Antimicrobial Use in the Treatment of Calf Diarrhea

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Calves with diarrhea often have small intestinal overgrowth with Escherichia coli bacteria, regardless of the inciting cause for the diarrhea, and 30% of systemically ill calves with diarrhea have bacteremia, predominantly because of E coli. Antimicrobial treatment of diarrheic calves should therefore be focused against E coli in the small intestine and blood, the 2 sites of infection. Fecal bacterial culture and antimicrobial susceptibility testing is not recommended in calves with diarrhea because fecal bacterial populations do not accurately reflect small intestinal or blood bacterial populations and because the break points for susceptibility test results have not been validated. Antimicrobial efficacy is therefore best evaluated by the clinical response of a number of calves to treatment, with calves randomly assigned to treatment groups. Amoxicillin, chlortetracycline, neomycin, oxytetracycline, streptomycin, sulfachloropyridazine, sulfamethazine, and tetracycline administered PO are currently labeled in the United States for the treatment of calf diarrhea. On the basis of published evidence for the oral administration of these antimicrobial agents, only amoxicillin can be recommended for the treatment of diarrhea. Dosage recommendations are amoxicillin trihydrate (10 mg/kg PO q12h) or amoxicillin trihydrate-clavulanate potassium (12.5 mg combined drug/kg PO q12h) for at least 3 days; the latter constitutes extra-label drug use. Parenteral administration of broad-spectrum β-lactam antimicrobials - ceftiofur (2.2 mg/kg IM or SC q12h) and amoxicillin or ampicillin (10 mg/kg IM q12h) - or potentiated sulfonamides (25 mg/kg IV or IM q24h) is recommended for treating calves with diarrhea and systemic illness; both constitute extra-label drug use. In calves with diarrhea and no systemic illness (normal appetite for milk, no fever), it is recommended that the health of the calf be monitored and that oral or parenteral antimicrobials not be administered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8-17
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of veterinary internal medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004


  • Antibiotic
  • Escherichia coli
  • Salmonella
  • Septicemia
  • Susceptibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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