Neonatal Calf Diarrhea Complex

Neonatal Calf Diarrhea Complex

John Kirkpatrick, DVM 

Associate Professor, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Oklahoma State University

The Disease: A complex, multifactoral disease involving the calf, nutrition, environment, and infectious agents.  Decades of research have been dedicated to obtaining a better understanding of this disease complex.  Despite improvements in identification of the infectious agents, management practices, and treatment and prevention strategies, the complex remains the most common and costly (est. $120 million annually) disease affecting neonatal calves in the United States.  (NAHMS 1997) 

The list of bacteria and viruses that can potentially cause diarrhea is quite large.  There are six major pathogens that cause diarrhea in neonatal calves: enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli K99, rotavirus, coronavirus, Cryptosporidium parvum, Salmonella spp., and Clostridium perfringens type C.  The color and consistency of the feces and gross lesions can look similar, no matter the causative agent.  Therefore laboratory identification of the infectious agent and histopathology are imperative to obtaining a diagnosis.  It should also be noted that it is common for more than one pathogen to be causing the disease, and that pathogens causing the disease on a farm can change from year to year.  These facts make it imperative that your veterinarian identifies the causative agent(s) to better establish proper prevention and treatment protocols. 


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