The loss of a calf is never easy, and when it happens suddenly it can leave you frustrated, wondering how you could have prevented it from happening. Commonly referred to as overeating disease, enterotoxemia is a disease that can proliferate rapidly and cause sudden death.
“Typically, what beef producers will find is a month-old calf who is laying down, bloated, kicking at its belly, doesn’t want to get up, is recumbent, uncomfortable and may or may not have a fever,” said Dr. Travis Van Anne, professional services veterinarian, Boehringer Ingelheim. “If that calf doesn’t receive treatment and relief quickly, they can die within 12 hours or less.”
Enterotoxemia occurs when toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium perfringes are absorbed into the animal’s intestines. The organisms that cause enterotoxemia are naturally present in the calf’s intestines, but usually in low numbers. Certain events can provoke the bacteria to multiply rapidly and create an infection.
“When cattle are moved, or inclement weather such as a blizzard is present, and calves are away from their mothers and are not being nursed enough times in a day is when we often see this happen,” said Dr. Van Anne. “Calves are intended to nurse between five and six times per day. When we change that pattern due to a blizzard, per se, and they’re only nursing one or two times a day, the calves tend to overeat.”
Dr. Van Anne explained that when the calves are overeating milk from their mothers, it can spill over from their stomach to their large intestines. “In a way, the spilled over milk sort of ferments, enabling the bacteria to multiply and produces gas,” he said. “This is when we’ll start to see the calf become bloated and uncomfortable.”
In order to reduce the risk of fatalities from overeating disease, Dr. Van Anne explained it’s all about timing.
“We need to consider how long calves are separated from their mothers and how many times those calves are allowed to nurse per day,” he continued. “If you’re able to work out a situation where the calves are allowed to nurse four to five times per day, you can minimize the effects of the disease.”
Vaccination timing matters, too. “Vaccinating calves at birth or shortly after with a 7-way clostridial vaccine will promote immunity to the toxin and protect your calves. We can also vaccinate dams at pregnancy check to help improve colostrum to get the calf off to a strong start,” Dr. Van Anne emphasized.
It’s also important to monitor your herd often – at least two times per day during inclement weather. “When you see calves exhibiting clinical signs, they should be treated immediately with an antibiotic, antitoxins and pain meds, as well as given mineral oil if they are in severe gut pain.”
Work with your herd veterinarian to develop the best protocols for your operation to help protect against this swift disease.
Legal: ©2018 Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.
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