Frequent cattle diseases and treatments 1.

Diseases may compromise animal welfare, limit productivity or add additional costs to your business. This is why all responsible keepers should focus on prevention, because treatment is always a much more difficult and costly activity than maintaining good health or fitnes. The most common diseases were reviewed with the help of veterinarian Emese Hanko Farago.

There are severeal diseases that can affect individual animals or an entire herd. Diseases in cattle can be of various origins: reproductive, respiratory, metabolic, youngstock, and several types of foot disease appear in the herds. Although both of them are cattle, the typical diseases of dairy herds and beef herds are different.

Dairy cows

The list of potential diseases affecting dairy cows is almost endless. There are a range of diseases affecting dairy cows with different impacts on welfare, productivity and profitability. Diseases in dairy and beef herds also vary by age group.


Mastitis is a multifactorial disease, closely related to the production system and environment that cows are kept in. In cows with modern genetics, which produce huge milk yields, the most common problem is mastitis. Mastitis is the inflammation of the mammary gland and udder tissue. It usually occurs as an immune response to bacterial invasion of the teat canal by a variety of bacterial sources present on the farm (commonly through bedding or contaminated teat dips), and can also occur as a result of chemical, mechanical, injury to the cow’s udder.

Treatment and control is one of the largest costs to the dairy industry and is a significant factor in dairy cow welfare. The best way to control mastitis is to protect cows from getting new infections, which can come from the environment or from other infected cows.

Working out when cows get infected, and the source of infections is the first step. You can then focus on preventing new cases of mastitis in your herd.

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Metabolic disorders

Huge milk yields come at a price. For a cow to produce the expected amount of milk, it needs the right amount and quality of feed. However, feeding with the utmost care may cause several health problems for cows.

Metabolic disorders occur because of nutritional deficiencies. Drop-in yields, appetite, weight loss, and depression are common symptoms.

Nutritional imbalances, deficiencies, or erratic management of feeding programs for dairy cows can create large numbers and various types of health problems generally categorized as metabolic diseases. Compounding the problem are the ever-changing nutritional needs of the cow, her lactation/dry period needs, feed quality changes, and the producer’s personal management practices.

Stress from metabolic problems may decrease the cow’s resistance and compromise immune system function. If these diseases are not prevented, very costly consequences in the reproductive, milk production and human resource areas will occur. Metabolic disorders can have a significant effect on a cow’s lactation performance, fertility, overall health, and longevity. Most metabolic disorders occur around calving and are associated with the transition from the dry period to lactation. Even though we are constantly improving the nutrition and management of cows during the transition, metabolic disorders are still a major risk due to pushing genetics towards more and more milk production.

The most common metabolic disorder, with the highest impact on productivity in transition cows, is ketosis, especially subclinical ketosis, occurring as a result of negative energy balance (NEB). Subclinical ketosis is a costly disorder, impacting milk yields throughout the entire lactation, as well as affecting the reproductive performance and immune status of the dairy cow. Data shows that subclinical ketosis leads to a decrease in dry matter intake of up to 20% and an average 2kg reduction in milk yield.

Respiratory diseases

Respiratory diseases are common and costly to livestock producers. Symptoms include coughing, nasal and eye discharge, rapid shallow breathing, and salivation.

BRD is a general term for respiratory disease in cattle caused by a range of factors, singly or in combination. A major cause of economic losses, BRD affects the lower respiratory tract/lungs (pneumonia) or upper respiratory tract (rhinitis, tracheitis, bronchitis).

Respiratory disease is best prevented by a combination of good management, appropriate building design and ventilation, and effective vaccination against the major pathogens on that particular unit well before the risk period.  The selection of an effective vaccination strategy will form an important part of the herd health plan drawn up in conjunction with the farmer’s veterinary surgeon.

Financial losses result from mortality and antibiotic treatment costs, but the greatest loss is from weight loss during illness affecting a large proportion of the group and their protracted convalescence. In the absence of prevention, irreversible processes that develop at a young age, accompany breeding animals throughout, reducing their productive hardness, which can also impede genetic progress.

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Beef cattle

In beef cattle, metabolic or udder diseases are understandably negligible due to the different breeding purposes and husbandry technology. Beef cattle have more reproductive and foot problems, but to a lesser extent than a dairy herd. For example, adult cattle herds have much lower scrap rates than dairy herds: while beef cattle have only 5 percent mortality and a higher proportion of cows are over 10 years old, in the case of dairy cows, this can be as much as 30 to 40 to 50 percent, if we add the culling in addition to the death – call the expert’s attention.


Reproductive diseases

Reproductive diseases tend to develop gradually and can be difficult to identify until well established in the herd. Symptoms of reproductive diseases include poor fertility rates, abortion, stillbirths, discharge, etc. One of the well-known indicators of reproduction is the length of the time interval between two calvings.


Lameness in cattle is a serious economic problem, there are many causes for lameness.  Sole ulcers, white line disease (defects in the sole at the junction with the vertical hoof walls), and interdigital necrobacillosis (footrot) are the most common foot disorders that create lameness in cattle.


In extensive beef cattle, it is common to keep the animals on pasture. Various parasitic infections are also common among grazed or regularly grazed animals.

Losses in animal productivity (milk production, weight gain, altered carcass composition, conception rate, etc.) are all subclinical effects; whereas, visible, disease-like symptoms (roughness of coat, anemia, edema, diarrhea) are clinical effects. The subclinical effects are of major economic importance to the producer.

Pastures that are heavily stocked generally have a higher parasite burden than lightly stocked ones. Cattle in a dry lot are less likely to have heavy worm infections than those in pastures. Young cattle will typically have more internal parasites than older cattle. Therefore, the methods of controlling internal parasites should be developed to fit individual production situations. Strategic deworming starts with understanding the life cycle of problem parasites, identifying seasonal changes in parasite burdens, and implementing cost-effective control. A successful deworming program, along with good overall herd management, will increase milk production in cows and thereby increase the weaning weights of calves.

(To be countinued soon with prevention, protection and vaccination.)

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