Selective dry cow therapy (SDCT) has received increasing attention in recent years owing to global concerns over agricultural use of antimicrobial drugs and development of antimicrobial resistance. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of SDCT on milk yield and somatic cell count (SCC) in dairy herds in the USA. Cows in four Ohio dairy herds were categorized into two groups (low-SCC and high-SCC) at dry-off based on their SCC and clinical mastitis (CM) history during the lactation preceding the dry-off. Low-SCC cows were randomly assigned to receive or not to receive intramammary antibiotics at dry-off. Milk yield and SCC of these cows during the following lactation were compared using linear mixed effects models, adjusting for parity, calving season, stage of lactation, previous lactation milk yield and herd. Milk yield of untreated and treated low-SCC cows at dry-off did not differ significantly during the following lactation. Overall, treated low-SCC cows had 16% lower SCC (approximately 35 000 cells/ml, P=0·0267) than the untreated cows during the following lactation; however, the effect was variable in different herds. Moreover the impact of treatment, or the lack thereof, on milk yield varied considerably between herds. The results suggested that in some herds treating all cows at dry-off may be beneficial while in other herds leaving healthy cows without antibiotic dry cow treatment has no negative impact on milk yield or milk quality (SCC), and in fact, may be beneficial. Further studies are needed to identify characteristics of herds where treating all cows routinely at dry-off may be needed for maintaining good udder health and where switching to selective treatment of cows at dry-off would be the optimal approach to achieve best results.