Results inform protocol for scours, respiratory disease in calves |

Results inform protocol for scours, respiratory disease in calves

Effective treatment of scours and respiratory disease in calves, despite varied factors, can be improved through the development of a treatment protocol.

Dr. Michael Apley, DVM, PhD, DACVCP, a professor of clinical pharmacology at Kansas State University and Dr. Bob Larson, DVM, PhD, DACT, DACVPM, appeared on the Beef Cattle Institute’s podcast with Brad White, director of the Beef Cattle Institute.

Apley said a working relationship with a producer’s veterinarian helps give the practitioner a solid history of the herd’s management and the primary pathogen challenges. Of the calves with scours, he said, about 30 percent of calves develop septicemia or bacteria in the blood.

Larson said the challenge often lies in treating early enough without overtreating. Once a calf is depressed and down, an antibiotic can be lifesaving to treat secondary problems, since scours is viral and isn’t treated with antimicrobials. Oral or intravenous fluids are also key to treatment, especially once a calf is down.

White said antibiotics are important in the treatment of scours though they don’t treat the scours itself. In terms of respiratory disease, most treatments are long-acting, which can complicate the treatment of a calf treated that doesn’t respond in 24 hours.

The post-treatment interval recommends about five to seven days, even for high risk calves. Apley said if a number of treated calves aren’t responding to treatment, it’s possible the wrong medication was selected.

“One of the worst things we can do for treatment outcome is not intervene in a disease process until they’re several days into it,” Apley said. Producers can expect 70 to 60 percent of treated calves to respond without further treatment. In respiratory disease cases, the panel agreed that 5 to 10 percent of treated calves may succumb to the illness.

A treatment plan, Larson said, is to discuss with the veterinarian which diseases are most common and document the veterinarian’s drug choice and dosage for future use. The response of animals to treatment will guide adjustments and changes to the protocol.

Apley said in the case of scours, treatment varies from a calf displaying watery stool to a calf that is depressed and dehydrated and there may be a line at which a producer and veterinarian agree an antimicrobial is called for and fluids are necessary.

Records help inform all involved in making the protocol based on prior years and each person’s understanding of symptoms. Apley said he looks at the number treated that didn’t respond and the number treated that died to determine treatment success of a protocol.

When building a treatment protocol, the panel’s top four considerations are knowing the success and failure criteria to determine whether an animal was a success; know the post-treatment interval, or length of time before subsequent treatment can be retreated with an antimicrobial; the dose and route of administration; and having a case definition of when an animal will or will not be treated. ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at or (970) 768-0024.