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Main Content
managing cattle diseases

Common Cattle Diseases

Cattle Diseases

While it isn’t possible to cover the full range of animal diseases and conditions, it is useful to know something about the ones that are among the most common. If you think your livestock need treatment of any of the listed conditions or the animal just doesn't seem right but you don't know why, contact your veterinarian.

Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC)
Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC), or “Shipping Fever”, is a general term for the pneumonia commonly seen in shipped or stressed calves. Several disease agents or other interacting factors may cause the syndrome. Stress, such as weaning, dehorning, shipping and weather changes can make the animal susceptible to disease-causing viruses and bacteria. Although stress cannot be eliminated entirely, it can be reduced through careful handling and sanitary conditions.

The best way to reduce the risk of BRDC is through routine vaccination. Vaccinating early in life is important, because calves that survive respiratory disease often don’t grow as fast or as large as calves, which have never been infected. A vaccine program should include protection against the following respiratory diseases, all of which contribute to BRDC.

Clostridial Disease, or "Blackleg"
"Blackleg" is a common name for a class of bacterial infections called clostridial. There are over 60 different types of clostridial bacteria, but not all of them cause the disease.

Clostridial usually occurs in calves or young cattle less than 2 years old and is caused by gangrene that forms in the muscles. Clostridial normally results from young calves not getting the proper amount of colostrum. Clostridial can appear in older cattle and is usually the result of vaccine needle contamination.

BRSV (Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus)
This is a sometimes fatal, stress-related infection that can cause mild to severe respiratory disease and reduce the animal’s resistance to other diseases. Signs include coughing, high fever, and runny eyes and nose.

BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhea)
This is one of the most costly diseases of cattle. Signs include scours, nasal discharge, coughing, and fever. Type 2 BVD is a severe form of this virus that can cause hemorrhaging in young calves, as well as adults.

Haemophilus Somnus
H. Somnus is a bacterial infection implicated in a variety of respiratory, neurological and reproductive disorders. H. Somnus can be the primary cause of respiratory disease, or it can be an underlying infection that is masked by other disease-causing agents. Signs of H. Somnus include fever, coughing, nasal discharge and labored breathing. Death without symptoms can occur.

IBR (Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis)
Also known as ‘Red nose,’ this highly contagious virus causes respiratory disease. Signs include inflamed nasal passages, fever, rapid breathing, deep cough, and loss of appetite.

PI3 (Parainfluenza Type 3)
This is a common, mild respiratory disease that suppresses the animal’s immune system, allowing other diseases and infections to develop. The virus is shed in nasal and eye secretions, and infects non-vaccinated animals through the mouth and nasal passages.

Pasteurella Haemolytica and Pasteurella Multocida
These highly infectious bacteria are the major cause of pneumonia, and the most commonly found pathogens in cattle dying of respiratory disease. P. Haemolytica and P. Multocida multiply quickly in the presence of stress, poor weather, or primary viral infections. Signs include depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, and high fever. Death can occur suddenly with few signs of disease, or the animal can survive only to become a “‘poor doer” due to the lung damage caused by this disease.

Rabies can infect all warm blooded animals, including humans. It attacks the central nervous system, causing death. Rabies vaccinations are only available from a veterinarian.