Greetings, and thanks for the question. Apologies for the delay in getting back to you, but it seems that Dr. Larson is unavailable. Sorry to hear about your calf’s condition, but rest assured that abscesses are a common problem with cattle.
It’s good that at least the one side has started to drain, and the other side should as well, eventually. One of the tricky things with abscesses and their healing, is that it’s extremely important to keep the drain hole open, otherwise if it closes the abscess will only re-form. The best way to help your calf and to keep the abscess open is to flush it daily with dilute Betadine solution. Dilute the Betadine with water until the color resembles weak tea. Use a syringe and flush the abscess daily, until the contents flush out clear. Unlike other wounds, abscesses need to heal from the inside out, which is why they need to remain open. If a scab has formed over the hole, it’s perfectly fine to scrape off the scab in order to get the tip of the syringe into the abscess. It also wouldn’t hurt to enlarge the hole a bit with a small scalpel blade (although it will be a slight moment of discomfort for the calf…). The hole should ideally be about ¼ of an inch in diameter. As you flush the abscess daily, you’ll notice that after 4-5 days or so that the amount of dilute Betadine that you’re flushing will be less and less. That’s due to the abscess slowly closing/getting smaller and healing from the inside. You may feel a hard type of “knot” within the abscess, but that is actually a thick capsule that the body as formed around the abscess in order to wall it off from spreading. It normally takes 7-10 days for an abscess to heal completely.
Which brings up your question of the use of antibiotics: I will rarely use antibiotics when working with abscesses for the reason that the body has already walled it off, and the antibiotics cannot penetrate the capsule, so they would have no effect. Simply flushing with the dilute Betadine will kill off any bacteria and speed up healing. So save the antibiotics for something where they will actually be effective.
If the abscess on the other side of the face hasn’t opened on its own and seems to be firm to the touch, it’s OK for you to lance it with a small scalpel blade on your own, but only if you’re comfortable in doing so. It will burst open eventually, but you may have to enlarge the hole some in order to keep it open.
So in summary, flush once daily with the dilute Betadine Solution, keep the hole open so it can drain and heal from the inside, and antibiotics aren’t necessary. One important point, however: has the calf been vaccinated for Tetanus?? If not, I’d strongly recommend in doing so. You can purchase the vaccine at your feed store, often called “CDT”. Someone at your store should be able to help you. The dosage is 2cc under the skin, and it’s also very important to repeat (“boost”) the vaccine in 3-4 weeks. Tetanus is everywhere in the outdoor environment, and it is not something that you want your calf to get!
I trust that I’ve been of some help, but if you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to ask.
Many thanks, ***** ***** the best to you.
-Dan C., DVM