DULUTH, Ga. (December 15, 2022) — “Bovine respiratory disease [BRD] is the second-highest cause of mortality in preweaned dairy calves and the highest cause of mortality in post-weaned dairy calves,1” said Mark van der List, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim. “The calves that do recover from the disease will face short- and long-term consequences. Because of this, it’s critical for producers to recognize BRD early on and to take corrective action right away.”
In an ideal world, we would be able to prevent calves from getting sick altogether. In reality, nothing can prevent infection 100% of the time, and although we can’t completely avoid BRD, early detection and intervention can work to reduce some of those long-term consequences associated with the disease. Focusing on early diagnosis and prompt treatment can be instrumental in helping calves get back on track sooner.
Many producers rely on employees to raise the initial concern when it comes to identifying sick animals. While it’s important to train employees to recognize the clinical signs of BRD, this is only one piece of a larger diagnostic puzzle.
“The signs of BRD may vary depending on the specific pathogen involved, the animal’s immune system and several other factors,” warned Dr. van der List. “Although a presumptive diagnosis can be made based on clinical signs of infection, I recommend reaching out to a local veterinarian for help building out a more robust and comprehensive diagnostic strategy.”
Consider asking your veterinarian about thoracic ultrasounds. They can be used to detect cases of subclinical respiratory disease that producers can’t visibly see. Many veterinarians are trained on how to perform these lung ultrasounds, and are willing and able to help producers identify cases of BRD sooner.
To further optimize your prevention and treatment strategies, consulting with a diagnostic laboratory may be beneficial. A pathologist will work with your herd veterinarian to more closely examine bacteria or viruses present. This can be done antemortem by obtaining nasal swabs from the calf, or postmortem through a necropsy evaluation.
“Think of it as an investigation,” encouraged Dr. van der List. “The veterinarian, the lab and the producer can work together to understand the disease. If you are aware of the risk factors involved and know which specific pathogens are a problem, you can create a more targeted approach to BRD management.”
Prompt and Effective Treatment
Any sick calves identified via your diagnostic strategy should be assessed and the appropriate treatment protocol applied. These treatment protocols should be developed and regularly reviewed with your veterinarian.
Dr. van der List provided the following treatment tips:
- Look for an antibiotic that provides broad-spectrum coverage against the major BRD-causing pathogens: Mannheimia haemolytica, Pasteurella multocida, Histophilus somni and Mycoplasma bovis.
- The antibiotic you choose should reach the lungs (site of infection) quickly and be effective for an extended period of time.
- Record keeping helps communicate the treatment status of an animal to anyone who might be working on the operation and ensures proper withdrawal times are followed. It’s also a way to measure treatment outcomes and identify chronically sick calves.
- Remember that following the label is an essential part of successful treatment. Product labels contain important information, such as the dosage based on animal weight, the correct route and frequency of administration and the withdrawal information.