Front Vet Sci. 2021 Mar 31;8:637271. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.637271. eCollection 2021.
There is evidence that neonatal calves are over treated with antimicrobials that may disrupt colonization of their gastrointestinal tract (GIT) microbiota. The study objectives were to assess the decision-making process of antimicrobial use on a commercial dairy and impacts of parenteral antibiotics on dairy calves' GIT Bifidobacterium and calf health. Unhealthy pre-weaned dairy calves were enrolled based on farm personnel identification with age-matched healthy calves. Half the calves in each group were treated with a 3-day course of IM ampicillin and half were given supportive therapy as needed. Health scores (appetite, fecal consistency, attitude, and temperature) were recorded twice daily throughout the study. Because of inconsistency in employee health decisions, the 121 enrolled calves were reassessed using objective clinical observations plus fecal dry matter and placed into 1 of 3 health categories: healthy, uncomplicated diarrhea (bright attitude and good appetite but with diarrhea), and sick. Accounting for treatment group allocation, this resulted in six post-enrollment health and treatment categories. Calves were followed daily for 14 days post-enrollment and fecal samples collected at 6 time points and Bifidobacterium was quantified from these samples using quantitative PCR. The objective criteria for disease definition reclassified many "unhealthy" calves as uncomplicated diarrhea. Including all calves, on average, the quantity of Bifidobacterium decreased from the day of enrollment (median 8 days of age) across time to 14 days post-enrollment. Calves given an antibiotic the day of enrollment had a greater decrease in Bifidobacterium 4 and 9 days later relative to enrollment Bifidobacterium compared to untreated calves. At enrollment, sick calves and those categorized as uncomplicated diarrhea were more likely to have low Bifidobacterium counts and less likely to be categorized as healthy following antimicrobial treatment. Our results indicate that relying on farm personnel to identify morbidity may lead to some clinical misclassification. There was no indication that antimicrobials affected subsequent health outcomes, but antimicrobials did impact Bifidobacterium dynamics. These results highlight the importance and difficulty in assigning appropriate illness classification on farms and point to a need to develop better point of care diagnostics that improve calf husbandry and stewardship of antimicrobials.