Veterinarian Jens van Rijssel: ‘Improving resistance and reducing infection load’

‘Healthy calves are fit and alert; they drink their milk well, have a body temperature between 38 and 39 degrees and shiny coats.’

This description by veterinarian Jens van Rijssel of advice for Veterinarians reflects the kind of calves livestock farmers like to see. But this is not always the case. In the case of infectious diarrhoea, the pathogens take over. This may be the result of a high infection load or reduced resistance. ‘Unlike with nutrition-based diarrhoea, in the case of infectious diarrhoea, you can generally identify a pathogen,’ explained Jens. ‘It is however important to carry out your examination at the right time, and to also tackle the related management factors.’

Intestinal damage and too much liquid

Infectious diarrhoea is caused by pathogens in the intestine. As well as viruses like rotavirus and coronavirus, the cause may also be parasites like Cryptosporidium and Coccidiosis. Bacteria like salmonella, e. coli and several others can also be the cause. ‘Generally speaking, viruses and parasites actually destroy cells,’ continued Jens. ‘Bacteria can also work with toxins that can cause additional moisture to be secreted from the intestines. This in turn leads to too much moisture in the intestines and the removal of electrolytes. ‘The gradations in clinically sick animals are primarily determined by the degree of loss of fluids. In other words not specifically germ count.

Mild, moderate and serious diarrhoea 

In the case of mild diarrhoea symptoms, the temperature is still normal but the calves drink somewhat less. The treatment includes electrolytes, pain relief and if necessary consultation with the veterinarian for antibiotics. In the case of a moderate form of acidification, the calf already has a fever and has difficulty standing. Due to the acidification, the eyes are sunk deeper into the head and the back end is fouled. In that case, the calf requires additional support, in the form of IV treatment.

In cases of serious diarrhoea symptoms, the calf is no longer able to stand and is no longer able to lift its head. The calf’s body temperature may also fall below 38 degrees. In that case, a long period of IV drip to re-establish the balance is advised. ‘At all times ensure that the calf can lie warm and dry,’ recommended Jens. ‘Also keep a close eye on the pen. If the cause is infectious, more calves may follow and by carefully monitoring, you can intervene quickly. Preferably you can start treatment at an earlier stage before serious diarrhoea symptoms occur.’

Targeted treatment following manure sample 

The veterinarian also recommends taking manure samples. ‘As quickly as possible, because then you can identify the primary cause,’ suggested Jens. ‘And then you can administer a targeted treatment and take the necessary management measures.’ One thing remains the same for all preventive measures: hygiene. ‘It is important to always keep the calf’s pen clean, disinfected and degreased. Grease often harbours pathogens. By operating a sound protocol for these aspects, you have often tackled many of the ­problems.’ Prevention is always better than cure argued Jens. For that reason, the motto of advice is: for healthy Farming.

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