Calf Scours: Causes, prevention and treatment
From "Beef: Questions & Answers" newsletter*
by Don Hudson,
D.V.M., Extension Veterinarian and R. Gene White, D.V.M., Coordinator, Regional
College of Veterinary Medicine Program, University of Nebraska
Calf scours or calf diarrhea causes more financial loss to
cow-calf producers than any other disease-related problem they encounter. Calf
scours is not a diseaseit is a clinical sign of a disease that can have many
causes. In diarrheas, the intestine fails to absorb fluids and/or secretion into
the intestine is increased.
Scours can be caused by many sources, including rotavirus,
coronavirus and bovine virus diarrhea; bacteria such as Escherichia coli (Colibacillosis),
Salmonella and Enterotoxemia; or other causes like Coccidiosis,
Cryptosporidium and nutritional scours, which can be caused by anything that
disrupts normal eating habits, such as a storm, strong wind or the mother going
off hunting for new grass.
Treatment of calf scours
Treatment for scours is similar regardless of the cause and
should focus on correcting the dehydration, acidosis and electrolyte loss.
Antibiotic treatment can be given simultaneously with treatment for dehydration,
which can be overcome with simple fluids given by mouth early in the course of
the disease. If dehydration is allowed to continue, intravenous fluid treatment
may become necessary.
Clinical signs of dehydration first occur when fluid loss
reaches five to six percent of body weight. A ten percent loss of fluid results
in depression, sunken eyes and dry skin, and the calf will probably be unable to
stand. A 15 percent loss of fluids usually causes death.
Consult your veterinarian for electrolytes to be given orally.
Dry electrolyte powders can be mixed with water for oral administration, but if
unavailable, these three solutions for oral administration can be prepared on
- 1. Combine 1 can beef consomme, 1 package fruit pectin
(Sure Jell or Pen Jel), 2 teaspoons low sodium salt (Morton Lite Salt), 2
teaspoons baking soda, and add enough warm water to total 2 quarts.
- 2. Combine 1 can beef consomme, 3 cans warm water, and 1
heaping tablespoon baking soda.
- 3. Combine 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and
250 cc (8 ounces) 50% dextrose or 8 ounces light Karo syrup, and add enough
warm water to total 1 gallon.
Do not overfeed! Administer up to 1 quart of any of these
three solutions every three to four hours, depending upon the degree of
dehydration and fluid loss. These solutions can be used as the only source of
nutrients for a period of 24 to 48 hours. Do not use milk or milk replacers
during this period, as milk in the intestinal tract makes an ideal medium for
bacterial growth. Return the calf to the cow, which has been previously milked
out, as soon as the calf is able to follow its mother.
Giving electrolytes orally is always a problem unless the calf
will nurse from a bottle. An esophageal probe works very well for administering
oral fluids to calves. Use this device or a stomach tube when giving calves
large amounts of fluids. If using a stomach tube, do not go into the stomach
with the tube as this puts the material in the nondeveloped rumen rather than
into the true stomach. To avoid the rumen, insert only 18 inches of the stomach
tube into the calf's mouth.
Use antibiotics both orally and by injection whenever treating
calves for diarrhea. In acute salmonellosis outbreaks, antibiotics may cause the
release of excess endotoxins; therefore, consider using fluid therapy only.
Ear tag treated calves for identification and keep a daily
record on the treatment administered. This aids in evaluating the treatment and
utilizing follow-up treatments as necessary. Valuable information can be
obtained by having the cows identified and identifying each calf at birth. If an
outbreak of scours occurs, persistent treatment and records are essential for
doing a good job.
Scour problems are an ever-existing threat to baby calves. A
good program of adequate nutrition, sanitation, management and a good herd
health program are necessary to minimize the incidence and losses. Early
diagnosis and treatment will reduce the threat of a herd outbreak. The correct
diagnosis is also very important when considering vaccinations and other
procedures for the cow herd the next calving season.
* Beef: Questions &
Answers is a joint project between MSU Extension and the Montana Beef Council.
This column informs producers about current consumer education, promotion and
research projects funded through the $1 per head checkoff. For more information,
contact the Montana Beef Council at (406) 442-5111 or at email@example.com
diagnosis and treatment will reduce the threat of a herd outbreak.