Top 20 Bovine Conditions Part 1



Bovine questions make up 13% of the NAVLE® so it’s well worth spending some quality time learning the major diseases.


This 4-part series on the top 20 bovine conditions will set you up for NAVLE® success.

5 of Zuku’s top 20 bovine conditions to know for NAVLE® success

  1. Bovine lymphosarcoma

                    Submandibular lymphadenopathy

    • Classic case:
      • Central nervous system - paraplegia, tetraplegia, paraparesis, tetraparesis; head tilt, facial paralysis, dysphagia
      • Gastrointestinal system - free gas bloat, vagal indigestion, palpably enlarged abdominal lymph nodes, melena, thickened rectum
      • Lymph nodes - lymphadenopathy, exophthalmos, weight loss
      • Heart - unexpected and sudden collapse, death, congestive heart failure, jugular pulse, distended jugular or mammary veins, arrhythmia, tachycardia, weak pulse, subcutaneous edema
    • Dx:
      • Etiology: bovine leukemia virus (BLV), an oncogenic retrovirus
      • Lymph node biopsy
      • Positive antibodies (AGID or ELISA) to BLV
      • PCR or antigen-capture ELISA for BLV
    • Rx: NO effective or legal treatment; D-penicillamine has been given to affected pregnant cattle to save a valuable calf but questionable
    • Pearls:
      • Grave prognosis
      • Affected cows will not pass slaughter inspection
      • Cows with BLV – most are asymptomatic, 5-10% get lymphosarcoma, and 30% have persistent lymphocytosis

  2. Ketosis
    • Classic case:
      • 3 types – thin cow up to 45 days post-partum (type I), obese cow peri-partum (type II), too much silage at any stage of lactation (silage type)
      • Dairy cow 1-4 weeks post-partum with mild anorexia, low milk production, malodorous breath
      • Pica or paresthesia, aggressive behavior
      • Mild proprioceptive deficits with hepatic failure
    • Dx:
      • Measure betahydroxybutyric acid in blood (best), milk, or urine; diagnostic is greater than 14.4 mg/dL in whole blood
      • Look for acetoacetic acid in urine with dipstick
      • Thorough dental examination
    • Rx: Depends on type:
      • Type I – simple and short term Rx: oral propylene glycol, IV dextrose, corticosteroids, oral potassium and calcium salts
      • Type II – difficult and longer-term Rx: transfaunate and force-feed, IV dextrose, oral potassium and calcium salts, insulin
      • Silage type – don’t feed silage with high concentrations of butyric acid to pre- and post-fresh cows!
    • Pearls:
      • Type I – excellent prognosis; prevent with low protein diet, maximize energy in early lactation, and monensin
      • Type II – poor prognosis; cull obese cows
      • Economically important because higher culling rates, more retained placentas & decreased pregnancy rates and milk production in obese cows

  3. Bovine viral diarrhea (BVD)
    • Classic case:
      • Unvaccinated younger cow with acute diarrhea, nasal discharge, ptyalism, ocular discharge, oral ulcers, fever, anorexia, coronitis
      • In-utero infection: early embryonic death, cerebellar hypoplasia, developmental defects, abortion
      • Persistent infection (PI): If a cow becomes infected by a NON-cytopathic strain of virus between 40-120 days gestation, or calf is from a PI dam, the calf will be PI and act as a reservoir; if infected by cytopathic strain later in life, cow gets mucosal disease
      • Mucosal disease: acute signs and fatal with 2-4 weeks
    • Dx:
      • Etiology: bovine viral diarrhea virus, a Pestivirus
      • PCR on milk
      • Antigen-capture ELISA on blood or tissue
      • Virus isolation or histopath at necropsy
      • Ear notching for PI cattle: use PCR or ELISA
    • Rx:
      • None
      • Prevention: Test and remove PI calves; vaccinate
    • Pearls:
      • Grave prognosis except for subclinical disease in adult vaccinated cow
      • Worldwide, economically important pestivirus
      • Not zoonotic but very contagious

  4. Omphalitis, septicemia, joint ill, meningitis

                    Joint ill - septic metatarsophalangeal joint

    • Classic case:
      • Omphalitis – fever with swollen, painful umbilicus and patent urachus +/- GI pain with 2º peritonitis
      • Septicemia – calf less than 2 weeks old with fever, diarrhea, depression, systemic compromise
      • Joint ill – lameness with painful, swollen joint
      • Meningitis – opisthotonus, hyperesthesia
    • Dx:
      • Omphalitis – palpate and ultrasound umbilical structures
      • Joint ill – ultrasound/radiograph affected joint, aspirate and culture joint fluid
      • Meningitis – CSF aspirate shows increased WBC count and protein
    • Rx: Antibiotics and…
      • Omphalitis: Surgical removal for advanced cases
      • Joint ill: Lavage joint then instill antibiotics; analgesics/NSAIDs
      • Meningitis and septicemia: Systemic supportive care, NSAIDs, diazepam if seizures
      • Prevention: Make sure calves get a minimum 500 grams IgG on first feeding and 4 L colostrum by 2 hours of age; clean calving environment
    • Pearls:
      • Prognosis variable – good for omphalitis, poor for others (though some joints better than others)
      • Measure total protein at 24 hours’ age – adequate colostral transfer if greater than 5.5 g/dL

  5. Traumatic reticuloperitonitis
    • Classic case: Cow over 2 months of age with:
      • Acute anorexia and agalactia, unwillingness to move or lie down, arched back, fever, positive grunt test
      • +/- Papple shape (pear on right and apple on left) and scant feces if secondary vagal indigestion
    • Dx:
      • Positive withers grunt test – pinch withers while listening for a vocalization with stethoscope
      • Positive abdominal rebound test – percuss abdomen while looking for splinting and violent responses
      • Abdominocentesis – purulent or serosanguineous fluid
      • Cranial abdominal ultrasound or radiography
    • Rx: Similar outcomes with medical and surgical, better prognosis if treated early
      • Medical – magnet, laxatives, antibiotics, analgesics
      • Surgical – rumenotomy, antibiotics, magnet
      • Prevention: ONE magnet per cow given at 400-600 pounds weight prevents almost all cases!
    • Pearls:
      • 75% survival; bad outcome with secondary vagal indigestion, diffuse peritonitis, and pericardial involvement



Images courtesy of Dr. Lisle George and The Yorck Project (3000-year old image of a farmer plowing with cattle, Egypt)