Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Pneumonia in Calves

Highland Calf  Rome
It is a multi factorial disease as it involves infectious agents, environmental and management factors.
Many of the infectious agents are found on healthy calves but they don't lead to an outbreak of pneumonia.
But if the resistance of the calf is compromised these infectious agents can lead to pneumonia in calves.

Lungworm is in some cases  the cause of pneumonia in calves.

It usually occurs in young housed calves. It is more common in dairy calves than beef calves.

There are two types of disease acute and chronic.

The average age of infection is one month to five months.
Around 20% of the calves that are infected with pneumonia and get treatment die.

The calf is born with an immune system but its a weak one. The calf is delicate and prone to illness if the conditions are favorable.
Other sick cows and older calf's can infect the newborn calf.
Calf to calf contact can lead to infection.

Overstay in the calving area is not advisable.

Prolonged exposure to adult cattle should be avoided.

Over crowding and the continuous use of housing will increase the spread of the pathogens that lead to infection.

The breed of the calf will affect its susceptibility to pneumonia.

The amount and quality of the colostrum and the absorption when newborn will alter the calves immunity to the disease.
The incomplete transfer of immunity from the colostrum is a major problem.
Colostrum absorption may be compromised in calves born at an abnormal gestational length, difficult deliveries, born in extreme heat/cold, respiratory problems or a  twin birth.

Immunity is impaired from inadequate caloric intake.
The cows milk may have inappropriate volume, concentration fat and protein content.

Mixing feeding temperature of milk or milk re-placer can compromise the immunity of the calve.

Low quality milk replacer is a risk.

Lack of fresh water and calf starter reduces calves immunity.

Your hygiene practices with your calves is important.
Don't mix the utensils used on sick calves with those of healthy calves.
Ensure that the feeders for calves are clean.

Weaning off milk or milk re placer is a high risk time for infection.

Calves should be kept in groups no larger than 10 and should be of the same age.

 Environmental factors affect the calves immunity, such as the ventilation of the housing, under bedding, too warm, damp, drafts on the calves and the humidity.
Noxious gases, mould and dust in the air increase the probability of the calf falling ill with pneumonia.

Stress on the calf will also increase the probability of the calf contracting pneumonia such as mixing groups, movement, bad farm husbandry and low standard housing.

Stress on a calf is change on a calf.

The calf will suffer if there are irregular feeding times.

Housing changes , the movements between the maternity pens, the warming area, the calf hutch, the group pen or a location transfer potentially bring stress onto the calf.

Vaccinations, tagging, medications, castrations bring stress onto the calf.

One can say that the calf has a delicate composition.

Signs of Pneumonia

You should be checking the calves when they are resting and when they are feeding at least twice a day.
Early diagnosis is essential for successful treatment.
You should contact your vet as soon as you notice signs of pneumonia. The calf must receive the correct antibiotic in order to survive.

The first signs of infection are


Reduced feed intake

Hollow sides


Isolate themselves from other cattle calves etc

Mattered eyes

Extended head

Eating and drinking slower than usual

Droopy ears

Increased respiratory rate

Rectal temperature of 39C or above

Rattling sound when breathing



Watery discharge from nose and eyes

Later signs are

Laying down with their heads forward

Pus like nasal discharge

Watery diarrhea with blood in it

Severe laboured breathing

Prompt intervention will reduce the likelihood of permanent lung damage which would cause reduced growth and more health problems.

Treatment Of Pneumonia

Contact your vet when you suspect a pneumonia outbreak.
The vet will take a nasal swab or perform a lung wash. A blood test can also be done but it takes longer to diagnose.

Testing is important as it will tell you weather it is a bacterial or viral infection and the best treatment can be put forward at this stage.
It will also let you know if it was caused by lungworm.

Prevention is better than cure.
If you perform good animal husbandry then your risk of an outbreak is vastly reduced.

The sick calf should be isolated from the others.

If you have a bacterial outbreak of pneumonia antibiotic treatment and anti inflammatory are required. Ensure that you use the correct dosage of antibiotic and use it for the time suggested by your vet.
If the antibiotics are not administered correctly there is a risk that the bacteria will become resistant to further treatment.
Injectable antibiotics are recommended over oral antibiotics as the sick calf will have a reduced appetite and will not receive the correct dosage of antibiotics. Which in turn will lead to the bacteria becoming resistant to further treatment.
If the calf is not treated for long enough with antibiotics the remaining bacteria will regrow and the calf may relapse with recurrent bouts of pneumonia.

Supportive care is just as important as antibiotic care.
Sick calves should be given high quality hay, grain and fresh water.
Grass and rye are also a good option as a sick calf will often eat these when they won't eat anything else.

Regular changing of bedding is needed. 

One could provide a vitamin B-complex supplement.
Probiotics can be administered.

Access to sunlight and fresh air will benefit the sick calf.

In more severe cases iv fluids should be used.

For treatment of the high fever rubbing the calves bellies and backs with rubbing alcohol  helps them rapidly release body heat.

There is also an antibiotic for in contact calves.

Dehydration often comes with pneumonia so you may need to tube feed the calf with water and electrolytes to rehydrate the calf

Aberdeen Angus Calf Galway

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