Frozen Teat Alert: Signs of Frostbite
With the approach of colder weather we all need to be aware of the potential for frostbite on teats of dairy cows or heifers. Frozen or frostbit teats generally occur when wet teats are exposed to bitterly cold conditions. Risk factors for developing this syndrome include: outwintering of lactating cows, the failure to provide dry bedding sources or windbreaks and long walkways that cows with wet teats have to traverse after being milked. Another high risk situation for heifers would be the presence of a “sucker” heifer within an outwintered group.
There can be some confusion regarding diagnosis of frostbite and the primary differential is usually Herpes Mammilitis. A couple of key differentials is that some teats with herpes should demonstrate the distinct small vesicles and the skin often becomes thickened. Here are a couple of photos of frostbite that may be helpful:
There is no specific treatment for frostbite and the general recommendation is that supportive care (teat salves, the use of high emollient teat dips) is used. If lactating cows develop frostbite, they are at extremely high risk for developing subclinical or clinical mastitis and it is not uncommon for the primary pathogen to be Staph aureus. This pathogen often predominates because it is a common teat skin contaminant. Farmers often discontinue teat dipping in periods of bitterly cold weather but that is often counterproductive and may result in outbreaks of contagious mastitis. The key is to focus on prevention.