Too much of a good thing
Wet conditions and varying weather conditions in much of the western states could cause an increased risk of overrating (Enterotoxemia) in newborn calves this spring according to Curtis, Neb. Veterinarian Brian Veldhuizen.
“While it’s not a given, we do tend to see more cases in a wetter year. I think some of that is due to calves laying down and not nursing on rainy/snowy days, then getting up on a following nicer day and nursing a lot. Any scenario that involves a calf not nursing much one day and nursing heavy the next will increase the odds of them getting overeating,” began Veldhuizen.
He continued, explaining that a high milk producing cow is another frequent reason behind calves getting enough extra nutrition to set them up for bacterial overgrowth in their intestines, resulting in overeating.
“What we are typically looking at in an overeating case is that Clostridium bacteria overgrowth in the intestines, or GI tract. The worst problem is that a by-product of that high bacterial growth is toxin production, which ends up being absorbed by the body, which can result in organ failure and death,” explained Veldhuizen.
Early diagnosis and proper treatment are key aspects of saving calves, which can contract the disease as early as one week of age.
“Usually when we find these calves, especially the younger ones, they will be a little bloated, maybe have some diarrhea – or they may be bloated before they get diarrhea. It depends on how fast it is coming on, but bloat is one key sign that they are starting to have a toxin affect. Really poor looking calves with their head and ears down, possibly looking uncomfortable, laying down and getting up, or kicking at their belly are also liking coming down with the disease. In more severe cases, they might be totally down and unwilling to get up at all,” explained Veldhuizen of the various symptoms producers can watch for.
While odds of saving an affected calf are roughly 50/50 in Veldhuizen’s experience, the sooner treatment is administered, the greater the odds for success.
“Getting those calves an anti-toxin is probably the number one aspect of successful treatment. That will counteract the toxin and begin breaking down and clearing the body of it,” noted Velduizen.
Additional treatment should include an antibiotic, most preferably Penicillin, as well as Banamine to help reduce possible fever and in addition to making the animal feel better. Veldhuizen also suggested giving the calf a quart of mineral oil if possible, explaining that it tends to slow things down in the GI tract and aid in recovery.
“Normally calves do respond pretty fast to treatment. Some will look somewhat better in as little as an hour, and I normally tell everyone that they will likely know which way it’s going to go within 6 hours. I just depends on where they’re at in the process, and if the overeating was counteracted fast enough to prevent organ failure,” noted Veldhuizen.
If multiple cases begin cropping up, adjusting whole-herd management appropriately can effectively stop a potential disaster.
“If you begin to see a pattern, I would say the best option is to vaccinate early with an alpha-7 or other 7-way vaccine. That can be hard sometimes, and I usually tell producers they should consider just moving up their branding if possible. That way they can give the shot without making it a special trip through the corral. Plus, the vaccine will start working fast, and has a 6-month duration of immunity per shot, meaning that those calves should still get to fall and the normal pre-weaning shots just fine,” said Veldhuizen.
While not a foolproof method of prevention, general husbandry and cleanliness can go a long way toward preventing an overeating outbreak.
“Trying to keep the environment those calves are in as clean as possible is the best form of prevention. It is something that can be picked up out of the soil, and is also something found in a normal bovine GI system, meaning it will be in the calving environment and there is no way to guarantee prevention,” stated Veldhuizen.
As calves age, they remain susceptible to overeating if they’re not on an up-to-date preventative vaccination program.
“The vaccine works great, but there are scenarios where calves only received a shot at branding, and were never given another. In that instance, we might get 800-900 pound feedlot animals that will come up with overeating again just because their vaccination waned and they lost some normal immunity. In those situations I would suggest just running the entire group through and revaccinating them with a 7-way shot,” said Veldhuizen.
Keeping an eye on newborn calves, particularly during and following times of spring weather variations, and being prepared to treat any calves exhibiting signs of overeating will result in the highest percentage of survivors.
“You can pick up everything you need to treat overeating with from your veterinarian. If you catch those calves exhibiting symptoms but still standing, you’ll see a higher survivability rate. Then, be sure to following that up with a 7-way vaccination at branding and weaning to prevent any future issues,” reiterated Veldhuizen of the best ways to avoid an overeating debacle this spring.
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