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The Eyes Have It When Detecting Early Calf Respiratory Disease


Detecting the subtle signs of the onset of pneumonia in calves is the best way to assist them with effective treatment, and hopefully avert long-term lung damage, according to Tiago Tomazi, DVM, technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.


On a recent webinar hosted by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association, Tomazi shared that he always looks at calf’s head and facial features first. “There’s so much about the head that can indicate the onset of respiratory disease,” said Tomazi. “Think of how we feel when we’re starting to get a cold. It’s similar for calves – they have itchy, watery eyes, their ears droop a little, they salivate more, and they may be licking their nostrils more frequently."

Tomazi said intermediate symptoms will appear as the disease progresses – mild fever, lethargy, sleepiness, slow movement, lack of interest in eating and drinking, and slightly bowed heads. By the time obvious symptoms like high fever, heavy breathing and coughing, head tilt, and thick nasal and eye discharge appear, it’s often too late for treatment to do much good.


“Anyone can detect those sick animals, but by then the probability of those calves having permanent lung lesions is very high,” he stated.


Tomazi shared research data that showed the long-term impact of lung consolidation and lesions on lifetime performance, including:

  • Calves with at least 3 cm. of lung consolidation produced an average of 1,157 lbs. less milk in their first lactations.

  • Heifers diagnosed with lung consolidation at 60 days of age were significantly slower in achieving pregnancy.

  • Calves with lung lesions detected at 3 months of age were significantly less likely to survive to first lactation.

He said if diagnosis of respiratory disease is delayed, it can lead to prolonged use of antibiotics, increased risk of treatment failure, high relapse rate, and advanced disease progression. In addition to chronic lung injury and abscesses, that also might include ear infections and more widespread respiratory disease in the herd.


Employee training to recognize and efficiently treat respiratory disease in calves is critical to keeping it in check. Tomazi said explaining WHY it is so important to detect and treat calves early, rather than just telling workers what to do, should lead to more attentive care early in the disease process, when it can increase the cure rates and potentially reduce losses associated with the disease.


February 7, 2023

dairyherd.com


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