Treating Scouring Calves

Identify Early

  • Separate from the healthy, this applies to equipment as well.
  • Replace what is lost, provide what they need and what they will lose i.e. fluids, electrolytes and energy.
  • Anti-inflammatories will always make the calf feel better and recover faster.
  • Diagnosis of the cause is very useful for treatment and prevention relating to different pathogens and risk factors.

1) Identify Early

  • Look at the poop daily
  • Check the tails at least every feed
  • Watch for any sign of a slow or listless calf – ie slow to get up, slow to the feeder, not staying on the teat
  • Look for signs of dehydration – see below
  • Early identification and treatment equals a more successful outcome.

2) Separate

  • Scours, unless nutritional (from a change in milk or overfeeding), are highly contagious, just one poop from a calf with Rotovirus is enough to infect 10,000 calves
  • Separate early, scoop up any scour with the surrounding bedding and take it far far away
  • Spray the pen thoroughly with effective spray
  • Separate all equipment and think about gumboots, overalls, hands etc

3) Replace and Provide

  • Calves with the scours or diarrhoea, no matter what the cause, usually require fluids, electrolytes and energy. Oral rehydration is the cornerstone of scour treatment.
  • Fluids are required to both replace losses, for maintenance and also for ongoing losses. A surprisingly large amount of fluid is lost through scours which means a surprisingly large amount of fluids need to be put back in. If you have a dehydrated 40kg calf this calf will easily require 8litres of fluids on day one: 4litres for maintenance, 2litres for the current dehydration and 2litres for ongoing losses. Hopefully the calf is drinking some for itself from the trough but if not these fluids need to be supplied to the calf.
  • Electrolytes are lost along with fluids which can cause a dangerous imbalance in the calf’s system hence the losses need to be corrected.
  • Energy (calories) to adequately fight the infection and to maintain the calfs strength. Calves have minimal energy stores so they do not have much to draw on in times of need, they need energy daily especially if they are using up energy to fight a nasty infection. All of a very young calfs energy is sourced from the milk and because the start of a scours treatment programme may exclude a milk feed or halve the milk component it is important to use an electrolyte supplement which includes energy (calories) for the calf to feed its metabolism. Including milk after a day is important for the essential nutritional components milk provides ie protein and fat.
  • Most often these nutrients can be supplied orally, if not up to suckling then via tube, however if your calf is very depressed or slow it will benefit from intravenous treatment. If your calf is down and unable to get up then immediate intravenous treatment and veterinary attention is required. Transforming an almost comatosed calf to a calf up and running around within a day after intravenous treatment is one of the most rewarding cases.
  • Also remember warmth for your sick calf! When we are sick we need to keep warm, same for our small bovine friends.
  • Other provisions depend on your diagnosis.

4) Anti-Inflammatories

  • Are awesome, no farm should be without anti-inflammatories. They reduce pain, reduce fever making the animal feel better and hastening recovery.

5) Diagnosis

  • Correct diagnosis is the only way to provide specific treatment and also helps with prevention plans particularly if you have an outbreak nightmare and you never want that happening again. Specific treatments include antibiotics, anti-protozoals, immunoglobulins and more. Prevention plans include assessing the risk factors and making recommendations around housing, management, vaccination etc. Call your vet.
  • Oral rehydration Programme
  • Ideally scours are recognised and treated early however some scours hit very quickly and knowing how dehydrated your animal is helps with treatment plans.
  • How dehydrated is my calf? Without taking blood samples, there are two quick ways of estimating dehydration status, looking at the calf’s eye and checking the skint tent.
  • Skin Tent – the layer of tissue under the skin also normally holds a lot of fluid so when you pull up an area of loose skin e.g. on the neck is the best place, the skin is well lubricated so it slips quickly back into position. Pulling up of the skin creates a tent shape hence ‘skin tent’. When the fluid is lost the skin becomes sticky and the tent returns to position more slowly. The speed at which the skin returns is therefore a guide as to dehydration status.
  • Eye indicator – behind the eye is fatty tissue which holds a lot of fluid, when fluid is lost from the body this fatty tissue shrinks which causes the eye to sink back into the eye socket. The more sunken the more dehydrated.
  • Expect an average sad looking scouring calf to be 5% dehydrated
  • If eyes sunken, skin tent slow, dry nose – 8% dehydrated – serious
  • Calf down, very slow tent, cold – 10% dehydrated = very serious
  • Over 10% the next stage is death
  • A 5% dehydration means that the calf has lost 5% of its bodyweight in fluid. In a 40kg calf this means 2litres is lost and needs replacing, in addition is the maintenance volume (4litres per day) and the ongoing losses.
  • Here is an example of a standard 40kg calf scours treatment plan. It is recommended to discuss your specific case with your vet to determine the best programme for your situation.