramammary tubes in sheep – these can cause damage as they are not designed for small teats. Intramammary tubes can be used in cattle, although teats must be thoroughly cleaned first to prevent introducing further infection.


  • Good nutrition and ewe body condition score will ensure adequate milk production to prevent over-suckling. Control Orf and Maedi-visna virus in your flock. A vaccine against the main bacterial cause of mastitis in sheep is available (VIMCO), talk to a vet to find out more. Culling out repeat cases is essential.
  • In cattle prevention depends more on the cause but will involve close attention to hygiene at housing, fly control and pasture management, good nutrition and like in sheep, culling of repeat cases.

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