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Common Cattle Diseases and How to Treat Them

If you raise cattle, you want to make sure that they're healthy and happy. Here are some common diseases that affect cattle, as well as how to treat them so you can keep your animals healthy:

Signs that your cattle may be sick

It goes without saying that it is important to know the signs of cattle diseases so that you can keep them well. Some diseases are easy to identify, but other signs are more subtle. The symptoms of a disease can be physical or behavioral, and some may be both.

So what are some common signs? Well, if your cow or bull has diarrhea or is coughing up mucus, that’s an obvious sign that something isn’t right with them. But there are some other things to look out for as well:

  • Behavioral changes: Some cows will become restless and irritable when they have a fever; others become lethargic and stop eating altogether when they get sick (or even go into shock). Be especially aware if your cow starts acting out of character—this could mean she needs treatment immediately.

  • Loss of appetite: This usually happens before any other type of symptom shows up because bovines tend to not eat when feeling under the weather.

Keeping track of

Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC)

Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC) occurs mainly in young calves around weaning time. It is a respiratory tract infection that can have several causes, from bacterial to viral pathogens.

Symptoms of BRDC include:

• Depression and fatigue

• Lack of interest in feed

• Coughing

• Head extension

• Rapid, shallow breathing

• Isolation from the rest of the herd

• Fever

Early identification and treatment of this disease is essential for the best chance of recovery. It is recommended that affected animals are quarantined to prevent the spread of the disease among the herd.

Treatment of BRDC:

Treatment includes injectable prescription antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. There are quite a few antibiotics to choose from, many of which are specific to local resistance levels. Check with your veterinarian to decide on the most effective one for your cattle.


Pinkeye is a highly infectious disease that is formally known as bovine keratoconjunctivitis. It is a bacterial infection that affects the eyes and causes irritation. It is a common disease in cattle of all ages.

The bacteria that cause pinkeye enter through an animal's tear ducts or nares (nostrils) and multiply rapidly on the surface of the eye.

Affected animals may have watery eyes or discharge from their nostrils, along with crusting around their eyes and eyelids. This crusting is caused by heavy mucous production to keep out invading germs; however, it can lead to secondary infections if left untreated.

Symptoms of pinkeye in livestock include:

• Eyelid squinting

• Tearing/watery eyes

• Cloudiness over parts of the eye or the entire eye

Treatment for pinkeye in cattle:

Over-the-counter medications can be quite an effective treatment for pinkeye in cattle. Injectable antibiotic oxytetracycline can also help to alleviate this disease, as well as topical sprays and eye patches.

Foot Rot in Cattle

Foot rot is a bacterial infection that causes lameness in cattle. It's caused by a type of bacteria called Fusobacterium necrophorum, which can enter your cow's body through cuts or puncture wounds on her hooves.

It's most common in the summer months, though it can occur at any time of year depending on conditions and the type of bacteria involved.

Good hygiene practices are important for preventing foot rot as well as other diseases that affect your herd.

Good hygiene for your livestock include:

• Keeping pens clean

• Keeping feeders clean and dry

• Not over-crowding animals into pens or feeding areas

• Avoiding dirty water sources like creeks or ponds (provide plenty of fresh water)

Foot rot can spread quickly through your herd if left untreated—it’s important to know how to spot symptoms so you can take action before the situation gets out of control!

Treatment for foot rot:

Foot rot can be treated with antibiotics, which you can purchase from your vet. You should also examine the feet of your cattle to ensure they do not have foreign objects like nails or wire that could be contributing to the foot rot.

Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)

IBR is a contagious viral disease that affects cattle. It usually affects the respiratory tract and reproductive system of cattle. It is caused by a virus called bovine herpesvirus type 1 (BHV-1).

This disease is highly infectious and can be prevalent in areas where cattle are in close contact with each other, such as feedlots and during transportation.

Symptoms of IBR in Cattle:

Symptoms of IBR include fever, nasal discharge, and eye discharge and ulcers on the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and eyes. Other signs may include swollen lymph nodes, sudden onset of coughing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, loss of appetite, weight loss, and depression or lethargy.

Treatment for IBR in Cattle:

The most common treatment for IBR is antibiotics. These are used to alleviate secondary bacterial infections, as there is no treatment that targets the BHV-1 virus directly. It is also recommended to decrease stress, quarantine affect animals, and provide clean, sufficient feed and water to limit the spread of the disease.

Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD)

BVD is a contagious disease in cattle that is caused by a virus. It is an economically important disease in cattle because it causes reduced milk production and weight gain in dairy cattle.

BVD typically affects young calves between 3 weeks and three months old but can affect older animals as well.

Symptoms of BVD:

Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, depression, reduced milk production and weight gain in infected cows; diarrhea may also be present. Most often the illness resolves on its own within 2-3 weeks without treatment; however, mortality rates can be high if calves aren't treated properly during recovery.

Treatment for BVD:

There is no specific treatment that targets the virus responsible for BVD. However, antibiotics are commonly given to limit secondary bacterial infections and provide supportive treatment.


Blackleg is caused by Clostridium chauvoei, a bacteria that affects the muscles. The disease is not highly contagious, but it can be transmitted through contaminated feed or water.

Symptoms of backleg in cattle:

It causes lameness in cattle due to inflammation of the muscles and connective tissue, which results in rapid deterioration of muscle fibers and death of cells within them.

How to treat backleg in cattle:

Blackleg can be treated with antibiotics such as tiamulin or tylosin.


Coccidiosis is a common disease in cattle that is caused by a protozoan parasite called Eimeria. The parasite infects the intestine of cattle and causes diarrhea, fever, listlessness and dehydration. Cattle can get this infection through contaminated feed or water. Symptoms usually appear within 7-10 days after exposure.

Coccidiosis symptoms include:

• Abdominal pain

• Depression in eating or drinking

• Fever (103-105°F)

Treatment for Coccidiosis in cattle:

Treatment includes supportive therapies such as giving fluids, and antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. It is recommended that you isolate the affected cattle from the rest of the herd to prevent further spread of the disease.

Johne's Disease:

Johne’s Disease is a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, weight loss, and chronic wasting in cattle. The spread of Johne's disease is thought to be due to the presence of Mycobacterium avium subsp paratuberculosis (MAP) in livestock feces.

Symptoms of Johne's disease:

The bacterium causes intestinal inflammation, which can lead to diarrhea and weight loss in animals with compromised immune systems or a chronic infection.

Once an animal has been exposed to MAP, it will remain infected for life—or as long as it produces milk. However, the bacteria do not always cause clinical signs of illness in affected animals—this is why Johne’s disease is sometimes called “fatal perinatalitis.” Young animals that consume contaminated colostrum often die during their first few weeks after birth from dehydration caused by chronic diarrhea.

Treatment for Johne's disease in cattle:

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for Johne’s disease. It is recommended that you cull cows that test positive.

White Muscle Disease:

This disease is caused by a deficiency of the element selenium in the soil that cattle graze on. This results in cattle becoming deficient in this nutrient.

Symptoms of white muscle disease in cattle:

Selenium deficiency in young calves is called white muscle disease, and in older cattle, it manifests as reduced immune response. Lack of selenium causes muscle damage and stillborn or weak calves.

Prevention for this disease includes selenium injections for newborn calves and adding mineral supplements to older cows’ feed rations. This will ensure that they receive a sufficient amount of selenium, even if the soil is lacking. Be aware, though, that 5-10 times the recommended levels of 0.2 ppm of selenium can cause toxicity in fully grown cattle.

Here are a few other vaccinations you should consider.

Treatment for white muscle disease in cattle:

Treatment for White Muscle Disease includes giving affected calves and cattle sodium selenite and vitamin E in sterile emulsion.


Cattle are susceptible to a wide range of diseases and can often be accessed in their BCS. It's important to understand what diseases your cattle may be at risk of developing and how to treat them if they do. If you notice your cattle showing any symptoms listed above, contact your local livestock veterinarian as soon as possible. They will be able to diagnose and treat any diseases that might be present.



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