An Introduction to Calf Scours Identification

Calf scours can be a devastating disease; it can hit hard and infect numerous animals, create large treatment costs and have a prolonged impact on animal health and performance. Calves are extremely susceptible to scours in the first month of life. Preventative measures during this critical period are important to reduce incidence of sickness and mortality.

While many cases of diarrhea can be mild and self-limiting, there are a number of pathogens that can cause serious illness and death, even while undergoing treatment.

Bacteria, viruses and parasites attack the lining of the calf’s intestines, impairing their ability to absorb nutrients. This leads to profuse diarrhea and dehydration. Certain pathogens have the ability to enter the animal’s blood stream and settle in other organs. The pathogen can kill the calf rapidly or remain subclinical until a later period of stress.

There are numerous causative agents that all show similar clinical signs, but it is important to diagnose the specific agent you are dealing with in order to initiate successful treatment and prevention strategies.

Contributing factors to the development of scours include:

  • Inadequate amounts of colostrum
  • Poor quality colostrum
  • Difficult calving
  • Dirty environment
  • Weather extremes

Clinical signs include:

  • Diarrhea, sometimes with blood or mucus
  • Dehydration
  • Rough hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Death
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