Critical Calf Care: Managing Respiratory Disease
May 10, 2010
By Tom Shelton, D.V.M.
Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health
Pneumonia is a critical issue on dairy farms, and the short- and long-term effects of the disease are nothing to sneeze at. Pneumonia costs you time and money to treat calves and negatively affects animal health and productivity far into the future.
According to the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), bovine respiratory disease (BRD), more commonly known as pneumonia, is the most important disease in calves older than 30 days and results in an average loss of $15 per calf per year. Long-term effects of pneumonia include a negative impact on growth, reproductive performance, milk production and longevity.
Bovine anatomy and physiology present a challenge when it comes to respiratory disease. Cattle lungs are small, relative to the animal’s size, and are prone to infection. Compared to other organs, they also have the most potential to decrease future performance from lung damage which persists throughout the animal’s life and cannot be repaired.
The keys to effectively managing BRD are prevention, early detection, rapid response and aggressive treatment.
Prevention and early detection
We know that prevention is better than cure, and BRD is not an exception to this rule. Effective colostrum management and vaccination programs are two great steps toward prevention. But even the best managed operations can and will have pneumonia cases.
Early detection is critical in managing BRD. If treatment is started too late or stopped too soon, failure in treating the disease is likely to occur. Detection of pneumonia is a problem on many calf ranches and dairy farms. More than 40 percent of respiratory cases are not detected early enough.
To prevent and detect BRD, consider the following:
· Work with your veterinarian to administer an effective BRD vaccination program
· Provide the right amount of antibody protection at birth by feeding one gallon of colostrum as soon as
possible after birth and another gallon 12 hours later
· Monitor calves regularly for signs of pneumonia (cough, nasal discharge, watery eyes, drooping ears, labored breathing, increased breathing rate, depression, loss of appetite, slow to respond, weak muscles, etc.)
· Train your employees to be diligent in your prevention and detection protocols
Rapid response plan
Respiratory bacterial populations can double every 30 minutes, and a single infectious BRD organism can explode into trillions in less than 24 hours. With the rapid snowball effect of bacteria, it’s critical to identify and treat BRD symptoms immediately.
In determining your treatment plan, it’s equally important to treat both the infection and the inflammation. Inflammation is a vicious cycle. It increases both pathogen virulence and the severity of the disease, and causes tissue damage. And in BRD, inflammation often causes more damage than the pathogens themselves.
Lung protection therapy is a management practice used in treating pneumonia that addresses both the infection and the inflammation. Use both a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to quickly respond to the inflammation and an antibiotic to treat the bacteria. Follow these best management practices for treating BRD:
· Quickly and aggressively treat the animal with both a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic.
- The anti-inflammatory will break the vicious circle of inflammation.
- The antibiotic will act on the bacteria that initiate the infection process.
· Monitor the animal’s health regularly to determine how she’s responding to treatment.
· Select follow-up treatment protocols if she doesn’t respond.
· Work with your veterinarian to develop the best treatment protocols for the health of your herd.
Diagnosing the problem
Part of managing BRD effectively is identifying the pathogens and sources of infection. Work with your veterinarian to do cultures and other diagnostic work as the last step in your BRD management program. The more you know about the infection, the better you’ll be able manage BRD in your herd.
Dr. Tom Shelton is a dairy technical services veterinarian for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health. He lives in Utah and can be contacted by phone: 208-867-3502 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.