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Scours: Cause of Losses in Newborn Livestock

April 17, 2014
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Prevention of scours should be at the forefront of all livestock producers thinking this spring.
By: Carol Sanders, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

With calving, lambing and kidding seasons in full swing, livestock producers should be mindful of diarrhea, commonly called scours in livestock, says David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

While scours may not sound serious, especially to new livestock producers, young animals are especially susceptible and can die quickly because of rapid dehydration if scours is left untreated, warns Fernandez. Scours can cause rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes. Young animals may have a hard time getting enough energy because they cannot absorb nutrients. Provide supportive therapy by giving plenty of fluids, oral or injectable electrolytes and glucose or dextrose.

Scours is caused by a variety of organisms – bacterial, viral and microscopic parasites. "Each must be treated differently," says Fernandez. Bacteria, such as E. coli can cause watery, yellow scours. Clostridium perfringins releases a toxin whose first sign may be death. Otherwise, sluggishness, abdominal pain and swelling and bloody diarrhea can indicate clostridial scours.

Bacterial scours can be treated with antibiotics. Your veterinarian can help you decide which one would be most effective. Vaccines for E. coli and C. perfringins can be given to adult animals about 30 days before they give birth.

Viruses also cause scours in young animals. Rotoviruses usually cause only a mild case that clears up in a day or two. Coronaviruses take longer to clear up and are more serious. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses. Instead, vaccinate adult animals so they pass their antibodies to their young in the first milk, called colostrum, advises Fernandez.

Protozoa, such as coccidia and cryptosporidia, are microscopic parasites that invade and damage the intestinal wall. The damage prevents young animals from absorbing nutrients and causes bloody scours. Certain types of cryptosporidia can be transmitted to humans so Fernandez advises wearing gloves if ranchers suspect their animals of cryptosporidia.

Both coccidia and cryptosporidia are most commonly seen where hygiene is poor. Keeping birthing areas clean and dry can help eliminate outbreaks. Coccidiosis can be treated with sulfa-antibiotics such as sulfaquinozaline or sulfamethazine, or Amprolium (Corid®) which blocks the ability of the protozoa to use thiamine. This can cause a thiamine deficiency in goats so they should receive a thiamine injection when using Corid®.

Young animals suffering from repeated bouts of scours fail to gain weight thus increasing medical expenses. Prevent scours by vaccinating cows, ewes or does and by keeping birthing areas clean and dry.

More on scours is in the Livestock Health Series Calf Scours fact sheet, FSA3038 by Extension Veterinarian Jeremy Powell.

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