Vet’s Voice: Be on the lookout for enterotoxemia, scours
April 25, 2014
Finally spring has arrived. We missed all of the snows, but did get the winds. Hopefully soon we will get some spring rains. Our area is starting to show dry on the drought monitor. The grass is coming, but it is slow. This spring has been a lot better for calving than last year. We have seen a lot less scours and navel infections.
Our area of South Dakota has more than its share of clostridium perfringens infections. This year we have seen a lot of enterotoxemia in calves four to five days old. Most of these calves appear lethargic (the calf may be flat out) as a result of the toxin produced by the bacteria as it overgrows the gut. The abdomen is usually distended and sometimes the calf appears to be in pain. If the calf is not treated, the toxins will result in organ failure and death.
We routinely perform post mortem exams on the calves which are unable to overcome the disease. We usually see blood in the abomasum and upper intestine. We often see organ failure (kidney and liver) as a cause of death. We routinely send samples to the SDSU Diagnostic Lab for a definitive diagnosis. Clostridium perfringens is the common cause, but there are many types. We see a lot of Type A, some type C and occasionally type E. It appears we have vaccinated our herds thoroughly enough to remove Type D (the common cause in the past) from the differential diagnosis.
A storm or bad weather usually trigger an outbreak. The old timers called this disease 'over eating'. The abundance of milk in a high milk producing cow, or any episode that causes the calf not to suckle in a normal time frame, which results in slug feeding. The abundance of nutrition allows the bacteria to multiply and overpopulate the gut. The toxins they release cause the clinical signs you see in your calf.
Treatment of the calf is not always successful, but odds improve if you can begin the treatment early in the course of the infection. We recommend the use of Clostridium perfringens antiserum for initial treatment. We inject it subcutaneously and also administer some orally. Antibiotics are also very helpful. We usually use penicillin or ampicillin injectable while also administering some orally. Electrolytes are also given orally to dilute the toxin and flush the gut. If the calf is down and flat out, intravenous fluids may be needed. Some clients administer products to help reduce pain in the calf.
Prevention is a much better alternative than treatment. Blackleg vaccines are effective in the very young calves. Many producers vaccinate calves with a long-acting 7way Clostridium shortly after birth. This stimulates the calf to develop immunity at an early age. We occasionally see a similar syndrome in calves four to six weeks old. Vaccination helps prevent these and we generally booster at turnout to prevent pasture problems.
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Cow vaccination is also an effective tool. We incorporate a clostridium perfringens type A vaccine with our normal "scour" vaccinations. This allows the multi-valent vaccines to cover all the bases. The colostrum then delivers antibodies to be absorbed by the calf and also mechanically tie up the bacteria.
For years we have fed copper to our cows to minimize clostridial problems. As we use more distillers' grains to supplement our cow rations, we also increase the rations' sulfur content. In the interaction of minerals, sulfur ties up copper absorption. Check your minerals closely. Even minerals sold as high copper may not be enough if you are feeding high sulfur.
Clostridial scours are problem in young calves, but may also be diagnosed in calves over a month old. Consult with your veterinarian for a good diagnosis, a treatment regime, and a prevention protocol. Your nutritionist will help you formulate rations with the proper mineral balance. Plan for control of clostridial problems to minimize your losses and improve your profits.