The pharmacokinetics of erythromycin was studied in five lactating dairy cows following single intramammary infusion of 300 mg erythromycin in each of two quarters per cow with specific mastitis. Levels of erythromycin in plasma and quarter milk samples were measured by agar plate diffusion assay using Micrococcus luteus (ATCC 9341) as the test organism. Erythromycin level in plasma reached a peak concentration value (C(max)) of 0.07 +/- 0.01 microg/ml at 30 min; thereafter, levels declined gradually to reach 0.05 +/- 0.00 microg/ml 12 h post drug administration. The pharmacokinetic profile of the drug revealed mean absorption half life (t(1/2 ka)) as 0.26 +/- 0.05 h. The drug was eliminated slowly with elimination half-life (t(1/2 beta)) of 13.75 +/- 0.35 h and elimination rate constant (k(el)) of 0.04 +/- 0.00 h(-1). The volume of distribution based on the zero-time plasma concentration intercept of the least-squares regression line of the elimination phase (V(d(B))) was 0.032 L/kg. The drug crossed to untreated quarters also; mean drug levels of 0.20 +/- 0.07, 0.23 +/- 0.07, 0.17 +/- 0.04, and 0.17 +/- 0.04 microg/ml were found at 3, 6, 8 and 12 h, respectively. The mean drug concentration for treated quarters was measured as 22.97 +/- 2.31 microg/ml milk at first milking (12 h) following drug infusion. No apparent adverse reaction was seen in cows administered erythromycin. It is concluded that following intramammary infusion erythromycin diffuses readily and extensively in various body fluids and tissues and adequate concentration is maintained in udder tissues for at least 12 h post intramammary administration. Thus, erythromycin may be recommended for local therapy of acute mastitis caused by Gram-positive bacteria in lactating dairy cows.