Diarrhea is a common problem in cattle, and can cause losses in performance as well as occasional death. So what do you do when one of your cattle has diarrhea?
First, let’s make sure there’s actually a problem, and then get a handle on the cause. Sometimes a loose stool can be mistaken for diarrhea when it’s just a normal function related to the animal’s diet. When feeding on lush, green pasture high in protein for instance, cattle can get very runny manure, especially in the first few days after being turned into this type of pasture. This is perfectly normal and although not ideal (you can supplement with some dry hay to improve performance) it’s not a health concern.
If, however, a single animal has a very runny stool that’s a different color (often including yellow) and sometimes accompanied with blood, while other animals do not, you probably do have an issue. If this animal is a young calf, you really have an issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
Diarrhea can be caused by bacterial, viral or other means, and treatment depends on the cause. It’s not as simple as just treating a calf with antibiotics. If the cause of diarrhea is viral, the antibiotics won’t do any good and their overuse could promote antibiotic resistance in your herd, which makes future antibiotic treatments less effective.
This is a case where it’s important to get a vet opinion on your situation to determine the cause of diarrhea. More background information and symptom details you can provide will help with determining a diagnosis and proper treatment.
For young calves with diarrhea, lack of treatment often results in death. These calves are severely dehydrated. Above all else, you want to give the calf electrolytes and fluid. Several commercial electrolyte solutions are available and they can be mixed with water and given to the calf orally. Since the calf won’t consume enough of this on its own, you’ll have to tube feed it using a calf drencher / tube feeder. I find that the higher quality tube feeders with metal tube work far better than the cheap ones. Getting water and electrolytes into a calf as quickly as possible can save its life. Too much is better than too little.
Beyond the young calf stage there are a number of causes and types of diarrhea, and the best avenue is proper diagnosis of the problem through working with your veterinarian. In addition, there are a number of management factors that can prevent the occurrence or severity of diarrhea in beef cattle. These include proper vaccination (for diseases like BVD), promoting good animal health through diet, nutrition and mineral supplementation, and sanitary management practices in pastures and animal housing.