Question: We gave all of our calves and cows a pinkeye shot and half of them still got pinkeye. What can we do to help them out?
Pinkeye is a difficult syndrome to tackle. It usually describes a particular lesion (cloudy, watery eye) and does not refer to what actually is causing the problem. There can be multiple different causes: infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR or "red nose"), moraxella and mycoplasma, to name a few. The most common is Moraxella bovis, which has dozens of different strains. This makes it difficult to develop a vaccine to protect against all of the variations.
This disease is a nuisance, but it is also economically detrimental. It is hard to come up with a single strategy to prevent it. We use vaccines, vitamins and minerals, antibiotics, sodium iodine and management practices to reduce vectors and irritation to the eye.
Moraxella spreads from animal to animal in a variety of ways. The most common is the face fly, which feeds on eye secretions and irritates the surface of the eye. Eliminating face flies is difficult because they spend a short amount of time on the cow.
Management tips. Avoid irritated eyes—tearing attracts flies and irritated eyes are more susceptible to disease. Minimize environmental irritants by clipping pastures after they mature so the animals can graze without getting grass seed in their eyes. Another way to manage seed heads is intensive grazing, which keeps forage in a vegetative state.
Animal type and age also affect susceptibility. Cattle with no pigment in the skin around the eyes (white-faced) may be more susceptible to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Older calves have fewer problems, which is an advantage for fall calving herds. Generally, treatment plans consist of an antibiotic treatment—whether an injection, topical spray or ointment.
Prevention is the key. Once treatment is needed, economic loss has already occurred. Talk with your animal health care professional to come up with a strategy specific to your area and operation.
DAN GOEHL, DVM, and his wife own Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, Mo., working with stocker and cow–calf beef operations. He is also a partner in the management and marketing of beef cattle. E-mail questions and comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.